2016 is behind us, and what a year it was for CORBA and mountain bikers! We were extremely busy last year, cutting trails, cutting trees, and working on behalf of the mountain bike community to ensure continued and improved access to mountain biking in the greater Los Angeles and Eastern Ventura County areas.
Opening of Ken Burton Trail
In 2016, the Gabrielino Trail Restoration project, with REI, Bellfree Contractors, and Los Angeles Conservation Corps, was completed. Ken Burton Trail restoration with MWBA was completed, opening the Ken Burton trail and a popular loop after seven years of closure, thousands of volunteer hours, and nearly three years of planning.
The Historic Mission Inn, Riverside, was the official conference hotel.
The 2016 California Trails and Greenways conference was held in historic downtown Riverside from April 7 – 10, 2016. The conference theme was “loving our trails to death,” something many long-time trail users are realizing is becoming the norm, not the exception. This is especially true on our crowded and increasingly popular trails in the Greater Los Angeles Area.
Equestrians, hikers and mountain bikers talk trail etiquette
Steve Messer, CORBA’s President, was on hand. Laurel Harkness, IMBA’s California Regional Director, had a booth and gave a presentation on “providing great, sustainable trail experiences. IMBA chapters from Orange County, San Diego County, Folsom, and the Central Coast were also represented. We took the opportunity to get the IMBA chapters together for an update on issues, strategies, and directions for each of the chapters.
The conference is also a great way to network with land managers, decision makers, trail professionals, and other user group advocates. In the six years that I’ve been attending these conferences, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that Mountain Bikers are, more and more, being considered a legitimate and valuable contributors to the trail user community. With more IMBA chapters attending, and many presentations by mountain bikers and mountain-bike-friendly land managers and professionals, its obvious we are here to stay.
CORBA Founder Kurt Loheit introduces the dignitaries from the Santa Monica Mountains NRA
As a great example of the improving relations with the trail community, Steve Messer teamed up with the California State Horsemen’s Association, Trails4All, Riverside County Backcountry Horsemen and the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council to give a presentation on trail etiquette best practices. The presentation was well-received, but it was apparent we were “preaching to the choir.” The last slide of the presentation actually thanked the choir for listening to us preach! During the presentation, Dale Skinner, State Park Trails Manager for the Angeles District (Santa Monica Mountains), gave Steve and CORBA kudos for our approach to providing solutions and being exemplary stewards of our trails.
David Szymanski, Joe Edmiston and Craig Sap talk about completing the Backbone Trail
Another important presentation was Thursday’s lunch time plenary by Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area superintendent David Szymanski, State Parks Angeles District Superintendent Craig Sap, and Santa Monica Mountains Conservency executive director Joe Edmiston. They discussed the current status of the Backbone Trail, and the 65 years it has taken to bring a 65 mile trail from concept to completion. Currently there are two incomplete segments. One is the bypass around the gates at the west end of Etz Meloy motorway. The NPS has begun construction on a re-route that will bypass the closed gates. It’s constrained by a narrow easement from the private property owners, forcing a less-than-ideal alignment, but it will be much better than a closed segment of trail and no alternative. The other outstanding issue is a private parcel owned by former governer Arnold Schwarzenneger, west of Kanan. The NPS is hoping to secure a trail easement from Schwarzenneger and his partners soon.
During the talk Craig Sap gave a noteworthy shoutout to CORBA and to the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council for our contributions to keeping the trails in good shape, and making up for some of the agency’s deficiencies with their reduced budgets.
They hope to open the complete Backbone trail on June 4th, as part of National Trails Day. They also plan to submit the trail for inclusion in the National Recreation Trail system. We believe the trail is worthy of such recognition.
Other notable presentations were from Rick Gunn who rode a bike around the world. Not only was he an amazing storyteller, he had an amazing story to tell. As a former journalist and photographer, his photography and the range of emotional lows and highs he experienced over two years had all the conference attendees in silence, awe, and at times, even in tears.
Aside from the State Parks employee training, for which they get continuing education credit, the sessions covered a range of topics, from sustainable trail building, trail surveying, working with public-private partnerships, and a number of project-specific presentations.
Project specific presentations were given on the current status of the Castaic Trail Master Plan, the LA River Trail (bike path), and a number of other project-related presentations. There were presentation by the Backcountry Horsemen on how they can assist in trail maintenance by packing in tools and supplies.
