Divided Trail for Mountain Bikes


Lost in the arguments: Whose land is this?

Roger Myers

Thursday, March 23, 2000

©2000 San Francisco Chronicle

URL: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2000/03/23/ED108533.DTL

It is the critters and plants that have the most to lose in all of this.

THIS LAND is your land; this land is my land -- so go the lyrics of the American folk classic. A large audience, dominated by members of the

well-organized and often stridently contentious off- road-cycling community, gathered for a March 9th public meeting seeking public input on proposed

changes to the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District's Trail Use Policy. These modest proposals would restrict cycling on seven of the district's

smallest preserves. An ad hoc committee of the board had been asked to reevaluate existing trail-use policies in light of burgeoning use of district trails,

largely by off-road cyclists, and the resulting impact such use has had on the natural environment. (According to its mission statement, the district was

created by voters in 1972 to ``acquire and preserve a regional greenbelt of open space land in perpetuity; protect and restore the natural environment;

and provide opportunities for ecologically sensitive public enjoyment and education.'' ) The perceived degradation of those opportunities as well as

concerns regarding increasing conflict between trail users was also to be addressed. During a protracted public comment phase, one cyclist after

another argued that since the cycling community comprised the decided majority of tax-paying trail users (75 to 95 percent by their own estimates),

they should have greater entitlement to trail access and a greater voice in trail-use decisions. A small number of hikers and equestrians countered with

concerns regarding trail safety and diminishing opportunities for tranquil contemplation and observation of nature on the trails. Some described

frightening encounters with reckless and discourteous cyclists. Though such rogue cyclists represent only a small fraction of the biking community, they

have created a public perception that the trails are no longer safe for equestrians or hikers, especially for the elderly and families with small children.

Somewhere in the bickering over entitlements, sight was lost of the true obligation and responsibility of all trail users, be they on foot, on horseback, or

on bikes -- the obligation to do no harm. Ironically, it is the natural community of critters and plants that has the most to lose in all of this and it had no

representatives at the meeting. No organized contingent wearing cycle helmets to emphasize their defiance and allegiance. No one to argue their

entitlement to use the land as they chose. No one to speak about their right for tranquility and safety. No voice at all. In truth, the land belongs to none

of us. We may, as tax-paying citizens, ``own'' the property, but it does not belong to us. The land belongs to the creatures and plant communities that

depend on our responsible stewardship of their last refuge from a world increasingly threatened by human expansion and development. We are all

visitors on their land, and our responsibility is to cause them no harm. These are, after all, Preserves! In light of dramatic population growth since the

district's inception and the resulting increased impact by all trail users, the district must reevaluate access to the preserves according to its basic policy

that provides for ``use of the preserves consistent with resource protection.'' We are in danger of loving our open space to death. If the impact of

recreational use gets to the point where it becomes inconsistent with resource protection, the district is obliged and mandated to mitigate those impacts.

This could well require reassessment and increased restriction of historical access to the preserves by any user group having an excessively deleterious

impact on the creatures and plant communities of the natural environment. This land is not your land. This land is not my land. This land is their land!

Roger Myers is a volunteer naturalist living in Redwood City.

©2000 San Francisco Chronicle Page A23