May 11, 2000
Gordy Slack, Senior Editor
California Academy of Sciences
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, California 94118
Re: Further Comments on Your Article, "Single Track Trail Mix"
I enjoyed reading the article "Single-Track Trail Mix" in the Spring "California Wild". I thought it was generally well researched and presented. I noted two errors and also wanted to pass along some comments.
On page 6 the case "Marin County vs. Babbitt" was mentioned. The case was actually "Marin v. Babbitt", with Marin being the "Bicycle Trails Council of Marin", the first of the plaintiffs. Another plaintiffs was the Bicycle Trails Council of the East Bay (BTCEB). The current BTCEB's President's threatening comments, which are unfortunately characteristic
of the more extreme elements of the off-road mountain biking community, were mentioned on page 7 of the article.
On page 7 an Oakland parks official "Martin Mataresse" was quoted. According to the City Directory at:http://www.oaklandnet.com/PDirectory2/default.html
his name is spelled "Matarrese".
I have a comment about the statement that the "BTCEB contributed about 2,000 volunteer hours last year". It isn't clear from the context if that is supposed to apply to Joaquin Miller Park or is an overall figure. Since they have one trail work day at Joaquin Miller Park each month, that would work out to 2,000 / 12 / 8 = 20 people putting in full 8 hour days at the park. I don't think they have 20 people putting in full 8 hour
days in the park each month. I think they have a few people working a few hours on one Saturday, during the months when they don't cancel the trail work.
Perhaps the figure includes the Dimond Canyon switchbacked bike trail they built down to Sausal Creek last year (about 1/2 mile west of Joaquin Miller Park). The new trail is only 1-3 ft. wide and was built in soft clay soil on a steep slope. As far as I know, no environmental or safety analysis was done prior to the building of this trail, which is now crumbling away, with sediment presumably ending up in the creek.
Note that rainbow trout have been found in this creek and in the upstream tributary Palo Seco Creek in Joaquin Miller Park a 1998 study performed for the City of Oakland identified wild rainbow trout between 6-8" long. Fin clippings were done of the trout and the DNA test results recently came back and confirmed the fish were wild. The increased sediment flow into the creeks from the many illegal and poorly constructed bicycle trails in the Oakland hills likely imperil the continued existence of the trout. References for the trout study information: Biota of Joaquin Miller Park and Dimond Canyon, Prepared by Martha Lowe for the City of Oakland Trails Working Group, 2/27/2000. Summarizes park flora and fauna, previous studies, and includes
information on rare and threatened species, including the federally protected Alameda Whipsnake and California Red-legged Frog. Also personnel communication (4/3/2000 Email) from Ms. Lowe on the wild trout issue.
About Matarrese's comment "... there's not a lot of volunteer work by the hikers, just a lot of complaints", the City of Oakland advertises the trail repair days as "Bicycle Trails Council of the East Bay trail work days" on a poster at the ranger station, and the bikers work mostly unsupervised. Mia Monroe and two other environmental/trails experts who have written letters to the City were not pleased by the trail maintenance they observed. The article did not quote that section of her letter: "Trail maintenance practices that are contrary to good land stewardship". Many park hikers and walkers would be glad to help with trail projects that were supervised by well trained, environmentally sensitive city staff. No one that I know wants to participate in trail work that may further damage the park and basically serves as a public relations tool for the more extreme mountain bike advocates.
With regard to the "Cessford study". I assume this is:http://www.mountainbike.co.nz/politics/doc/impacts/index.htm.
I did read this when the BTCEB people used it as "evidence" in the Trails Working Group meetings. This informal paper is mostly a review of other papers, of which few, if any, appeared in peer-reviewed journals. I think it is stretching it to call it a "scientific study", as the article did.
The Court in Marin v. Babbitt clearly agreed with the NPS experts who had studied erosion on GGNRA trails that bikes had a greater impact on the environment than people on foot. The decision stated: "The staff report and the environmental assessments addressed the impact on natural resources from permitting bicycle use on park trails. Two resource protection concerns were addressed by park officials as supporting restricted bicycle use. First, park officials noted serious erosion problems on certain steep narrow trails and determined that restricting bicycle use would slow such erosion. Second, park officials noted that on narrow trails bicyclists passing other users would either leave the trail or force the other users off the trail to the detriment of off-trail vegetation and wildlife. ... In summary, the NPS's resource-protection rationale was both supported by ample evidence in the record and reasonably related to the agency action undertaken. This rationale was not pretextual; rather, it was actually supportive of the agency action. The agency repeatedly and reasonably articulated that its action was being undertaken in service of this resource-protection rationale. Under these facts, NPS did not act in an arbitrary and capricious manner."
I think the article may have left people with a mistaken impression about the actual extent of environmental harm done to the environment by mountain bikers in some areas. Pointing out that the Court of Appeals made their decision on the basis of environmental and safety considerations by the NPS would have helped: "The agency struck a reasoned balance among the sometimes competing goals of recreation, safety, and resource protection as well as among the sometimes competing recreational interests of bicyclists and other park visitors."
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
P.S. For more information on the harm that mountain biking does, seehttp://home.pacbell.net/mjvande.