April 10, 2000

China Camp State Park

Route # 1, Box 244

San Rafael, CA 94901

Re: Mountain Biking in China Camp State Park


China Camp State Park has a reputation as a "mountain biking-friendly" park. I wanted to see what effect that has had on the park. In a similar inspection of Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park two weeks ago, I found bikers riding off-trail, especially over hills that provide them some downhill thrills. I also found them riding in wet conditions, and creating narrow V-shaped gullies that make the trail very difficult or even dangerous to hike on. They also exposed and killed roots. I found the same conditions in China Camp.

I hiked from Point San Pedro Road over the hill just to the east of the ranger station, where bikers have created ugly gashes in the hill on both the east and west sides. It is impossible to miss these eyesores, as you approach from the east. The tire marks, especially the grooves, are obvious.

I continued along the Shoreline Trail west of the ranger station, where I found areas of trail V-grooved or turned into powder, as well as areas where bikers had ridden up on the upper shoulder of the trail, presumably for added thrills. This kind of damage is cumulative, and cannot really be repaired. It is gradually degrading parks around the world, some beyond human ability to repair, and many to the extent that they have had to be closed to bikes (see, for example, http://www.wheeled-locusts.org). Mountain biking also lays a huge trail maintenance cost on the public. Trails open to mountain bikes are much more expensive to maintain, as you undoubtedly already know. Hikers and other taxpayers, who do no noticeable damage to the trails (most of whom don't even go to the parks), have to pay for that.

The wildlife also pay -- by loss of habitat (including being driven away from needed resources) or even death, due to the greater speed and momentum of the bikes, and the much greater distances that bikers can travel in the same amount of time, taking them far into remote areas where wildlife previously had some respite from hoards of humans.

I am not used to hiking where there are mountain bikers. It was extremely unpleasant! I found myself being constantly tense, wondering when the next huge biker would come up behind me or around a curve, and how fast. I certainly couldn't enjoy the park. It made me appreciate just how relaxing and peaceful an activity hiking is, when such threats are absent. Other than for investigations like this, I will never consider hiking on narrow trails like these where mountain bikers are present. What would be the point? I go to parks precisely to get away from machinery and behavior like this, which can be found in abundance in any city! In talking with other hikers, I found that they feel the same, but most don't like conflict, and don't speak up. They also don't feel that there is anything that can be done about the problem. They feel that they are obligated to put up with it.

I also hiked the Turtle Back Trail, a tiny trail that is the only one in the park where bikes are not allowed. Of course, there were mountain bike tracks there, also! Only a few minutes before I got there, three mountain bikers rode around to the back of Turtle Back and up and over the top. I know, because I met another hiker there who saw them skid down the front of the hill, where there is a big gash easily visible from the road. One of them had gone over his handlebars and crashed. I guess they live for illicit thrills like that. Isn't it amazing, that 99% of the park's trails are open to them, and yet it still isn't enough for them?!

The mountain bikers are obviously able-bodied. Most of them are young and healthy-looking, and many are extremely muscular. So why are they too lazy to walk???! Can you please explain that mystery? Any trail is half uphill and half downhill. On the downhill portion, they get no exercise whatsoever (unless you count squeezing the brake levers, or exercising bad judgment)! And it is well known that on level ground, the bicycle uses less energy per mile than any other form of transportation, including walking. The vast majority of them also drive to the trailhead in a car, truck, or SUV. Is our society so flabby, that we no longer consider walking an attractive option? Obviously, there is no better way to enjoy nature, than to walk. Riding at bike speeds, and having to pay constant attention to not crashing, gives one little experience of the natural world (I have the sore feet to vouch for that!). It simply turns our parks into athletic trials for the young and macho.

I only saw one ranger, Larry Perkins, who was in the ranger station. No wonder the bikers "get away with murder". They also seemed to be parking along the road, as if to be avoiding parking charges (the vast majority seemed to be arriving by car, truck, or SUV).

Please remove bikes from the trails! We cannot afford to subject every square inch of our scanty remaining wildlife habitat to these hooligans. (Of course, even the so-called "responsible" mountain bikers, as I have explained, harm wildlife and the natural environment.) Like skateboards, jetskis, and snowmobiles, mountain bikes are not an appropriate use of natural areas, and the fact that people are able to buy these machines does not make the public obligated to give them a place to use them!


Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.

P.S. I did not visit any other area of the park, but I suspect that they are the same or worse. I will soon have numerous photographs of the damage to show you, if you would like to see them. For more information on the harm that mountain biking does, see http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande.