In case someone cites this guy as some kind of "researcher", as happened to me, you should know that he is exclusively a mountain biker and mountain biking advocate. His position on the IMBA Board of Directors and his being a representative for Kona Bikes say it all. He is not a "researcher"! He is just a person who read the same "studies" that I reviewed and debunked in my paper http:/ / He has never done a lick of scientific research, and obviously has no understanding of science or research.


Comparing relative impacts of various trail user groups

A summary of research and studies on factors that affect trails management strategy and determining uses for each trail.

By Woody Keen
I am a professional trail builder based in NC and as such I see the relative impacts of all user groups on a very regular basis. I recently researched and made comments on this issue for a local state forest recreational plan and you may use these comments and review of the research in your efforts there. You will find my comments below comparing the relative impacts of horses vs. bikes, I hope this is helpful. Please let me know if I can answer any other questions for you.
Erosion on a hiking-only trail, the Tennessee Creek Trail in Marin County, CA

Comparing relative impacts of various trail user groups: The EA document introduces the concept that different user groups have varying levels of physical impacts on trails noting that hiking and biking have similar impacts while horse use has significantly higher impacts. Unfortunately the document does not really site any specific research or studies in forming this conclusion and some reviewers of the EA may read in an opinion based on prejudice instead of reaction to hard science. As a professional trail designer/builder, perhaps I have researched this (as it is important to my job) more than the author of the EA and I can share the research I have re-viewed.

The statements/claims in the EA are certainly well founded and number of different studies back up the generalizations made.

A 2001 study performed by botanist Richard Reader of the University of Guelph (Canada) noted that "We've found that hikers have the same effect as bikers do, regardless of the number of trips along the path. In reality, both are equally damaging to the environment, but there is increased trail wear because twice the number of people are now using the trails." (Impacts of Experimentally Applied Mountain Biking and Hiking on Vegetation and Soil of a Deciduous Forest - Eden Thurston and Richard Reader).

A trail impact study from the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute comparing hiking impacts to horses and llamas noted: "Horse traffic resulted in statistically significant higher sediment yields (the primary indicator of trail deterioration) than either hiker or llama traffic. The low level (250 passes) horse treatment caused more impact than the high level (1000 passes) llama treatments, suggesting that horses can cause at least four times as much impact to trails under the conditions simulated in this experiment. In addition, under dry trail conditions horse traffic caused significant reductions in soil bulk density (a measure of how compacted the soil is) compared to llama and hiker traffic. Horse traffic also caused significant increases in soil roughness compared with the other 2 users. This suggests that the greater impacts of horses on trails is a result of soil loosening of trail surfaces that are otherwise compacted, thereby increasing the detachability of soil particles and increasing sediment yield and erosion." (Llamas, Horses, and Hikers: Do They Cause Different Amounts of Impact? - Thomas Deluca (University of Montana) and David Cole (USFS - Wilderness Research Institute) 1998 study)

Don Weir also addresses the differences in compaction of soils by some users and displacement of soils by others in his book A Guide to the Impacts of Non-Motorized Trail Use (Don Weir and Associates- Edmonton Alberta Canada). Weir noted: "Repeated passes by bicycles (and most other users) tend to compact the soils of a trail tread. Vertical compaction tends to push particles closer together, thereby increasing shear strength. An increase in shear strength of the soil will have greater ability to resist erosive forces."

Weir also notes that: "Research to date has indicated that the degree of impacts from mountain bikes, relative to those of walkers who have their own unique forms of impacts, appear to be similar."