Ride, Hike, and Bike event on Santa Ana River Trail
After the conference sessions were completed, a group headed out for the traditional multi-use ride/hike/bike event. Local equestrians, mountain bikers and hikers converged on the Santa Ana River Trail to ride/hike together, as an expression of solidarity and multi-use cooperation.
Each year we look forward to participating in this increasingly useful and relevant conference. It covers issues unique to California, is attended by both land managers, conservancies, trail advocates and user groups. It brings everyone together, simply for a passion for trails. We are loking forward to next year, to be held in Monterey about the same time as Sea Otter.
Currently mountain bike advocacy is facing one of the the most important long-term issues in our history. The issue is whether mountain bikes should be allowed on trails in Wilderness areas. How mountain bikers and advocacy leaders respond to this can either be polarizing or make us an even stronger voice in the trail user and land stewardship community.
In Idaho Montana, the Wood River Bicycle Coalition, an IMBA chapter, worked with IMBA to build support for a National Monument rather than a Wilderness area. Over a period of several years, negotiations with wilderness advocates, motorized and other recreation groups and elected officials formed a broad coalition of support. However, raw ugly politics ultimately produced a Congressional designation for the Boulder White Clouds Wilderness. This was a painful and well-publicized loss to the mountain biking community. The land protection provisions they had negotiated in good faith to produce a bicycle-friendly National Monument designation were ultimately lost to a crass political maneuver to deny President Obama any semblance of a success. Congress passed a Wilderness bill and the Castle Divide and Ant’s Basin trails were closed to bikes.
Meanwhile, attorney Ted Stroll had been continuing his research into the Wilderness Act, and the congressional debates and intent surrounding that landmark legislation as it was enacted in 1964. He had concluded that the original intent was never to exclude bicycles, as a human-powered form of low-impact recreation, from Wilderness areas. Further research led him to believe that, in accordance with our constitution, we have the right to bring our grievances to the U.S. government. To do this, he formed the Sustainable Trails Coalition (STC), whose sole mission is to pass legislation that would allow local land managers to open trails to bicycles in Wilderness, and to authorize the use of machinery that would allow the most cost-effective and efficient maintenance on Wilderness trails, on a case-by-case, trail-by-trail basis.
How many mountain bikers view the wilderness ban on bikes
The timing of the Idaho defeat brought heightened attention to the STC and their focused, single-issue mission. It cast doubt in the mountain biking community about the effectiveness of IMBA’s approach of building broad partnerships and seeking compromises to both protect bicycle access, while protecting the landscapes through which we ride bikes with a mix of Wilderness boundary adjustments, cherry-stems, and alternative designations. This approach has been highly successful in many instances, but there have been some exceptions, with this loss in Idaho being the most recent and the most publicized.
Condor Peak Trail – Wilderness advocates are still proposing a Condor Peak Wilderness.
Here in the Angeles National Forest, we’ve lost access to much of the backcountry trail network on our Forest. This has placed increased use pressure on non-Wilderness trails by all user groups. Trail maintenance on Wilderness trails has come to a near-halt in many areas, and all user groups are losing those trails to nature. We don’t have any bicycle-legal singletrack options to traverse the San Gabriel Mountains north-south, or east-west, because of numerous closed trails, Wilderness designations, and restrictions on bicycles on the Pacific Crest Trail. Similarly, in the Sierra, Inyo, and Sequoia National Forests there are vast swaths of Wilderness and a few isolated areas that are open to bikes, many of which are currently being evaluated for Wilderness (and, remarkably, the folks who maintain many Wilderness trails and can’t keep up with the workload have objected to any new Wilderness.).
These Wilderness losses are very much a localized issue, affecting California and the Western States disproportionately to other areas. California has the most Wilderness areas of any state, and is second only to Alaska in Wilderness acres. Here in CORBA’s territory, we have the largest population base in the country near a National Forest. 1 in 20 Americans live within easy driving distance of the Angeles National Forest, with its five Wilderness areas and additional Recommended Wilderness taking nearly one third of the Forest.
Condor Peak Trail
Recreational activities are greatly reduced in Wilderness areas compared to non-wilderness areas, even if bicycles are left out of the equation. Maintenance efforts are greatly reduced and near-impossible for the Forest Service to schedule, as the cost of manual labor to rebuild trails (no mechanized tools allowed, even wheelbarrows) means these trails often don’t get worked on. While the same can be said of many lesser-used non-wilderness trails, this doesn’t bode well for the future of Wilderness trail recreation.
