Open mouth, insert hiking boot
September 13, 2010
A few months ago I saw Mike Vandeman’s letter, which was printed again Sept. 8 in the ADN. The first time I saw it (I don’t recall what date or which paper), I thought it was so ludicrous that it did not even warrant a response. Having seen the exact piece printed again, I could not help but reply with some answers three stupid questions he poses.
1. “Since when are snowmobiling and mountain biking more important than wildlife conservation?”
I will not speak for snowmobilers, only mountain bikers. Mountain biking is tantamount to wildlife conservation. I do not need the “scientific” studies to which he alludes (though I did take the time to read his wordy essay; for a good laugh, dial: http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/scb7). I have 20 years of empirical experience which says mountain bikers as a group value wildlife just as much as any hiker. In fact, many are vegetarians who would not hurt any animal. I have never witnessed a wildlife-biker accident; they do happen, but very rarely. Far more cars on highways kill animals. Mike V., haven’t you ever had a bird fly under your car at highway speeds? I bet you have killed more than a few bugs on your windshield. You live in California, so surely you spend time on the concrete wilderness there (I see you are an anti-highway activist, too. Great, too late for Cali!)
2. “It’s dishonest of mountain bikers to say that they don’t have access to trails closed to bikes … They have exactly the same access as everyone else – on foot. Why isn’t that enough for mountain bikers? They are all capable of walking.”
No mountain bikers I know complain of not having any access to trails closed to bikes. We complain about trails being closed to bikes, especially trails which were previously open and are closed arbitrarily. Yes, we are capable of walking. Walking is not our sport. Pedaling is. That is why walking access on perfect trails (like Pollack Bench in Fruita) is not good enough. Neither mode pollutes or makes noise. A footprint and a 2- to 4-inch tire both leave minimal impact in proper trail conditions. Both leave ruts in wet conditions. Neither mark is permanent on a properly-built trail. Horses and especially cattle leave far worse impact. Where is Mike V.’s essay on over-grazing? Surely as a Ph.D. (in what?), he must realize the much greater impacts of cattle on Western wilderness.
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3. “Mountain biking accelerates erosion, creates V-shaped ruts, kills small animals and plants on and next to the trail, drives wildlife and other trail users out of the area, and worst of all, teaches kids that rough treatment of nature is OK. It’s not. What’s good about that?”
While nothing is good about any of those things, the premise of the logic is faulty. All usage accelerates erosion. Bad apple hikers and bikers are the biggest culprits, when short-cutting switch backs and such. “V-shaped ruts” are also only the result of a few bad apples riding when in wet conditions and they fairly quickly get smoothed out by more riders in dry conditions. Why is Mike V. concerned about these anyway? Do they make him twist his out-of-shape “cankles”? I, nor have any of my many rider friends, killed a small animal, though I have seen an occasional dead lizard. I felt terrible when I ran that roach over last week! Jeez, that time I ran over a bear I was aiming for, I couldn’t even hurt him! When that prairie dog went running to its den last week, he probably said to his wife, “Honey, we’re moving, I can’t stand to see any more wheels!”
I have seen rabbits scamper out of trails and to safety, as they would any time they sense danger. Indeed, a spooked critter has its rights. Just as if it saw a coyote, it will scamper to safety. Big deal. It will run from a human on foot or on a bike. In Mike V.’s online essay, he makes the point that bikers cover more distance, so they spook more critters. The rabbit will be over it as soon as his heart rate drops. So will the elk, and so will the hiker that a biker just rode by (again, a few bad apples do not alert other users, before passing). I’m sure Mike V. has never stepped on an ant, or anything.
Trails by nature kill a small swath of plants. In the mountains and even in the barren desert, plant species are able to reproduce. Foot trails and bike trails alike kill plants. Furthermore, hikers tend to leave the trail more, to smell the posies. Managers of good trail systems recognize when an area need revegetation and make it happen. It does not take that long.
Finally, and actually offensively, Mike V. accuses mountain bikers of teaching kids to treat nature roughly. On the contrary, all of the bikers I know who are parents teach their kids not to short-cut trails, not to skid their turns or ride in wet conditions, to signal their approach to other users, not to run over bears and elk, and that lizards and bugs are cool. Please, Mike V., take your studies and essays and shove them up your California V-shaped rut, and keep your garbage out of Colorado papers.
Chris “Dogger” Anderson