The Weir book is a wonderful resource and a great review of the literature and research available on the subject of trail impacts. It cites from many studies from around the word on the subject matter (many of these studies I have complete copies of the research papers). A few of these notable sources include:

Cessford (1995) asserts that: "Mountain bikers will exert a downward force through their tyres (translated to tires - Cessford is from New Zealand)which comprises the wheel load divided by the contact area, is likely to be less than that of heavier motorized vehicles, horses, and heavily laden hikers." (Off Road Impacts of Mountain Bikes: A Review and Discussion, Science and Research - G.R. Cessford, Department of Conservation Wellington New Zealand).
Weaver and Dale (1978) found that: "During down slope travel, downhill stepping (by foot and horse) was more erosive than downhill motor biking." It should be noted that the modern mountain bike did not exist at the time of this study, but later studies show that mountain bikes have far less impacts (equal to hiking) as compared with motor bikes. (Trampling Effects of Hikers, Motorcycles, and Horses in Meadows and Forests) - T. Weaver and D. Dale - Journal of Applied Ecology 1978)

In the Executive Summary of Weir's book, he notes that: "Common belief holds that wheeled vehicles cause new trails to form more readily than the actions of feet or hooves, thus justifying the allowance of off trail travel by hikers and equestrians. Yet, erosion studies cited above, practically Weaver and Dale (1978, Quinn et al (1981), Soanne et al (1981) and Cole (1987) , suggest that in many places, "feet and hooves will trample more than bicycle tires. The instantaneous sheer forces exerted on a plant by a foot or hoof will have much more of a tearing effect than the rolling over and crushing force of a bicycle wheel."

Don Weir also explores the effects/impacts of what he refers to as biological loading" in his book. He notes: "The amount of excreta produced by user groups is a function of user type and the residence time the user is in the area. We can hypothesize that equestrians produce the most amount by mass; then hikers, who have a longer residence time; and finally the mountain bikers who have the shortest residence time and therefore are less likely to need to void".

Perhaps the most widely accepted research on trail impacts of different users is the Seney/Wilson Study as it compared all the user groups together in one study (hikers, motorcycles, mountain bikes, and horses). Some of the findings from the Seney/Wilson Study include:

"The sediment yields reported in part B of Table 4 indicates that horse plots produced significantly more sediment yield than the bicycle, control, or hiker plots." "Hiker and bicycle plots were not significantly different from each other or the control plots." " Indeed, hikers produced the second largest increase in sediment yield following the horse treatments, and overall the horse and hiker plots suggest that hooves and feet make more sediment available for removal than wheels on pre-wetted soils. The results in Part D of Table 4 indicate horse traffic produced significantly more sediment than other users on dry plots as well". (Erosional Impact of Hikers, Horses, Motorcycles, and Off Road Bicycles on Mountain Trails in Montana- John Wilson and Joseph Seney - Mountain Research and Development 1994)

There are numerous other research reports that compare relative impacts of different user types on soils, vegetation, and trail tread surfaces. Most of the readers of my comments are likely to be bored by now as few are as interested in this subject matter as I am. I will therefore to cease to cite from these various reports and move on. Suffice it to say however that Dr. Gary Blank was well founded in his assertion that horses do indeed have a greater impact on trails than do hikers or mountain bikes.

Observations in the field by a trained eye will report similar results to the hard science and note that horse damage to trails is easier to record. This also follows common sense logic; horses will have greater impacts due to a much higher combined weight (horse with rider) concentrated into a smaller surface area (four hooves of which not all four can be on the ground as the horse moves forward, as compared to a bicycle tire which has a large contact surface area), and horse are the only trail user with metal (most trail horses are shoed) to trail tread contact (tires of mountain bikes and shoes on hikers are rubber).

Despite numerous reports (coming from science and research), observations and common sense that horses do indeed have much higher impacts than the other two user groups (hikers and mtn bikes), I am in no way suggesting that horses be removed from the DuPont State Forest trail system. To the contrary, I see DSF as being a wonderful and important resource for equestrian trail users. We do however need to recognize the greater impacts and make good decisions about which trails are appropriate for horse use and which ones are not. Trails identified as not suitable for horses (so as to protect the trail resources) always have the option of re-location to better alignments for sustainability and these options should be exercised in DSF when at all possible.