It also disproportionately affects a smaller subset of the mountain biking community who seek out, relish, and live for backcountry wilderness-type settings that can be experienced by bicycle. It’s why I started mountain biking, and what inspires me to continue exploring and experiencing these majestic landscapes. Sure, I love purpose-built flow trails, downhill trails, and our many favorite local trails. They are needed, but they don’t offer the same experience and escape that some of us live for. We need a broad spectrum of experiences and trail types to cover the many diverse reasons for which people ride mountain bikes, including wilderness-type experiences.
There have been calls for IMBA to take a stronger stand on the Wilderness access issue in print media, the blogosphere, and on social media. In fact, if you have followed closely, the amount of grandstanding on both sides of the bikes in wilderness debate has escalated. From reading some of what has been published, one could easily come away with the assumption that mountain bikers have to pick a side: either support the Sustainable Trails Coalition or support IMBA. Over the past month there have been many calls, emails and forum posts asking to cancel IMBA memberships.
Some writers in the print media have accused IMBA of taking a hardline stance against the STC, but there is much more nuance to their statements that has been overlooked. IMBA hasn’t condemned the STC or opposed their efforts. In fact, IMBA has for many months taken a neutral public policy position toward STC’s strategy, neither supporting nor opposing. Publicly, IMBA has simply stated that the STC approach is not appropriate for IMBA’s mission, given STC’s single focus, uphill battle, risks and uncertain future.
Pressure continues to mount calling for IMBA to support the STC, or at the bare minimum, take a more conciliatory stance and acknowledge the common ground that exist between the two organizations. IMBA have held a press conference explaining their position, posted an FAQ on land protection strategies they will continue to utilize, and conducted four Chapter Leader Executive Briefings with question and answer sessions with approximately 100 chapter leaders nationwide, which I attended. Many forum comments have construed their public arguments and tone as denigrating and dismissive of the STC, but in direct conversations with IMBA staff, that tone is much more nuanced.
With all this attention on Wilderness, one could be misled into thinking that this was the only issue facing mountain bikers. Admittedly, it is probably the most far-reaching issue that could fundamentally change our approach, as mountain bikers, to land protections nationwide, and especially in the Western states like California. But there are still plenty of more immediate issues and opportunities that need immediate, focussed attention, and that is where IMBA has chosen to put its limited resources and energy.
We see this “us vs. them” dichotomy as far from the case. The fact that IMBA has chosen not to support STC does not infringe upon anyone’s first amendment right to speak up for and support the STC, including us as a chapter of IMBA. IMBA’s (and CORBA’s, for that matter) plate is full with current mountain biking issues, and the vast amount of attention and resources needed to achieve the STC’s mission and focus on Wilderness access would hinder our ability to tend to more immediate threats, identify new opportunities, take advantage of current opportunities, and just get things done now.
We believe we need both organizations. STC’s single, focussed mission is to enact legislation that will allow management of wilderness trail access (and mechanized maintenance) to happen at the most local level feasible. STC is not a membership organization and as such is not structured for or able to do anything on the ground right now to open closed trails to bikes or develop and maintain positive relationships with land managers that are key to our future successes. It will be a difficult struggle and take some time before STC’s efforts may prove fruitful.
IMBA chapters are currently doing the vast majority of advocacy and access work at the local levels. If STC is eventually successful in passing their legislation it will likely be IMBA chapters doing the necessary outreach and hands-on work to give the STC’s legislation teeth, by working directly with local land managers to open trails under the authority of STC’s Human Powered Wildlands Travel Management Act of 2016 (HPWTMA).
Despite what has been claimed by the Wilderness Society and others opposed to bicycles in Wilderness, the STC bill doesn’t open ANY trails to bikes or mechanized maintenance. It allows the “most local” land managers feasible (likely district rangers and supervisors) to make those determinations on a case-by-case, trail-by-trail basis. That’s why IMBA chapters will need those strong relationships when and if the time comes.
You can bet the opposition to bikes will only get louder when that happens, both locally and nationally. It will be IMBA chapters with current, strong land manager relations that will be best positioned to follow through on any STC success. Land managers aren’t just going to open trails to bikes in wilderness areas if the STC bill is eventually enacted. If the STC bill does go through–and let’s be clear that we hope it eventually will–IMBA Chapters will need to actively engage with local land managers to open trails to bikes under the newly granted authority of STC’s legislation. Even then, those trail openings will probably require a lengthy NEPA process, and may come with restrictions. Permits, capacity limits, mandatory leave-no-trace classes, or other hurdles could be put in place as a part of that Wilderness access. Passing of the HPWTMA is just the starting point to opening trails in Wilderness.
