October 1, 2001

It's Not Mountain Biking's Fault

by Terri Alvillar

Calling Marin County "ground zero in today's war over trail access," BIKE

Magazine's editor, Vernon Felton, relates tales of woe experienced by

disadvantaged weekend warriors who are often banned from careening their root

crunching, rock hopping, people scattering, machines along narrow footpaths

in the woods. Mountain bikers lost a key legal battle in 1996 when an

appeals Court determined there were several legitimate reasons for separating

people and horses from vehicles on narrow paths (Bicycle Trails Council of

Marin v. Babbitt).

In Felton's article "Losing it All" (October 2001), he cites "smear

campaigns, lawsuits, and criminalization of mountain biking" as the cause of

trail restrictions and closures. The recurring theme in the mountain bikers'

lament is "it wasn't my fault." Mountain bike proponents just refuse to

admit that their sport has caused tremendous environmental damage, increased

expenses for taxpayers through enforcement and restoration programs, ruined

the experience for, driven off, and endangered, other trail users.

The "criminalization" of mountain biking doesn't occur until there's a crime

and a conviction. It is odd that two months after Bicycle Trails Council of

Marin Director, Michael More, Neal Daskal, and William McBride pleaded guilty

to destruction of federal property by constructing an illegal mountain bike

trail in a national park in Marin, BIKE magazine is still saying that More

"allegedly" built the trail. According to one land manager, BIKE published a

photo of a portion of this trail in their June 2001 issue, page 61. That

lush Redwood forest and delicate soil through which the trail was cut

contradicts Felton's attempt to underestimate the seriousness of the

destruction by depicting the trail as passing "through land that may soon be

leased out for cattle grazing - a less-than-environmentally-sensitive use of

open space." In its indictment, the U.S. Attorney's office described the

land quite differently: "The GGNRA (Golden Gate National Recreation Area) is

part of the Golden Gate Biosphere Reserve, so designated by the United

Nations based on its significant biodiversity and ecological value. Portions

of the GGNRA provide habitat for the northern spotted owl, the coho salmon,

the steelhead trout and the California red-legged frog, all threatened

species under the federal Endangered Species Act..."

"It wasn't my fault" was the same excuse Wilderness Trail Bikes (WTB)

president, Patrick Seidler, gave to San Rafael resident, Frances Nunez,

earlier this year. Seidler claimed he didn't know that the mountain bike

video "Superheros" was going to use his company's name as a sponsor. The

film includes illegal mountain bike riding on Marin County Open Space

District land, riding on the illegally built Medivac Trail in Novato

(according to a County Open Space Commissioner), illegal trespassing and

mountain bike stunts at the California State building in San Francisco, and

public urination in a parking lot. Now BIKE magazine reports that Seidler

said "Yes, his company sponsored the film." Felton calls complaints about

this film "hate mail."

Arrogance and irresponsibility seem to characterize the leaders of mountain

biking organizations. While admitting that "a mountain biker can negatively

affect the experience of other trail users who are trying to escape from a

fast and crazy world," Felton demands that "the expectation of solitude needs

to change." In other words, we're going to ride when we want, where we want,

and how we want, regardless of how it impacts others. And when we get caught

riding illegally, it's not really our fault because we are just frustrated by

the rules.

Felton cites Camp Tamarancho (Fairfax, Marin County) as "living proof that

mountain bikers can build, ride and maintain a healthy trail system." Yet

this nine-mile system was built illegally, completely without required

permits for excavation, bridge building, tree felling, etc. The County is

now requiring the owners to obtain retroactive permits and state-mandated

environmental review. The bike trail system has forced closure of many

footpaths formerly open to hikers, and it has forced many hikers to cease

using the property for safety reasons. Mountain bikers expect hikers to jump

out of their way so they don't have to reduce speed. Allowing mountain bikes

on narrow "multi-use" trails creates de facto bike-only trails.

Lastly, BIKE magazine blames "sprawl" as the culprit which keeps bikes off

singletrack trails ("It's not my fault"). It couldn't be that mountain

biking causes damage, frightens or kills animals, scares people, and drives

other trail users away. It couldn't be that mountain bikers are known for

illegal trail riding and building, and for arrogant and rude behavior toward

other trail users. It couldn't be that they trespass and damage private

property. Everybody has to live by rules. Nobody gets to use or develop

land, even their own, any way they choose. "Losing it All?" They can't lose

what they never had.