There are, however, a number of limiting factors on how quickly these changes can be made: availability of funding resources for professional trail construction, volunteer efforts on behalf of the equestrian community, cooperation with other users on volunteer projects to improve trail conditions for all users to name a few. Perhaps a long-term goal for the trail system at DSF could be to maximize the trail mileage for each user group (to provide for abundant recreational opportunities and have a very positive effect on the local economy) while minimizing impacts to the natural resources through good management decisions and sustainable trail development practices.

I believe that in addition to relative impacts, there are a number of factors that should be taken into consideration in the trails management strategy and determining trail uses for each trail in DSF. Certainly the relative impacts of user types needs to be considered and impacts monitored to make resource protection decisions. Other factors include:

1. Need and demand for trail resources. The EA pointed out that the Southern Appalachian Assessment of 1996 concluded that recreational opportunities in natural appearing and remote settings were abundant with exceptions for mountain biking and horseback riding (and other uses not allowed in DSF). This report seems to indicate that hiking opportunities were ample and not limited in any way. Taking this into consideration, perhaps an emphasis needs to be placed on developing sustainable recreational opportunities for those trail activities being generally under served (horseback riding and mountain biking).

2. Contributions of the various user groups giving back to the trail system (sweat equity). Equestrians and mountain bikers have led the charge of volunteer projects much more so than hikers. In fact, hiking groups are not working in the forest as a user group except working with and under the supervision of mountain bike leaders. The typical public FODF workday profile is: Blue Ridge Bike Club members providing the leadership and knowledge as well as club owned tools, 75- 90% workers from the mountain bike community and a small fraction coming from the hiking community. The equestrian community holds its own separate workdays with the leadership coming from the Pisgah Trailblazers and this group has been fairly consistent in holding work weekends from the forest inception to present.

The focus of projects by different groups has been quite different. The hiking community has no projects located in DSF they can call their own, and have only contributed some (but limited help) to the mountain bike community based projects. Projects performed under the leadership of the mountain bike community have focused on the following trail tread improvements: providing for better drainage for trails to control water issues (adding grade dips and knicks to poorly designed trails, all over the forest on many trails), armoring steep sections of trail to protect the native soils from erosion (Longside Trail, Cedar Rock Trail, Burnt Mountain, bottom of Jim Branch Trail), designing and building sustainable new trails and re-locations for poorly designed trails (Galax Trail, Reasonover Creek trail re-route during the IMBA Epic, Hickory Mountain Trail re-route at the old rifle range, the new addition to the Airstrip Trail, Pine Tree Extension from Staton Road to Sheep Mountain, the Switchback Trail), construction of needed trail structures (switchbacks like those found on the Galax trail) and providing for educational opportunities for all trail users though public trail schools.

Imaging what DuPont's trail system would look like without these significant contributions and improvements from the mountain bike community is daunting and needless to say there would have been a much larger impact on the resources (soil loss due to erosion) without these projects. The equestrian projects in the forest seem to focus on quite different projects: corridor clearing (brushing back of trails), work around the barn area (weed eating and cutting grass, fence work on the paddocks, fireplace ring and wood storage), signing and marking trails in the earlier stages of development, providing horse tie outs at key attractions to protect the trees, and some (but limited) drainage work on bad mud hole areas such as Turkey Knob trail. No doubt these have been important contributions to the forest and projects that forest staff would have likely not been able to accomplish without the help. However, due to the cited greater impacts to trail tread surface caused by horse use there should be a suggested shift and more energy could be directed at mitigating impacts by contributing more to trail tread related projects (perhaps working with the mountain bike community who are educated and experienced in this type of work).

3. Numbers of users within the various user groups and predicted future use patterns as compared with needed trail mileage for average length of stay. A number of sources have indicated that DSF averages 3000-5000 visitors per week. The EA document (and Trails Master Plan) breaks down the visitation into the most common forms of recreation: hiking (57%), mountain biking (25%), horseback riding (7%) and trail running (5%). National statistics find that there are the following numbers of trail users in America: 73.3 million hikers, 43.1 million single track mountain bikers, and 4.3 million horse back riders (sources: Outdoor Industry Association 2003 Participation Study and the American Horseman's Council).

