"They know it's wrong but they do it anyway"!



From: scribe2b@aol.com (Scribe2b)

Newsgroups: alt.mountain-bike

Subject: SUICIDE by riders

Date: 04 Sep 2000 15:56:27 GMT

Bikers Leave Wake as They Break Trails

Wilderness: Thrill-seekers wreak havoc on sensitive habitat in O.C.

By MARTIN BECK, Times Staff Writer

Tom Maloney is losing his battle with poachers on wheels. Too many

mountain bikers at Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park in south Orange

County flout the law by riding unauthorized trails or cutting their own,

damaging some of the park's most environmentally sensitive areas.

And Maloney--the park's only ranger--admits he can't do much about it.

Thrill-seeking mountain bikers shun the wide, rolling fire roads as too

boring and, instead, force their own paths through the pristine wilderness. The

problem is especially acute in Orange County, where rugged coastal hills lure

some of the professional sport's biggest daredevils and led one local guidebook

to dub Orange County "the mountain-biking capital of the world."

Unlike in neighboring Los Angeles County, where a vast network of

mountain-bike enthusiasts voluntarily patrol their own ranks, in Orange County,

rangers at more than a dozen off-the-beaten-path parks struggle to keep bike

riders on trails.

Examples are commonplace:

* Last year at Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, three mountain bikers were

observed hacking through the brush with machetes, clearing an illegal trail

that had been closed for replanting.

* At nearby Crystal Cove State Park, renegade riders rig barbed-wire

fences to more easily slip onto restricted trails. Officials post warnings, but

the signs are routinely ripped down.

* Exasperated rangers at Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park in remote South

County recently resorted to calling out sheriff's deputies to cite a man they

say is an especially persistent offender. He pleaded guilty to trespassing last

month and was fined $27.

The problems are most pressing at Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park,

more than 4,000 acres of coastal hills and canyons bounded by Laguna Beach,

Aliso Viejo and Laguna Niguel. The park's remoteness attracts more than 100,000

users annually--hikers, trail-runners, equestrians and mountain bikers.

In the region, most visitors stay on marked trails within the nearly

200,000 acres of wilderness parkland, including the sprawling Cleveland

National Forest. Some, however, sporting souped-up bikes and cycling gear that

allows them to tackle more rugged terrain, seek greater challenges. They stray

onto off-limits trails or race down untrammeled ridgelines, creating new

routes. Maloney estimates illegal trails--with fresh ones springing up

weekly--outnumber legal ones 3 to 1.

"I can see a remarkable decrease in quality of the habitat just from all

the ridge-top trails," he said.

Many riders don't realize they are breaking the law by straying off marked

trails. Others don't care.

The results are especially destructive: Nesting raptors are frightened off

when knobby tires mangle native vegetation. Habitat for the endangered

gnatcatcher, already in critical condition, is further fragmented.

"I could catch them every day if I wanted to," Maloney said of illegal

mountain bikers, "but my time is limited and the results are sometimes


Rangers don't have authority to write citations. And sheriff's deputies

are called in for only the most belligerent offenders.

A proposal to give park rangers the ability to write tickets is under

review. Another possibility, Maloney said, is hiring deputies to ride with


But catching scofflaws is a whole other issue. The park is so huge that

cyclists easily elude Maloney in his pickup. Cyclists who poach tend to ride

when rangers are off-duty.

Stepped-up law enforcement is only part of the answer, said John Gannaway,

lead ranger at Caspers Wilderness Park.

"We know we're not going to be able to stop everybody," he said. "But the

mountain-biking community is really close-knit and we hope that when the word

gets out that rangers are citing, most bikers will stop riding the illegal


Most riders heeded that message long ago, said Jim Meyer, executive

director of Trails4All, a group made up of Orange County equestrians, hikers,

trail-runners and mountain bikers who work on volunteer trail-maintenance

projects. Groups such as Trails4All and the International Mountain Bicycling

Assn. urge riders to behave responsibly by sticking to established trails and

believe the vast majority do just that.

"It's not a mountain-bike issue," Meyer said. "It's a people issue. I get

really sensitive as a mountain-bike rider when everyone is pointing the finger

at us."

Other users cause problems as well, Meyer said: Bird-watchers and

native-plant people trot off trail, and runners and hikers often cut

switchbacks and cause erosion problems.

Mountain Bikers Train on O.C.'s Steep Terrain

Mountain bikes are a fairly recent addition to the recreational landscape.

