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November 2001

It's Not Mountain Biking's Fault

By Terri Alvillar

Calling Marin County "ground zero in today's war over trail access," BIKE Magazine's editor, Vernon Felton, relates tales of woe experienced by disadvantaged weekend warriors who are often banned from careening their root crunching, rock hopping, people scattering, machines along narrow footpaths in the woods. Mountain bikers lost a key legal battle in 1996 when an appeals Court determined there were several legitimate reasons for separating people and horses from vehicles on narrow paths (Bicycle Trails Council of Marin v. Babbitt).

In Felton's article "Losing it All" (October 2001), he cites "smear campaigns, lawsuits, and criminalization of mountain biking" as the cause of trail restrictions and closures. The recurring theme in the mountain bikers' lament is "it wasn't my fault." Mountain bike proponents just refuse to admit that their sport has caused tremendous environmental damage, increased expenses for taxpayers through enforcement and restoration programs, ruined the experience for, driven off, and endangered, other trail users.

The "criminalization" of mountain biking doesn't occur until there's a crime and a conviction. It is odd that two months after Bicycle Trails Council of Marin Director, Michael More, Neal Daskal, and William McBride pleaded guilty to destruction of federal property by constructing an illegal mountain bike trail in a national park in Marin, BIKE magazine is still saying that More "allegedly" built the trail. According to one land manager, BIKE published a photo of a portion of this trail in their June 2001 issue, page 61. That lush Redwood forest and delicate soil through which the trail was cut contradicts Felton's attempt to underestimate the seriousness of the destruction by depicting the trail as passing "through land that may soon be leased out for cattle grazing-a less-than-environmentally-sensitive use of open space." In its indictment, the US Attorney's office described the land quite differently: "The GGNRA (Golden Gate National Recreation Area) is part of the Golden Gate Biosphere Reserve, so designated by the United Nations based on its significant biodiversity and ecological value. Portions of the GGNRA provide habitat for the northern spotted owl, the coho salmon, the steelhead trout and the California red-legged frog, all threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act..."

"It wasn't my fault" was the same excuse Wilderness Trail Bikes (WTB) president, Patrick Seidler, gave to San Rafael resident, Frances Nunez, earlier this year. Seidler claimed he didn't know that the mountain bike video "Superheros" was going to use his company's name as a sponsor. The film includes illegal mountain bike riding on Marin County Open Space District land, riding on the illegally built Medivac Trail in Novato (according to a County Open Space Commissioner), illegal trespassing and mountain bike stunts at the California State building in San Francisco, and public urination in a parking lot. Now BIKE magazine reports that Seidler said "Yes, his company sponsored the film." Felton calls complaints about this film "hate mail."

Arrogance and irresponsibility seem to characterize the leaders of mountain biking organizations. While admitting that "a mountain biker can negatively affect the experience of other trail users who are trying to escape from a fast and crazy world," Felton demands that "the expectation of solitude needs to change." In other words, we're going to ride when we want, where we want, and how we want, regardless of how it impacts others. And when we get caught riding illegally, it's not really our fault because we are just frustrated by the rules.

Felton cites Camp Tamarancho (Fairfax, Marin County) as "living proof that mountain bikers can build, ride and maintain a healthy trail system." Yet this nine-mile system was built illegally, completely without required permits for excavation, bridge building, tree felling, etc. The County is now requiring the owners to obtain retroactive permits and state-mandated environmental review. The bike trail system has forced closure of many footpaths formerly open to hikers, and it has forced many hikers to cease using the property for safety reasons. Mountain bikers expect hikers to jump out of their way so they don't have to reduce speed. Allowing mountain bikes on narrow "multi-use" trails creates de facto bike-only trails.

Lastly, BIKE magazine blames "sprawl" as the culprit which keeps bikes off singletrack trails ("It's not my fault"). It couldn't be that mountain biking causes damage, frightens or kills animals, scares people, and drives other trail users away. It couldn't be that mountain bikers are known for illegal trail riding and building, and for arrogant and rude behavior toward other trail users. It couldn't be that they trespass and damage private property. Everybody has to live by rules. Nobody gets to use or develop land, even their own, any way they choose. "Losing it All?" They can't lose what they never had.

 

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