In the meantime if people start choosing to drop support for IMBA chapters to support the STC, that will impede our ability to get things done now, such as bike parks, trail maintenance, new trails, and being a crucial voice in current land management and trail planning efforts. If CORBA/IMBA is weakened by an attrition of supporters now, it will hinder our ability in the future to build upon any STC success, and open trails currently closed to bikes by Wilderness designations.
One of the best things that STC is doing is bringing more attention to this major access issue. What saddens and frustrates us is that social media are misinterpreting some of IMBA’s responses, and turning this into an “us vs. them” situation, which will weaken our efforts on both fronts. We’d much preferred to have a more conciliatory tone from IMBA towards STC, even in the absence of outright support. IMBA has alienated a portion of their members through their statements and firm stance. That just doesn’t need to be so.
There is room–and a great need–for another group like STC to give the Wilderness issue the razor-sharp focus it will need to see through.
IMBA is a 501c3 and cannot directly lobby our government to introduce new legislation, endorse political candidates, and other restrictions. IMBA (and CORBA) are set up as 501c3 public benefit corporations, that can only influence existing laws and policies through public comments, broad-based partnerships with other organizations, and encouraging our members to speak up with their own comments and letters to elected representatives and land managers.
STC is set up as a 501c4, with the specific purpose of directly lobbying congress and our elected officials to enact change at the legislative level. They are able to do things that IMBA and CORBA cannot. It’s important to note that the Sierra Club is a 501c4, just like the STC. They have a companion 501c3, the Sierra Club Foundation, which collects tax-deductible donations that can then be used to support the lobbying efforts of their 501c4. They also operate under budgets 100 times larger than IMBA’s. Most mountain bikers are decidedly lackadaisical in their approach to advocacy–until their favorite trail is closed, or threatened to be closed. And as previously mentioned, while most mountain bikers support opening some trails in Wilderness to bicycles, the number of riders who may eventually utilize wilderness trails is likely much lower.
The mountain biking community has never had a 501c4 organization to stand behind before the STC came along. Just as the Sierra club leverages both a 501c3 and a 501c4 for various, but related, purposes, the mountain biking community has needed both a 501c3 and a 501c4 voice. As mentioned, where we see things have gone awry is that IMBA’s firm but neutral stance has been twisted and construed in social media and the blog/print media as an “us vs. them” situation.
IMBA’s approach is appropriate for IMBA. The STC approach is appropriate for STC. Together, they have brought more attention to this contentious debate, and hopefully helped engage a new cadre of concerned mountain bikers ready to advocate for continued access to trails–both inside and outside of Wilderness. Both organizations are advocating for increased trail access. They are just employing different strategies and tactics.
Let me re-iterate that in the long run, if STC is successful, strong IMBA chapters will be best positioned to make the changes that STC’s bill will authorize. We’ll then need to leverage our ongoing track record of being good land and trail stewards, and work side-by-side with local land managers to open trails in Wilderness areas. We’ll need to work hard to usher those requests through the NEPA process, and deal with the opposition to bikes that will inevitably emerge. If our voice is weakened by a lack of support now, we’ll be in a more difficult position to ask for trails to be opened under the STC bill’s authority in the future.
If STC is unsuccessful, IMBA chapters like CORBA will continue to work to make a difference, just as we have been doing for more than 29 years. We just hope to have the continued–and even increased– level of support we now get from our members.
But things at IMBA have changed somewhat. Their 2016 advocacy position clearly states that they will continue to fight more aggressively to keep trails open in the face of Wilderness proposals, wherever there are local chapters available to do the local on-the-ground work needed. They have been emboldened to take a firmer stance than ever before to prevent trail closures, within the constraints they operate under as a 501c3. Wilderness and environmental advocates are finding it increasingly difficult to pass Wilderness legislation when advocacy groups like IMBA and its chapters are directly and strongly opposed. IMBA is also investigating the merits of a legal challenge to recent trail access losses in the Bitterroot National Forest in Idaho. They have expressed a desire to legislatively adjust existing Wilderness boundaries to open trails that have been closed to bikes (without any changes to the Wilderness Act itself). But their stance falls short of lobbying for sweeping change at the legislative level, which is precisely what STC is positioned to do.
