Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Trouble With Ron Acker's Views

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 (Annadel State Park) to a shocking incident in Santa Barbara in October 2005; deaths to humans, from a 1993 incident in Sacramento to bike-to-bike collisions in Colorado in 2003. In July 2006 there were three serious injury accidents in Marin County alone, caused by mountain bicyclists. One was to a jogger on Mt. Tam and two to horseback riders in Marin County Open Space. One rider suffered a broken collarbone; the other was knocked unconscious and suffered a concussion. All of these details can be verified.

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 Marin County -- it's only the bicycle that must be left at home.

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 Marin County’s official open space web site will reveal some of the varied wildlife that inhabit these regions

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 San Pedro Mountain ridge tops. Numerous ring neck snakes are squashed by bike tires. Tires that move too fast to avoid doing this kind of damage.

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 California’s Sierra foothills in the 19th century that President Lincoln put a stop to. The new breed of illegal mountain bikers are a minority, who are composed of semi-pro and pro downhill racers or their wanabees looking for taxpayer paid open space obstacle courses. The trails they crave wouldn’t be ridden by the majority of law respecting mountain bikers. This is pure selfishness and way out of touch with open space stewardship. Also, take a look at some of the more abused trails like the Scetrini Fire Road ancillary trails near Barbiere Park. They were described by the former Open Space director as a mess. There is nor was ever any attempt by mountain bike advocates to maintain or heal this trail. The condition of the trail steadily worsens every year.

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

to get an idea of what type of person is stretching the boundaries of legality in our open spaces.


Jack W. said...


FreeJekk said...

I have been biking in Marin for 15 years. Before that I hiked and ran the Dipsea. Back when I was a runner hikers railed against running and against horses. The problem is that there are more and more people who like doing different things in the same space. I also surf and have seen the same attitude in southern California. Mean spirited locals want to keep their small break away from others. They even post rules about who can and how people should surf. I am now starting to see the "LA surfer" attitude at Bolinas. Hikers want to hike in nature in peace and tranquility. Bicycles are very quiet and fast and hikers are easily startled by them. When we startle a hiker we ruin their peace and turn them into “LA surfers”. The older hikers get the more easily they are startled. There is no danger of hikers being injured by cyclists but we have to obey the speed limits be polite to aging hikers. I will say that I am very disappointed about china camp. For the last 20years it has been the one place in Marin that we could ride single trak without threat of confiscation or fines. We will either learn to share or be frustrated. May I suggest that 30 percent of the SINGLE TRAK trails in Marin be designated “mixed use”. That way a hiker would know we are there and we can all enjoy public lands the way we choose.