Subject: article from the Monterey Herald

Posted on Wed, Jan. 21, 2004

Fort Ord habitat in peril from mountain bikers

Rogue riders damaging rare environment


Illegal bike trails on Fort Ord are confounding federal Bureau of Land

Management officials.

The trails, cut by rogue mountain bikers under cover of darkness, can damage

the former base's rare habitat, encouraging erosion and crushing vegetation.

The bureau has fought a largely losing battle against off-trail riding by

posting signs and hauling brush to obstruct off-limit areas.

Now, officials are attacking the problem at its source with an education

campaign aimed at cyclists themselves. They've sent notices to area bike

shops and hiking and biking groups to teach them about the effects of riding

in forbidden areas.

Off-trail riding at the former Army base is a recent problem, said Eric

Morgan, the project manager for the bureau's 7,200 acres on Fort Ord. But it

was an issue that demanded quick action.

Much of the bureau's Fort Ord property is sensitive maritime chaparral, a

habitat that contains several rare or endangered plants. Improperly built

trails can erode soil and disrupt drainage patterns, turning a bike path

into a gully and eventually washing away hillsides.

The trail system on the fort can be confusing. Many paths and roads once

cleared by the Army are off-limits to the public. The only trails open are

those that are clearly designated by the bureau's brown signs. Enforcement

is also difficult, as the park has only one full-time ranger.

One twisty trail, cut through a woody patch, has given Ranger Tammy Jakl a

tough time. Cut overnight, Jakl has tried to close it off with signs, and

then by blocking it with eight-foot brush. Many times, someone has returned

and cleared the wildcat trail, even though a similar, legitimate path --

called "the Blair Witch Trail" -- winds through the woods only a few hundred

feet away.

"Whoever built it just wants it to be their trail," Jakl said. "It looked

really fun. I'm sure they got a lot of enjoyment out of it."

While that trail was cut in just one night, a properly planned trail takes a

lot more work. Elsewhere on the fort, a 22-member California Conservation

Corps crew is shaping a new path, shoveling and pounding dirt after a

miniature bulldozer cleared a four-foot swath through the woods.

"It's a good workout," huffed Sergio Hernandez, 19, of Salinas, as he

smoothed the trail.

Build a trail overnight? In the dark?

"It could happen," he said. "But I wouldn't recommend it."

Off-trail riding frustrates government officials because there are already

100 miles of designated roads and trails on the fort. People can also

suggest locations for new trails, or ask that an old Army path be designated

an open trail.

People ride off trail to make a more direct route, Jakl guessed.

Chris Burnham, an avid mountain biker who works at Joselyn's Bicycles in

Monterey, said that most off-trail riders don't even know they're riding out

of bounds.

"There's quite a few trails that don't have signs up," he said. "It can be


Regardless, off-limits riding can be punished by a $100,000 fine and a year

in jail, although most offenders will receive a warning, Morgan said. People

need to be educated about the consequences of their actions.

"Just one person walking across a field can start a trail," said Jakl.