All of these could certainly be broken down into sub categories, but perhaps the most important split would be looking at causal walkers (the typical waterfall tourist) differently from serious hikers. Hikers and walkers need the least amount of trail to make an outing experience due to the slower pace of travel and average time spent in the forest. Trail runners can range from those just catching a one-hour workout traveling an average of 4-6 miles to long distance backcountry runners who travel distances and speeds more similar to mountain bikers. The Trails Master Plan Survey found that mountain bikers and equestrians had the longest average stay as compared with other users and also traveled more trail distance per visit. All of this information can be used in the planning process and trails management to make sure each user group has ample trail mileage to accommodate desired experiences.

Board Of Directors

Woody Keen
Cedar Mountain, NC

Woody Keen, Cedar Mountain, North Carolina. Woody has been a leading mountain bike advocate for more than a decade. Keen and his wife JoJo were instrumental in creating the top-notch mountain bike trail system in the Dupont (North Carolina) State Forest, where he continues to serve as the volunteer trails coordinator. Keen is co-owner of a full-service trailbuilding company, Trail Dynamics. He has a special interest in creating sustainable freeriding opportunities.

Local mountain bike advocate Woody Keen, who also serves on the board for FODF, echoes her sentiments. Everyone had to roll up their sleeves to get this done. Its not too often you can beat big money development.

Mountain Bikers - Top Ten Reasons Why You Should Join The BRBC

by Woody Keen

Greetings fellow bicyclists,

Recently there has been much discussion about a whether the list server should be open or closed to nonmembers. As you know, the officers voted to keep this service open to all. We would, however, like to take a moment to remind you of what the club has accomplished, and why you should support our efforts through your membership. I am only a mountain biker, so I can only focus on that. Perhaps someone else can contribute what we have done in the road bike area.

As a mountain biker, you really would not have anywhere to ride your bike without the efforts of the BRBC. This is not just a clichbut in fact quite true. All the local mountain bike trails are open to you because of the efforts of the club and its members. Let's take a closer look. Here are the top ten reasons to join the BRBC if you are a mountain biker.

