April 14, 2000

Mission Trails Regional Park

Mission Trails Regional Park Foundation, Inc.

One Father Junipero Serra Trail

San Diego, CA 92119

Re: Mountain Biking in Mission Trails Regional Park


Mission Trails Regional Park has a reputation as a "mountain biking-friendly" park. I wanted to see what effect that has had on the park. In a similar inspection of Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park three weeks ago, I found bikers riding off-trail, especially over hills that provide them some downhill thrills. I also found them riding in wet conditions, and creating narrow V-shaped gullies that make the trail very difficult or even dangerous to hike on. They also exposed and killed roots. I found the same conditions in China Camp State Park. In Mission Trails Regional Park, I found exactly the same conditions (except for riding in wet conditions, although I suspect that if I had explored more of the park, I would have found that also).

Due to lack of time, I only walked a bit of the Visitor Center Interpretive Trail -- to markers 1,2,4, & 5 -- but in that short section, I saw V-shaped grooves that make walking difficult and dangerous, numerous illegal trails (presumably built for added thrills), where bikers have created ugly gashes, and widening of the trail up to ten times the width needed for a hiking trail! Some of the trail was turned into powder. It is impossible to miss these eyesores. The tire marks, especially the grooves, are obvious. In one case, bike tracks went right past a barrier and a sign saying "Sensitive Habitat -- Keep Out"! Congratulations! You have managed in a very short time to turn a nice "nature walk" into an ugly, very unpleasant experience that teaches us more about the seamy side of human nature than it does about wildlife. This is the first and only time I have ever seen a "nature trail" turned into an ugly, unpleasant experience!

This kind of damage is cumulative, and cannot really be repaired. It is gradually degrading parks around the world, some beyond human ability to repair, and many to the extent that they have had to be closed to bikes (see, for example, http://www.wheeled-locusts.org ). Mountain biking also lays a huge trail maintenance cost on the public. Trails open to mountain bikes are much more expensive to maintain, as you undoubtedly already know. Hikers and other taxpayers, who do no noticeable damage to the trails (most of whom don't even go to the parks), have to pay for that.

The wildlife also pay -- by loss of habitat (including being driven away from needed resources) or even death, due to the greater speed and momentum of the bikes, and the much greater distances that bikers can travel in the same amount of time, taking them far into remote areas where wildlife previously had some respite from hoards of humans.

I am not used to hiking where there are mountain bikers. It was extremely unpleasant! I found myself being constantly tense, wondering when the next huge biker would come up behind me or around a curve, and how fast. I certainly couldn't enjoy the park (the bikers' forced friendliness did not make it any better.) It made me appreciate just how relaxing and peaceful an activity hiking is, when such threats are absent. Other than for investigations like this, I will never consider hiking on narrow trails like these where mountain bikers are present. What would be the point? I go to parks precisely to get away from machinery and behavior like this, which can be found in abundance in any city! In talking with other hikers, I found that they feel the same, but most don't like conflict, and don't speak up. They also don't feel that there is anything that can be done about the problem. They feel that they are obligated to put up with it.

I am sorry that I didn't get to hike the hiker-only trails, but I am willing to bet that I would have found bike tracks there, too, because the same thing is happening in every park I have ever visited.

The mountain bikers are obviously able-bodied. Most of them are young and healthy-looking, and many are extremely muscular. So why are they too lazy to walk???! Can you please explain that mystery? Any trail is half uphill and half downhill. On the downhill portion, they get no exercise whatsoever (unless you count squeezing the brake levers, or exercising bad judgment)! And it is well known that on level ground, the bicycle uses less energy per mile than any other form of transportation, including walking. The vast majority of them also drive to the trailhead in a car, truck, or SUV. Is our society so flabby, that we no longer consider walking an attractive option? Obviously, there is no better way to enjoy nature, than to walk. Riding at bike speeds, and having to pay constant attention to not crashing, gives one little experience of the natural world (I have the sore feet to vouch for that!). It simply turns our parks into athletic trials for the young and macho.

I didn't see a single ranger, except in the Visitor Center. No wonder the bikers "get away with murder".

Please remove bikes from the trails! We cannot afford to subject every square inch of our scanty remaining wildlife habitat to these hooligans. (Of course, even the so-called "responsible" mountain bikers, as I have explained, harm wildlife and the natural environment.) Like skateboards, jetskis, and snowmobiles, mountain bikes are not an appropriate use of natural areas, and the fact that people are able to buy these machines does not make the public obligated to give them a place to use them!


Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.

P.S. I did not visit any other area of the park, but I suspect that they are the same or worse. For more information on the harm that mountain biking does, see http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande.