August 7, 2004
Dear Board Member Wieskamp,
I am deeply troubled to learn that the East Bay Regional
Park District's Board of Directors is yielding to pressure
from the mountain biking lobby to allow bicycles on a
limited number of its trails. Here, in Marin County, where
this aggressive, destructive sport began mountain bikes
have never been allowed on hiking trails. In an effort to
be fair and accommodating, mountain cyclists were given
access to approximately 100 miles of the fire protection
roads that lace our state parks, open space district, and
water district. The consequences of that ill-fated decision
have been disastrous!
Once the bikes were allowed on the fire roads, cyclists immediately
ran amok, riding on every hiking trail and bridle path. Collisions
and near-misses among cyclists, and between cyclists and equestrians,
and cyclists and hikers were unavoidable and became commonplace.
I, myself, was struck and seriously injured by a group of mountain
bikers plunging down a steep, narrow trail. Avoiding consequences
for the act, they sped off, leaving me alone a mile and a half from the
trail head, seriously bleeding with a badly lacerated foot. Accidents
to equestrians sometimes resulted in serious injury as riders were
thrown from their mounts, and horses fleeing in panic endangered
others traveling on foot.
Once that unfortunate decision was made expectations of a pleasant
day in the quietude of the natural environment became a thing of the
past. Park visitors were obliged to enter trails in a state of anxiety,
on the lookout for the next unexpected cyclist, clad in helmet and
body armor, that might come speeding through. Heated altercations
between cyclists and other park visitors became a regular occurrence
as mountain bikers in pursuit of thrills, chills, and spills became
frustrated when other trail users were either unwilling or unable
to get out of their way.
The problem eventually exploded to mammoth proportions. Speed
limits were imposed — cyclists disregarded them. Signs were
posted to mark restricted trails — cyclists defaced or destroyed
them. Hikers reminded cyclists that hiking trails were closed to
mountain bikes — cyclists initially responded by feigning ignorance,
eventually they simply ignored them. Rangers issued citations to
violators — cyclists accepted the fines as the reasonable price of
admission for a thrilling experience, much like a ticket for a
roller coaster ride. Trees and vegetation were destroyed by cyclists
who, contemptuous of park management, built their own trails.
Park rangers trying to enforce the law were assaulted by cyclists,
one incident resulting in a squad car pursuit by local police and
the county sheriff's department through the streets of Fairfax. In
the end, land managers were forced to realize that enforcement
was impossible as thousands of cyclists descended on their parks
and overwhelmed their staff.
To this day the unhappy consequences of the decision to allow
mountain bikes into Marin's parks and open spaces, even on a
restricted basis, remain with us. Insatiable in their appetite,
mountain bike enthusiasts remain dissatisfied with the
concessions made for their benefit and militantly campaign
to gain access to every trail, no matter how narrow or steep.
I count myself among the many who, finding the parks now
to be such a hostile and unpleasant environment, no longer
come to enjoy them as often as I once had. Where I used to
hike virtually every weekend, I now hike but once or twice
a year, preferably during the foulest of weather in an effort
to avoid ugly encounters.
I appreciate that the mission of the East Bay Regional
Park District is to provide recreation for the people of
the East Bay, but it is important to appreciate that it
is impossible to accommodate the advocates of mountain
biking without doing so at the expense of the parks
themselves, and those others who come to enjoy them.
Mountain bikes simply are not appropriate for use on trails;
they are altogether incompatible with other park uses.
I earnestly implore you to reconsider allowing them off
pavement and onto your trails. Through bitter experience
we have learned that once out of the bottle, this ill-tempered
genie will give you nothing but trouble — and you won't be
able to get him back in.