January 6, 2001
Board of Directors
East Bay Regional Park District
2950 Peralta Oaks Court
P.O. Box 5381
Oakland, California 94605-0381
Re: Mountain Bike Races in Briones Regional Park
Any rational person would think it absurd that our parks -- created to preserve a bit of pristine nature to be enjoyed forever -- would be used as places to house cattle or hold mountain bike races. But such a person could not be familiar with the East Bay Regional Park District, where such abuses are the rule, rather than the exception!
The last race was held last September 23. I visited the park four days later, to document the damage that was done to the park. The race course was twenty miles long, so I knew I couldn't possibly hike it in a day. Consequently I borrowed a friend's mountain bike. It was lucky that I did, because I discovered that, contrary to what the mountain bikers claim, riding a bike off of paved roads is no fun at all! I rode only on fire roads, but even there, I was continually subject to violent jarring, due to the hoof- and tire-pocked "washboard" surface of the road. (I know that there are bikes with a so-called "suspension", but there is no way to make a ride like that "smooth" or enjoyable.)
Not only was the ride physically very unpleasant, but having to continually watch the trail and try to control the bike meant that it was impossible to enjoy the scenery or listen to the subtle sounds of nature. So much for the mountain bikers' claims that they use bikes to "enjoy nature"! Not having my feet in contact with the ground further alienated me from the delightful sensations that I usually experience when I hike.
I saw the usual damage -- bikes being ridden off-trail (e.g. east of the Abrigo Trail), trails getting rutted or torn into powder, skid marks, and "moonscape" caused by the presence of cows and bikes during wet conditions. Huge cracks cut through the surface of the road, where upcoming rains would carry away large chunks of the road. It is obvious that the erosion caused by bikes and cows will be extremely expensive to repair, if it is even repairable (eroded and destroyed soil is not coming back!)!
I parked the bike at the east end of the Bear Creek Trail and hiked it and back, looking for bike tracks (it is part of the tiny percentage of park trails off-limits to bikes). Luckily, there were none. But I noticed that the feeling of ecstasy that I felt while being in this wild area of the park was present on none of the other trails. On the way back, I wanted to see if I could hike along the creek, to see something even more natural. But (luckily for the wildlife) it was impossible. However at one point on what must have been a deer trail, a large buck flushed from the thick brush near the creek. This was the only animal, other than a few birds, that I saw during those several hours in the park! Obviously, there is too much human- and cattle presence in the park, for wildlife to feel comfortable there.
At one point (on the Deer Creek Trail?) I passed a small pond. It was almost completely filled with cattails. There were no frogs or other animals. And the entire surrounding bank was pockmarked by the hoofprints of cattle, making the area very difficult to walk on. Whatever nature had in mind for this pond certainly wasn't being allowed to happen. Normally, I am very attracted to water, and feel nothing but joy when I am around it. But here, I felt nothing but sorrow and disgust.
Except for a few tiny spots that you haven't ruined, such as the Bear Creek Trail, being in Briones is indistinguishable from being on a ranch! There is no park there! It is completely dominated by man and his domestic animals! The cows have destroyed vast areas of what should be native flora and fauna. Their isobar-like trails dominate all the hillsides. The vast majority of the native wildlife capable of leaving have already left. Or died. A few animals able to "hold their noses" and put up with the presence of a lot of people (such as deer) are all that are left.
After 33 years of owning this land, you should have been able to restore it to a semblance of its natural condition! Instead, it has remained just as artificial, unattractive, and biologically impoverished as every other place that is entirely dominated by humans. Removing such obvious insults as cattle and mountain biking should be easy. The hard part will be removing the huge network of roads (I know -- you call them "trails"!), and the acres of exotic plants and animals, that prevent this once-beautiful place from being what it so desperately wants and needs to be.
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
P.S. If you doubt the truth of what I am saying, just hike the Deer Creek Trail, and then the Bear Creek Trail, and see if they feel different to you!
Foreman, Dave Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, New York: Harmony Books, c. 1991
Knight, Richard L. and Kevin J. Gutzwiller, eds. Wildlife and Recreationists. Covelo, California: Island Press, c.1995.
Liddle, Michael, Recreation Ecology. London: Chapman & Hall, c.1997.
Vandeman, Michael J., http://mjvande.info, especially " The Effects of Mountain Biking on Wildlife and People -- Why Off-Road Bicycling Should be Prohibited " and "Rethinking the Impacts of Recreation".