Blame to go around

Jail is appropriate for mountain-bike saboteur, but bikers should pause, reflect

May 03, 2013

The unfortunate case of Jackson Dempsey, who was sentenced Wednesday for sabotaging mountain-bike trails in the Ashland Watershed last summer, has come to an end. Dempsey will serve 30 days in jail an appropriate punishment for lapses in judgment that could have had much more serious consequences than they did.

But while Dempsey's victims can feel satisfied that justice was done, they should consider how their own actions affect other users of the watershed and the watershed itself.

Dempsey admitted to the Forest Service officer who arrested him that he sabotaged trails on at least five separate days last June and July because he did not like downhill mountain bikers. He admitted stringing nylon cords across trails and dragging logs and strewing nails onto the trails. The obstructions were carefully placed so that a rider could recover from hitting or avoiding one obstacle and accelerate before encountering the next obstacle.

Dempsey pleaded guilty to fourth-degree assault for an incident on July 22 and recklessly endangering for an incident on July 11. He pleaded no contest to another recklessly endangering charge for an incident on June 27.

It is not possible to overstate the potential seriousness of what Dempsey did actions his attorney called "galactically stupid."

In one incident, mountain biker Jordan Daniels came around a blind corner to see a cord strung across the trail about 100 feet ahead. He was going too fast to stop and struck the cord with his neck. His body slammed into one tree, his bike into another.

Daniels could have been killed or paralyzed in the crash.

He also could have been riding on an approved trail, but he wasn't. He was riding on an unauthorized trail.

That means he was placing at risk anyone who might be walking through the forest under the mistaken assumption that mountain bikers wouldn't come barreling down the slope at any moment. He was also contributing to erosion, damaging the forest floor.

Downhill mountain bikers enjoy the adrenaline rush of plunging down steep slopes at top speed, jumping over obstacles as they go. They should confine their sport to designated trails maintained and groomed for that purpose, and leave the rest of the watershed to those who prefer to enjoy the outdoors at a slower pace.