Wednesday, April 4, 2007
Monday, April 2, 2007
What’s Wrong With Fire Roads?
On Sunday April 1, I went hiking on some of my favorite narrow trails along San Pedro Ridge in Marin County Open Space. On one trail, I met a young mom carrying her baby in a baby backpack. This was the same trail where towards the middle of last year, I also caught an illegal trail builder who had just chain sawed a redwood tree to make a bridge and jump ramp on this illegal trail. He had also chipped away at the beautiful arrangement of rocks that formed a channel for a seasonal waterfall on this same trail. Can you imagine the nightmare this young mom could have encountered had she run into this guy speeding down the trail? This is the kind of scenario that Open Space officials will permit if they open up more narrow trails to mountain biking. Open Space is not in the business of creating more bike exclusive trails in our wilderness for a financially bloated group of special interest users either. That same day I also encountered a 3 foot long gopher snake sunning itself across the path. Speeding bikers don’t see these things nor do they have time to stop for them. The wilderness resident often left out of the discussion between hikers and mountain bikers is the array of wildlife who inhabit these regions. Wilderness bike riding is a relative new comer in the complex equation of managing trail use. A false perception advanced by the mountain bike community is that they are being ‘discriminated’ against by official limits placed upon their usage of open space trails. As someone pointed out here a few weeks ago, mountain bikers can use any trail that hikers can- they only have to leave their bikes behind. The mountain bike must be thought of as a mechanized means of transport. Today’s mountain bikes are more like lightweight motorcycles than bicycles. Those in the mountain bike community who are pushing for more narrow trail access don’t want to amble along slowly on these trails. They want the speed and thrill of rushing past trees, vegetation and natural formations. They are lying if they tell you otherwise. One only needs to visit their web sites and read their literature to corroborate this fact. I believe this kind of trail usage is out of sync with the wilderness experience because it is inherently dangerous. Open Space organizations are exposing the county to huge liabilities if and when the circumstances are right for serious collisions. This entire debate was instigated by illegal trail use and the discovery by an illegal trail user of a legitimate fence, illegitimately tampered with after being safely erected by Open Space officials to prevent illegal trail use. The misconception that this was a deliberate booby-trapping by Open Space personnel is still evident in the writing of the mountain bike advocates like Kirsten Moore in Monday’s IJ.
The debate needs to focus around INCREASING the fines for illegal trail riding and not opening even more narrow trails to this self serving, dangerous sport.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Let’s Now Deconstruct -March 18, 2007
What is most curious about the following opinion piece in Saturday’s (March 17, 2007) Marin IJ is not so much the article itself but the speed with which it was posted and the unusual black box drawn around it to bring attention to itself. Letters to the IJ Opinion editor usually take several days, sometimes longer to get posted. This pro-mountain bike letter made it into the Saturday paper faster than any response I’ve ever seen in 10 years of reading the IJ, which raises the question, was there any collusion between mountain bike proponents and the paper’s editorial staff? ( Today, March 19th, IJ Opinion editor, Doug Bunnell, informed me that this wasn't intentional. Acker had gotten his letter in on early Sat. The box around his letter was meant to set it apart from the ICE Raid letters according to Doug) Here’s the letter written by Ron Acker of San Anselmo: comments in red
Trails should be open to all (Ron Acker Marin IJ March 17, 2007)
This is in response to Friday's IJ article concerning obstacles placed on the Split Rock trail by Marin Open Space District to deter mountain bikers from using the trail.
It's a mighty understatement by Sharon McNamee, district general manager, that its solution to place barbed wire, boulders and metal fence posts across the trail was "not the most well-thought-out solution."
Regardless of district rationalizations that this effort "makes the trail safe," the perception is that by placing barbed wire at chest and head level and planting metal posts painted green in the trail the intent is bodily injury.
This is nonsense. Rangers from the Marin Municipal Water District, State and local rangers often take trail blockage actions to close off or protect fragile or environmentally sensitive trails. Mountain bikers have a habit of either tearing these barriers down or damaging them to gain entry to off-limits trails
This further illustrates the divide between Marin land managers and mountain bikers. Marin is the birthplace of mountain biking, and yet, mountain bikers are discriminated against in their access to trails. The basis for this is suspect at best and based on anecdotal trail encounter data or questionable environmental impact analyses. The debate must move beyond stereotypes and prejudices to pragmatism.
I’ll bring in Connie Berto, a long standing member of the Marin County Open Space Board.
Dear Sir: This letter is to correct the misinformation spread by mountain bikers such as Ron Acker (17 March) claiming that the basis for trail use regulations is "suspect at best and based on anecdotal trail encounter data..." It's time that Acker and others learn the facts, if only the I-J will print this letter.
Trail accidents and deaths caused by mt. bikers have been well documented in ranger reports and articles and the file is growing. These range from deaths to horses from 1989 (
With over 600 miles of ample wide dirt fire roads in Marin appropriate for sharing in peace, it is sad that mt. bikers continue to focus on narrow trails and footpaths where their speeding presence is a safety hazard to all users. I'd like to see more of their "self-policing" as claimed by Acker. Fact is, the bicyclists themselves have access to every single hiking trail in
Sincerely, Connie Berto, San Anselmo.
Marin's large mountain biking community isn't going away. Riding singletrack is fun. There are more than 600 miles of fire roads and singletrack in Marin. There are less than 30 miles of "legal" singletrack available to mountain bikers. The primary spots, China Camp and Tamarancho, get rather crowded as a result. Given supply and demand, there will be mountain bikers on "illegal" singletrack.
