October 20, 2002
Board of Directors
East Bay Regional Park District
2950 Peralta Oaks Court
P.O. Box 5381
Oakland, California 94605-0381
Re: Mountain Biking in Briones Regional Park
I spent only a few hours in the park today, but I saw evidence of the destructive power of mountain biking everywhere I looked.
I entered at the Mariposa Trail off of Panorama Drive in Lafayette. Every trail (you call them "trails", but they are actually roads, and feel nothing like a trail) where bikes are allowed was ripped up and turned into powder by the mountain bikers. When hikers walk on a trail, they pack it down flat. But knobby tires, especially at mountain biking speeds, are designed to rip up the soil. They leave deep grooves, skid marks, and a pulverized trail surface. This kind of mechanized recreation is not sustainable! It leads to a continual degradation of the park as wildlife habitat and as an attractive place to visit that is not remediable in any reasonable time period. "Trail maintenance" does not restore the lost soil or dead organisms, and in fact is itself a large disturbance of the park and its wildlife. The first big rain will wash all that powder away, degrading the creeks, lowering the road grade, and necessitating more bulldozing.
Compare any of the mountain biking trails with the Bear Creek Trail, which is open only to hikers. The Bear Creek Trail looks great and apparently rarely needs any maintenance. Whose idea was it to allow knobby-tired bikes in the parks? They are destroying the parks!
I saw only two mountain bikers, but one of them was speeding, well over the 15 MPH speed limit (coming down the Homestead Valley Trail). He said "Hi". They all do. They think that this will make people like them and not object to what they are doing to the parks. Hah! A fifty percent rate of lawbreaking is not very good. Is anyone paying attention to what they are doing???
I couldn't find the ranger. The person taking parking fees didn't offer to call him. He also was totally ignorant of which trails are open to bikes. I complained about the bikers riding illegally and ripping up the trails, and said "Can't they walk?" He said that the bikers would reply "Can't you bike?" He said that his job is only to take the parking fees, and that he doesn't care whether the bikers are allowed in the park.
There is a short, steep, narrow footpath leading to the summit of Russell Peak. It had several bike tracks on it. The Bear Creek Trail also had a mountain bike track on it, easily visible on the east end next to a log across the trail, just east of the gate. Both trails are supposedly closed to bikes.
The mountain bikers already have access to 99% of the trails in the park, a high percentage of them continue to violate the rules (the International Mountain Biking Association had a study on its web site showing that, not a small minority, but a large majority of mountain bikers break the law), and they are still asking for access to more trails?! Pleasanton Ridge is the same. Only about 1% of the trail miles are closed to bikes. And even that is not enough for them: they are making their own illegal trails all over the park!
I go to the parks to enjoy nature. Period. If I wanted to walk on roads and watch out for large, fast-moving pieces of machinery, I would stay in the city! You are, quite simply, allowing the parks to be destroyed. Almost every place that is not being ripped to shreds by mountain bikers is being commercially grazed and turned into a patch of exotic weeds (mostly Russian thistle). You are so busy trying to get more money, that you aren't taking care of your primary responsibility: to preserve the parks as wildlife habitat. The East Bay Regional Parks are succumbing to Empty Park Syndrome. In three hours, I saw one lizard, a few squirrels, a few birds, and a feral cat. What have you done with all the wildlife?
Take a hike on the Bear Creek Trail. It is wonderful! While you are there, you feel on top of the world! But the entire park should look like that. As it is, the park hasn't changed for the better since it was a commercial cattle ranch! Oh, I guess it still is a commercial cattle- and mountain bike ranch. How much of the rangers' time is consumed by problems with cattle and mountain biking? Is that why they aren't tending to the wildlife?
Please restrict bicycles to paved roads, where they belong. If that rule is good enough for Yosemite National Park, it is good enough for the East Bay Regional Parks. And get rid of the cows!
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
P.S. Don't miss "Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction of the American West" (celebrating the book of the same name edited by George Wuerthner and Mollie Matteson), Room 2040, Valley Life Sciences Building, University of California, Berkeley, 7:30-9 PM, October 27, 2002: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/events/welfare-ranching.html.
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.
Noss, Reed F., "The Ecological Effects of Roads", in "Killing Roads", Earth First!
Noss, Reed F. and Allen Y. Cooperrider, Saving Nature's Legacy: Protecting and Restoring Biodiversity. Island Press, Covelo, California, 1994.
Vandeman, Michael J., http://mjvande.info, especially "The Effects of Mountain Biking on Wildlife and People -- Why Off-Road Bicycling Should be Prohibited" and "Equal Access to Our Parks".
Wuerthner, George and Mollie Matteson, eds., Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction of the American West. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2002.