Saturday, September 5, 2009
From The Pacific Crest Trail Association
Places in Need - Mountain Bike Damage
Mountain Bike Damage on the trail
The photo shown here depicts damage to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) caused by the illegal use of the trail by mountain bike riders. From the Big Bear to Tehachapi Mountains in southern California, to the Donner Summer and the Sierra Buttes north of Lake Tahoe, to Castle Crags and beyond, mountain bikes on the trail are causing damage and creating a number of “PCT Places in Need.”
Mountain bike riders represent a large (and growing) number of outdoor recreationists. For example, the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) has 32,000 individual members, more than 450 bicycle clubs members, and more than 130 corporate partners. But regardless of the number of mountain bikers looking for trails to ride on, the status of the PCT remains the same: under U.S. Government regulation, bikes are prohibited on the PCT. The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) has long had a policy supporting this prohibition and continues to press for enforcement of it. Unfortunately, however, U.S. regulations and regulators have not, thus far, been able to curb the illegal use of the PCT by mountain bikers. The resulting trail damage and user conflicts can’t be taken lightly. To complicate matters, bikes are permitted on many trails that lead to the PCT, resulting in bikers reaching the PCT on such trails and then proceeding along the PCT to pick up another feeder trail. Given land management agency staffing and budget issues, policing and enforcement is sorely lacking.
There are a number of reasons why mountain bikes represent a problem for PCT users and the trail’s future. One we often hear about is safety – the speed at which a mountain bike can travel along the trail, and especially around blind curves, make collisions with hikers or with equestrians a dangerous possibility. Additionally, stock may be easily frightened of bikes and “spook,” potentially causing injury to riders, themselves, and others. But while safety is a significant concern in regards to bikes and the PCT, in this article we’d like to focus on trail damage and trail maintenance issues.
Simply put, the PCT was not designed or constructed for mountain bikes and is thus easily and seriously degraded by mountain bike use – especially when those bikes are ridden on wet or muddy trail. Riding bikes on wet trails can cause deep furrows and erosion. It typically occurs when riders skid back tires when braking on downhill, apply heavy torque to tires when riding uphill, or simply ride through mud. The damage caused by a mountain biker is much greater than that caused by a hiker or horse because, with a bike, the soil is impacted continuously along the trail, while a hiker's or horse’s feet hit the soil only at intervals. The continuous troughs created in trail tread by bikes collect water runoff from the entire hillside above the trail and then act as drainage ditches, creating serious erosion which the PCT was not constructed to withstand. Water that might drain off the trail under pedestrian and equestrian use now runs down it in wheel ruts, eventually removing all the soil and turning the trail into a streambed. In extreme cases, no amount of “trail maintenance” can restore the trail and new trail becomes necessary.
If you see mountain bikers on the PCT, kindly remind them that they are on the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail and that by U.S. Government regulation bikes are not allowed on the PCT.
Avoid confrontations. If you engage bikers in conversation try to ascertain where they are from and which trailheads they used to get into the backcountry and onto the trail, as this will help in education and signage. Ask also where they plan to get off the trail. Taking a picture and documenting the location can help agency personnel to enforce the bike closure. Forward all of this information to your local ranger district or other applicable land management unit, or to the PCTA. The concerns of thousands of hikers and equestrians who use the PCT can help to remind legislators and those in charge of backcountry regulation enforcement that PCTA members and PCT supporters continue to believe that mountain bikes do not belong on the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.
“I can’t stress enough the importance of responsible trail users reporting illegal uses of the PCT,” says PCTA Regional Representative for N. Calif./S. Ore., Ian Nelson, “It is crucial that we hear from concerned users so that we and our agency partners can strategize as to how to curb the illegal use.”