There’s a good reason why mountain bikers aren’t allowed everywhere. Mr. Acker seems to be forgetting another vital component to the open space experience and that is the needs of the varied wildlife that inhabit Marin’s open space regions. A glance at
In the 10 years I’ve been hiking the trails in and around China Camp I’ve noticed a large drop off of animal sightings that can only be attributed to increase human activity there especially with the onslaught of bike traffic in the wilderness. Gone are the grey fox, raccoons and skunks I used to see high on
This situation is analogous to Prohibition. If you drive an activity underground, you lose control. Marin land managers can either choose to allocate their limited time and resources to policing mountain bike activities or they can choose to embrace mountain biking and leverage that interest to upgrade existing singletrack, build new singletrack, and maintain the trail system so it can last for everyone's enjoyment. The examples set by volunteer-driven efforts at Tamarancho and China Camp should be evidence that, when given the opportunity, the mountain biking community is responsible and self-policing.
The situation is more analogous to high pressure water cannon strip mining for gold in
Mountain bikers are not the young, arrogant punks portrayed by those who wish to limit their trail access. In Marin we are your neighbors and we're paying the same taxes to fund Marin Open Space, Marin Municipal Water District and Golden Gate National Recreation Area land management. We should have the same access to the trails.
This too is nonsense. Take a look at the this web site http://www.mtbmovies.com/
to get an idea of what type of person is stretching the boundaries of legality in our open spaces.
Friday, March 16, 2007
Booby-Trapped Trails? March 16, 2007
The Marin IJ has once again showed its true colors in writing a story sympathetic towards illegal bikers that doesn’t tell the whole story about illegal biking.
Folks, this story is about ‘illegal’ mountain biking. The side of the story that the Marin IJ consistently fails to tell, are the documented stories of assault by illegal bikers on hikers, the destruction of existing trails and the destruction of endangered species habitat by illegal trail builders, and the ongoing violation of Marin’s narrow hiking trails by illegal and now downhill racing bikers. Mark Prado, the story’s author, is a mountain biker. ( I have been informed today, March 19th, by the IJ Opinion editor, Doug Bunnell, that Mark isn't a mountain biker ) If there’s one component that can not be de-linked from this story it is that the mountain biking craze is intimately tied to a billion dollar a year industry. Selling bikes and the mystique of risky biking is what it is now about. If you pick up any of the bike magazines out there, invariably you will see a glorification of risky, extreme riding that extols elements of law breaking. The celebrated president of Marin’s Wilderness Trail Bikes, Mr. Patrick Seidler underwrote a wild mountain biker film produced in 2000 called “Super Heros” that glorifies illegal trail riding in Marin, trespassing on State property and public urination.
The woman who supposedly tipped off the press about what she called ‘booby-traps’ is herself a professional downhill racer who competes in bike races affectionately referred to as “No Brakes” on the NORBA circuit. Google her and see for yourselves. She admitted in the article that she was trying to find the “split rock trail”, which is an illegal trail. These people are not your typical mountain biker. They are professionals or semi-professionals out for extreme workouts. Marin’s off limits trails are what they’re after. The environmental impacts of what they leave behind are an ongoing headache for hikers and open space personnel. I know one of the rangers who erected the barricade. Yes it was a barricade and not a trap. This guy is a family man, a former soldier, and in fact, an advocate for creating more trails for bike riders. He would never erect a device to hurt or injure anyone. In Tom Stienstra’s SF Chronicle article on the same incident, mention was made that it was a biker who in fact bent the metal fence posts down in an effort to dislodge them, leaving them in a position that could potentially harm someone. In the almost 10 years I have been fighting illegal bike riding and trail building I have never seen or read any reports about bikers being injured by barriers, fences, or trail blockage devices of any kind. The truth is that most mountain bike injuries result from risky riding habits. According to sports medicine expert, Dr. Robert Kronisch
“A number of factors contribute to acute injuries. A retrospective survey (4) of recreational mountain bikers found that off-road crashes were commonly associated with excessive speed, unfamiliar terrain, inattentiveness, and riding beyond one's ability. A similar survey (7) of recreational and competitive off-road cyclists identified loss of control, high-speed descent, and competition as factors related to acute injuries; competitors were four times more likely than noncompetitors to be acutely injured.”
In other words, the dangers of mountain biking are inherent in the sport itself.
Ms. Beckstoffer also states in the article that “We don’t mind paying a ticket”…what is that all about? Not minding paying a ticket? The Marin County Bicycle Coalition has consistently opposed increasing the fines for illegal trail riding. Why? Beckstoffer’s statement seems to indicate that the current fee structure is too lenient. This needs to change. Marin’s fragile narrow trails (inappropriately referred to as ‘single track’-a mountain biker term) are under constant assault. The problem is getting worse and the often heard complaint within the mountain bike community is that “we don’t have enough of trails to ride on”. This is pure nonsense. In Mountain Biking Marin by Martin and Simon, there are 458.2 miles of legal mountain biking trails in Marin alone.
I have personally risked my health and well being fighting illegal bikers. I have received numerous death threats and even participated in a citizen’s arrest over a year ago, of an illegal biker who broke into my car and stole my car keys as I was reporting on an illegal night ride by about 14 riders in Marin County Open Space near China Camp. I wrote about and reported this story to the IJ. It was never published. Please check out the following link to view the congratulatory blogging by bikers regarding the IJ and Chron stories from March 16. See for yourselves the impudence and delight taken in illegal riding activity.