CORBA and IMBA have on a number of occasions asked for “language-based exemptions” to prohibitions on bikes on specific trails in new Wilderness proposals. We’ve usually been turned down on these requests as being “incompatible with the intent of the Wilderness Act” even though numerous language-based exemptions exist for purposes other than bicycle travel and recreation, and the STC’s contention that the “intent” of the Wilderness Act has been misinterpreted in current regulations. Yet what STC is proposing is making such language-based exemptions (or, more accurately, allowing Forest Service orders to authorize access) for bicycles and trail maintenance, an integral part of an amended Wilderness Act.
Let’s not have this issue divide us, weaken us, and allow us to be conquered. Our members can support both STC and CORBA/IMBA, and both organizations will be stronger for it. While we applaud the STC for their approach, CORBA will continue to work on efforts that have immediate, near-term benefit to all mountain bikers and our public lands: trail maintenance, management plan advocacy, currently pending bills, land manager relations, education, and stewardship.
We also hope that one day, CORBA will be in a position to ask our local land managers to open trails in current Wilderness areas to bikes, under the authority of STC’s legislation. But until then, we have to stay strong, stay united, and keep striving towards making immediate, short-term differences, happy in the knowledge that STC is working on a long-term strategy that most of our members agree would be a step in the right direction for all of us.
2015 has been one of the most active in CORBA’s history. There has been so much happening in our local mountains, in our sport, in our public lands, in the political landscape, and in bicycle advocacy in general. As always, CORBA has done its best to stay on top of the issues, to be leaders in the trail community, and to have a positive impact on our trails, our public lands, our community and our sport. Here’s a quick recap of what’s been happening this year, showing how your membership dollars and donations are being used to benefit all mountain bikers in the Los Angeles and Eastern Ventura Counties.
Puente Hills Landfill Meeting
Much has happened this year on the mountain bike advocacy front. One of the biggest issues has been the start of the process to develop a Management Plan for our year-old San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. The National Forest Foundation convened a Community Collaborative group to develop a broad base of support from a diverse range of stakeholders to help guide the Forest Service in its management of the Angeles National Forest and the SGMNM. CORBA has been involved from the start, in 2014 on the committee to establish the Collaborative, and this year as an active participant in the Collaborative. Forty-five diverse interests are represented, some of whom have traditionally found themselves at odds with our community. This has truly expanded our outreach and strengthened our place in the community.
We’re closely monitoring the development of the Santa Monica Mountains Trail Master Plan, which is expected to come out in draft form in 2016. We saw the Rim of the Valley Study completed. Legislation was introduced to create a new National Recreation Area, and expand our new National Monument. We’ve worked with legislators on a pending Wilderness bill, to ensure that it has minimum impact on mountain biking. We’re continuing to work with the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society to ensure that their efforts to protect our public lands do not impact our ability to enjoy them.
This year new e-bike legislation was introduced. Early drafts could have been interpreted to allow electric mountain bikes on non-motorized trails. We worked to clarify that this does not makes e-bike legal on trails. We’ll be watching the e-bike debate closely as they become more popular.
Outside the area, we’re keeping an eye on wilderness proposals in the Sierra Nevada mountains and BLM land swap proposals in the San Jacinto Mountains, both with the potential to close trails to bikes.
We have learned that in a couple of weeks, California Conservation Corps Crews under the direction of California State Parks will start brushing the East Topanga Fire Road in Topanga State Park as the first phase of road maintenance this fiscal year. The second phase of project will be re-grading the road to “out slope” the road for more natural drainage of the road. The notice below will be posted on the East Topanga Fire Road to inform the public of the maintenance project. This project is part of large scale project to “out slope” all State Park Fire Roads in the Santa Monica Mountains to reduce sedimentation in the Santa Monica Bay. If you have any questions, please contact Dale Skinner at 310/699-1717.
Palm Canyon Epic (PCE) is one of the iconic long-distance rides of Southern California. It’s a spectacular point-to-point route in the Santa Rosa Mountains, south of Palm Springs and Cathedral City. It’s a place that many dedicated mountain bikers make an annual winter pilgrimage to ride.