They were invented in the late 1970s and by the mid-'80s, mountain biking was a

full-fledged fad that edged out road biking. By 1993, 90% of bicycles sold for

adults were mountain bikes.

Orange County's downhill trails attract some of the sport's top downhill

professionals, who live and train here. Among them: Laguna Beach's Brian Lopes,

who last month wrapped up the 2000 World Cup championship in men's dual slalom,

and Newport Beach's Tara Llanes and Capistrano Beach's Leigh Donovan, who

finished second and fifth, respectively, in the women's dual slalom.

Along the way, bike technology improved, allowing riders to handle

increasingly severe terrain and, in the process, tear up more parkland.

With wider tires and full-suspension, shock-absorbing systems, the rigs

have more in common with motorcycles than their motorless predecessors.

Downhillers in full-face helmets and protective body armor rocket down severe

trails, some with drop-offs as tall as a freight train.

Aliso, Wood and adjacent Laguna canyons are among the favorite

playgrounds. They offer a thrill ride for amateurs and necessary practice for

professionals, but the trails that test a downhiller's skills the best are


Donovan, the 1995 world downhill champion, said she has stopped riding

unauthorized routes, but does so reluctantly because the alternative is to

drive hours to ski resorts in the local mountains.

"We all want to ride the trails, but if we can't ride them, we can't ride

them," Donovan said. "We'll make it happen somewhere else. We don't want to

because this place is so great."

Other riders aren't so cooperative. They argue that developers have

destroyed most of the area's habitat to make way for housing, golf courses and

roads. By comparison, bikers--even those on unauthorized trails--are treading

lightly, they argue.

"I've been doing it since '87," said Keith Eckstein, vice president of the

Orange County-based SHARE Mountain Bike Club, "and the only damage to the

environment has been the . . . toll road."

Eckstein also downplayed concerns about the damage done by cyclists.

"At the end of all things, it's just a bike ride," he said. "You are just

out there in the woods enjoying nature. You're not damaging it, no more than a

horse or hiker is."

Mountain biker Dave Wonderly of Silverado Canyon challenges claims that

the trails need to be closed because of damage.

"They are perfectly good trails, not overused," said Wonderly. "It's not

turning into a big rut. It's not getting thrashed."

Land managers disagree, saying they have good reasons to close off areas,

although those reasons are not always evident.

Crystal Cove State Park is home to many archeological sites with artifacts

from settlements 800 to 2,000 years old, said ecologist David Pryor. A biker

straying off a trail could seriously damage these precious ruins. Unauthorized

bike trails often slice through sensitive habitat, with fast-moving bikes

possibly running over or scaring away animals, Pryor said.

One encroachment might not cause irreversible harm, but the effects are


"They're all little hits, little chinks out of the thing," Pryor said,

"but when you add them all together, what are you going to get?"

That's what a five-year study by the Nature Reserve of Orange County's

Recreation Ecology Committee will examine next spring. A public-private

partnership that presides over 37,000 acres of Orange County open space, it is

mandated by federal and state law to help threatened species thrive.

The study will map area trails, measuring how they widen or narrow over

time and the effects on plants and animals.

Mike Reeder, the committee chairman and ranger at Peters Canyon Regional

Park, said Orange County land managers will have to address the study's


Teaching to Save Trails Can Be an Uphill Ride

Some trails might be temporarily closed as a last resort.

"We need to preserve the habitat and preserve the visitor experience,"

Reeder said, "and at the same time not make it so difficult for somebody to

have fun that they can't find anyplace to go without breaking a rule."

Meanwhile, at Aliso and Wood Canyons Park, Maloney fights a lonely battle,

mostly by trying to educate people to the damage done when they ride illegal


The trails give predators such as raccoons an easier path to attack

endangered animals.

"It's like a grocery store for them," Maloney said. "It's like they say,

'OK, it's gnatcatcher eggs today and cactus wren tomorrow.' "

The lessons Maloney tries to teach don't always take.

Rogue mountain bikers ride right over the vegetation--even prickly pear

cactuses--commonly replanted to block illegal trails. Signs identifying closed

trails are "taken down faster than I can put them up," Maloney said.

Even friends ignore his pleas to stay off illegal trails during mountain

bike outings. So he no longer rides with them.

"It's like kids; they know it's wrong but they do it anyway, because it's

fun," Maloney said. "Except these kids are 20, 30, 40 or 50 years old and they

should know better.