  1. Pisgah National Forest. All of the current trails open to bikes were the result of BRBC input back in the late 1980s. Early mountain bike guru Ed Erwin worked with other mountain bikers to represent the BRBC and the mountain bike community in influencing the USDA Forest Service (formerly called the USFS) to open up trails to bikes. This effort was quite successful, and today most of these early designations still stand. Over half of all trails in the Pisgah district are open to bikes. This is many more than any other USFS district in western North Carolina. In the district where the Tsali trail is, the four loops in that system are the only single-track trails legal to ride on. In Pisgah, you have many more choices than that. This abundance of great riding comes to you via the hard work of the BRBC and its members.
  2. Dupont State Forest. Almost all trails in Dupont are open to bikes, thanks to the early efforts of Chuck Ramsey, and later, yours truly. Chuck served on the Advisory Committee from day one, representing mountain bikers. I was invited to join that committee later. Chuck and I hosted trail workdays on behalf of the BRBC. We worked with other trail users from the very beginning of the development of that forest. To this day, the mountain bike community has a very large voice with land managers in Dupont. As you know, a 2200 acre tract of land was threatened with development in the heart of the forest. BRBC members worked with equestrians and Sierra Club members to keep this travesty from happening. We were successful in our efforts, and today there is a playground of over 10,000 acres with 80+ miles of trail, thanks in part to the BRBC.
  3. Alexander Mountain Bike Facility - Buncombe County. This was a project that was headed up by the WNC Bicycle Dealers Association, working with RTP grant money to make this a reality. The idea was to have a venue to put on races close to Asheville, but also provide another place to ride and train. The BRBC provided much of the labor to make the trails there a reality, and many hours of seat equity were poured into this system. Perhaps this is not an ideal place to ride. However, any open trail is better than a closed one. It also served its purpose in terms of a race venue, which was good because there was nowhere to do so (USFS will not issue a permit for such) and it reduced possible impact to already heavily used trails.
  4. Richmond Hill - Asheville City Parks. When Asheville announced a new city park, they also contacted the BRBC about developing a trail network for mountain bikes. In fact, mountain bike trails and disc golf were the only two uses the city really wanted to develop in this new park. Without an organized club such as the BRBC, the trails there would not have been open to bikes. Land managers want to deal with groups of users, not individuals. I have only been to Richmond Hill once, but I see great potential for this in-town ride venue.
  5. Linear Wildlife Openings in Pisgah. As you know, the USFS closed off 25 miles of road to mountain bikes and horses. These roads were gated off to create what they call Linear Wildlife Openings. The BRBC (though members Julie White, Chuck Ramsey, JoJo and Woody Keen) appealed the decision and showed that we are a force to reckon with. The BRBC lost its appeal, but I can assure you we would have had many more of these gated roads without the input and voice we had during the process.
  6. Trail Schools. The BRBC has helped to host two IMBA trail building schools in Dupont State Forest. A write-up on one of our schools is available online at the IMBA website. In both of these schools, the mountain bike community proved to other trail users that we care deeply about the trails we use, and showed our pledge to improve them. Everyone attending both schools learned a lot. We established that mountain bikers more often than not have great knowledge about sustainable trail design and building, as well as proper maintenance techniques. Because of these two schools in Dupont, land managers there see us as the experts, and you do not find non-mountain bike friendly structures popping up on trails (such as ugly non-functional water bars).
  7. IMBA Epics. In fall of 2001, the BRBC hosted an IMBA Epic Ride in Dupont. This highlighted the fact that we have great riding in the area, and are willing to share with others. A full write-up on the Dupont Epic is online at the IMBA website. The Epic we held was the first really big Epic IMBA had ever held; over 70 riders participated. To this day, it was one of the most successful. We had a fun work project which yielded a great trail, and we followed it up with a wonderful ride. The 35 mile route is clearly one of the best long rides in the area. All of this was possible because of the BRBC and its dedicated mountain bike members.
  8. Tool grants. As we all know, working on trails is our insurance policy for being able to ride them. It is referred to as sweat equity. Indeed, without it, you would have nowhere to ride that expensive mountain bike. The club has funded tools out of the general budget, but has also been successful at getting grants to purchase tools. We received a $3,000 tool grant several years ago, and this allowed us to purchase enough hand tools to outfit several crews. Without the club, we would not have all the nice dirt digging tools that the BRBC now owns.
  9. Dingo purchase. Speaking of dirt digging tools, the Dingo is the mack daddy tool. It will allow us to do much more than we could ever accomplish using hand tools. We have many new trails for Dupont and other areas, and the Dingo will help see these dreams become realities. Without the pledge from club funds, the Dingo purchase (using grant money) would not have happened.
  10. Regular Club Sponsored Mountain Bike Rides. BRBC trail rides have been happening for many years, and Jeremy Arnold has cranked up the volume here recently. These rides are a great way to learn new loops and meet other cool dirt-heads.

There you have it: ten concrete reasons why you should be a member of the BRBC. It is easy and fun to be a member. The application form is online at the BRBC website. Even if you are not a "club person", you can support our efforts with your $25 membership and do nothing else. If you are reading this and own a mountain bike, you are indeed benefiting from the ongoing efforts of the club. We need your support to accomplish even more great projects in the upcoming year. Whether you ride a $300 or $3000 bike, membership in the BRBC is a cheap investment to keep you rolling out in the dirt.

Woody Keen

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Blue Ridge Bicycle Club Inc. 2004

Greetings all,

Sorry for such a delayed response to Jeremy's question, I have been busy and
have not had a chance to find out the answer. I finally spoke to District
Ranger Randy Burgess last night and we chated for quite some time including
discusion on Farlow Gap trail. I had noticed that it did not show up on the
quaterly review for proposed projects and was afraid the decision had been

I was plesantly surprised to learn the Randy had pulled it from the
proposals list and that means that Farlow Gap will remain open to bikes.
This issue started when a hiker was aparently run off the trail by a mtn
biker and filed an official compaint with the USFS. Rnady told me that he
and his family had also had one bad encounter with riders going to fast on
another trail in Pisgah when they were out hiking one day. He did tell me
that all other encounters with bikers were positive and he noted that if
hikers are looking to get away from mtn bikes that there were plenty of
hiking only trails providing that experience.

Randy is a really good guy and rides a mtn bike a little bit. We have a
meeting set up for next week at Bent Creek and he noted he may bring his
bike if we promised not to laugh at him.

Way too many of you reading this contribute very little to the local mtn
bike advocacy efforts. I will ask of three things of you moving forward:

1. Every reaction you have with other trail users(horses and hikers) is an
opportunity to make an impression, make it a positive one by slowing down,
yielding the trail if needed and talking with other trail users. Ask them
how thier hike is, talk about the good weather, warn them of any hazards
ahead and tell them to have a nice day. This simple action will continue to
help secure our riding priviliages for years to come.

2. Come out and do some trailwork once in a while. The last 2 years have
really taking a toll on local trails with lots of rain and increased trail
use. As a mtn bike community, we need to make sure we are giving back to the
trail systems that we enjoy so much.

3.Join BRBC. Our local club needs your support and we are always working
hard to improve riding conditions (both mtn and road) for locals and
visitors alike. We can't do it without your support. Ask at your local bike
shop how you can join the club and get involved.

Woody Keen- BRBC Trails Resource Director

Woody Keen - Southeast Kona Rep
Woody is based in North Carolina and has worked for Kona since 1995. He is a an active member of the Blue Ridge Bike Club, IMBA, the Sierra Club, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, The Conservation Network, Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, The Access Fund, Foothills Trail Conference, and the Friends of Dupont Forest.

Woody and his local club hosted a very successful IMBA Trail School In March 2001, with over 70 attendees, and were chosen to host an IMBA EPIC Ride in October 2001. In the Spring of 2000, Woody helped formed Friends of the Falls, a grassroots group fighting a gated housing development located within a state forest. The area has incredible trails highlighted by spectacular waterfalls, some of which were featured in the Last of the Mohicans feature film. After a 6 month struggle and campaign the state acquired the land in question through eminent domain and it is now a playground for all outdoor enthusiasts instead of houses and country clubs.

Woody is a powerful advocate for mountain biker's rights. He says: "If you think advocacy work doesn't pay off, think again. I would be happy to take you for a ride in the Falls area and prove you wrong. I am thrilled to see smiles of faces of everyone who comes here. It is truly a Mecca for mountain biking and other trail users.

"We have to give back to the trails we use. I enjoy teachingpeople how to build and maintain sustainable trails. I do volunteer work with Boy/Girl Scouts, local summer camps, college and universities, and the Blue Ridge Bike Club/Friends of Dupont Forest. Everyone enjoys getting dirty, they just need to learn how to do it in a productive way. I also do a fair bit of work by myself, I probably have 500 hours in since the first of the year. There is nothing better than riding a section of trail that you built. While others just breeze by unknowingly; you study the drainages, crib walls, sweeping turns, swithbacks and marvel and the beauty of full bench cuts."

"I was first attracted to Kona due to their advocacy efforts, the Buck a Bike program was very cool. I could only work for a company who gives back as much as Kona does. I used to own a rock climbing equipment supplier and when I sold that I got into the bike industry to have fun. Kona is all about having fun. And of course Kona bikes are numero uno."