Though it’s outside CORBA’s territory, many CORBA members and supporters ride the trail. The BLM has completed an environmental document for a land swap with the Agua Caliente band of Cahuila Indians. When the land was parceled out in the 1800’s, it was done in a checkerboard fashion. Alternating lots were deeded to the Indian tribe and to the U.S. government through the BLM. The land swap is an attempt to consolidate ownership of contiguous properties so the land can be more easily managed.
While the tribe’s stewardship of their lands has been positive, the tribe doesn’t allow bicycles on trails. They charge a fee for hikers and equestrians. In the land swap, portions of the Palm Canyon trail, and many other trails important to the local communities, would become tribal land. Though the tribe have stated they would keep the trail open, there is nothing in this environmental document requiring them to do so. They’ve already posted “no bikes” signs on the Indian Potrero trail, which crosses tribal land for a short distance, and is a part of the classic PCE.
Now is the time to make your voice heard and write to the BLM. We believe it is in everyone’s best interest to keep these trails within public ownership (BLM). Scenario 1 is our preferred option, which keeps the trails with the BLM. Our colleagues at the San Diego Mountain Bike Association provide more background information and have drafted a letter that you can cut and paste. You can find their letter here. Comments must be received by March 29th, 2015!
Beautiful and challenging
Whether you’ve already ridden it and love it, or would like to be able to do so in the future, do it now! It will only take a minute or two of your time, and every letter or email sent counts.
The proposed changes will result in fees being required only at concentrated, developed sites, while larger areas of the forest will become free for public use. Fee amounts will remain the same, at $5 for a day pass, or $30 for an annual adventure pass.
Under the new fee structure, fees are to be charged only where there are services and developed facilities including bathrooms, kiosks/interpretive signs, trash collection, picnic tables and security patrols. Sites lacking one or more of the above will be free.
In the Angeles Front Country, for example, fees would continue to be required at Millard Day Use Area, Switzers Picnic Area, Red Box, Skyline Park (Mount Wilson), and Chantry Flats. All other front country areas would become free for public use. Note that the forest service has already stopped enforcement of passes at the areas where fees will be dropped under the new fee structure. Full details of front country changes are available here.
While CORBA supports this more reasonable and appropriate fee structure, we do have concerns that it may result in reduced levels of service across the National Forest as a whole. The financial impacts of the proposed changes are as yet undetermined. National Forest budgets have faced continued reductions over the past decade, and staff levels are at an all-time low. Recreational Fees have helped fill the budget shortfalls, funding numerous improvements to facilities within the National Forest.
The California Recreational Resource Advisory Committee (R-RAC), a citizen’s Federal Advisory Committee, is charged with representing the public interest in matters of recreational fees and other issues. The proposed changes are on the R-RAC agenda for for January 15-16, 2014. Public comments to the committee must be made by January 6, 2014, emailed to: email@example.com.
Area maps and detailed descriptions of the affected areas of the Angeles National Forest can be found at:
Bikes, horses, hikers and runners. We all love trails.
Recently a bicycle club-team representative contacted CORBA wanting to see what more they could do to get more of the trails that are currently closed to bicycles opened up to shared use. A couple of comments from the correspondence were that they thought that showing up in larger numbers to public meetings would help, and that they thought the main reason that trails were closed were because of an influential public anti-bicycle lobby.
I wrote back to the person who contacted me, and in doing so came up with what I think is a good overview of what CORBA has been doing for the past 26 years, and continues to do on behalf of all public backcountry trail users (see below). Yes, CORBA is a mountain bike organization, but we are more than that, and here’s why: We believe that shared use works better because it disperses use, rather than concentrating it. When you disperse use, you reduce congestion, and when you reduce congestion, you reduce confrontation. Moreover, it has been shown that where shared use trails exist, it works. Maybe not perfectly, but certainly better than where there are restrictions to bicycles, because shared use also fosters cooperation. Bicycles do mix when operated considerately and with the safety and serenity of other trail users in mind. And that’s the crux of the issue: If bicyclists would simply slow down around others, including other bicyclists, they would be solving the problem of both dangerous speed, and the “startle factor,” or the disruption of another’s peaceful enjoyment of the backcountry.
Here’s what I wrote to that bicycle club team member:
This year CORBA celebrated its 26th anniversary. In that time we have made many strides to opening trails to shared use (hiking, equestrian, bicycle) in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles County, and Eastern Ventura County. We have participated in hundreds of public meetings with land managers over the years. Land managers recognize and continue to adapt to the growing bicycle population and changing demographic profile of the trail user community. They are certainly aware of the needs and desires of the mountain biking community through CORBA’s efforts, which include quarterly meetings with principal agency managers (National Park Service, State Parks, Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority). We are also in constant communication with these agencies and/or when the need arises to address a specific issue. CORBA also works closely with the Mountain Bike Unit which aids the rangers and community with safety and education. CORBA also schedules and organizes regular trail maintenance work days s in conjunction with the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council and Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency. CORBA is also heavily involved with the Angeles National Forest with trail maintenance and volunteer patrol participation. Due to CORBA’s efforts, most of the singletrack trails built in the last 25 years are shared use (not to mention a lot of the singletrack that already existed not getting shut down).
As you can see, there is more to getting involved than just showing up at meetings in large numbers. The issue of bikes not being allowed on trails is more than just politically active opponents to bicycles; it is mired in an outdated management policy of restriction that is predicated to a large degree on ignorance and a status quo mentality. Within the last few years there has been a systemic change for adopting shared use as the overriding management strategy. It is a slow moving process but we do see a very strong indication that within the next few years we will see many more trails opening to shared use on a statewide basis than currently exists. This change comes from consistent efforts not only by CORBA, but mountain bike advocates all over the state, with assistance from the International Mountain Bicycle Association (of which CORBA was a founding club in 1988).
The one concern that is always at the forefront of managers’ minds is safety. It is agreed by everyone that bicycles are an acceptable form of public open space trail recreation. However, it is when riders go too fast around other users as to make it an unsafe or even just an unpleasant experience that gets mountain bikers a bad reputation, and gets the managers to thinking about restricting bicycles. If everyone would just slow down when passing others, and slow down into corners so they don’t scare others on the other side, we would pretty much solve the problem. I am not saying you shouldn’t go fast, I’m just saying do it when conditions are safe.
Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. We have created this message tag with the help of BikeTags (biketag.wordpress.com) so that we can spread the message of goodwill, peace, and harmony throughout the world. Or maybe just the message “don’t worry, be happy.” The idea is to show other trail users that we belong, we care, and we can coexist. Similar to the SoCal High School Cycling League’s “spirit of howdy”, it’s a way to remember to slow down and smell the sage brush.
We’ll be making the CORBA Smile Tags available to anyone who wants one, just send an email request to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll be giving away prizes for the best photos of the tags on your bikes while on the trail. Photos will be judged on originality, creativity, and overall quality. (Details to follow in the coming weeks). The grand prize will be a Niner full suspension frameset, donated by Niner.
OK, so maybe putting the Smile Tag on your bike* won’t save the world. But a lot of times a little smile can go a long way.
*The Smile Tag is a high quality plastic laminated product and comes with all hardware necessary to mount on a handlebar or under the seat. If mounting to the handlebar, a hole may need to be punched at the bottom of the tag to help secure the tag to a brake or derailleur cable (see photo).
It was recently brought to our attention that newly elected president of Equestrian Trails, Inc. (ETI) Robert Foster, a retired law enforcement officer, donates his time as an emergency medical technician at So Cal High School Mountain Bike Racing League races. Mr. Foster is a staunch supporter of the league, and in his president’s message in ETI’s most recent newsletter he stated that it’s a new era in our public open space trail systems, and mountain bikers are part of the trail user community so we all should try to figure out ways to get along.
Now I’ve been doing this advocacy thing for over 25 years, and I’ve experienced a lot of encouraging progress in the areas of shared use, especially when it comes to opening more trails to bicycle use. To hear the president of an organization that has historically had some of its members rally against mountain bikes say that we need to get along is truly groundbreaking. But things like this come fewer and more far between than I’d like, and during these 25 years I have often asked myself “why am I doing this?” The answer is always “because it’s the right thing to do.” This might sound insane (insanity once being defined by Albert Einstein as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results), and in many ways this might be true. But then something like Robert Foster’s reasonable position comes along and I think to myself, maybe we have been doing the right thing after all.
Over the years we have heard many reasons people feel mountain bikes don’t mix on shared use trails, but only one is valid; people riding their bikes too fast at the wrong time and place (around other trail users) is just not a pleasant experience for the people being passed at an inappropriate speed. As I’ve said many times before, we all have within our power the ability to solve this issue: slow down. In other words, use caution when around others. Let me put it another way; your actions represent the entire mountain bike community. The smile you create through a pleasant trail encounter goes a long way.