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A trail too far

It’s not hard to tell when change is afoot, if one can read the land at all. My first inclination came as I rode through Hay Park at the base of Mount Sopris a couple of years ago. Someone with a chain saw had cut a swath through there somewhat akin to Interstate 70 through the mountains. Where once there was a nice little foot-horse-cow path, mostly overgrown and crisscrossed in places by deadfall, there was now a boulevard fit for a king’s carriage. One banished tree, in particular, had marked the only place around where one could get a cellphone signal, knowledge essential for life-or-death emergencies. This modern-day Paul Bunyan, apparently thinking either a wagon train or Hummer sure was to follow, had, with his two-stroke engine and total abandon, cut back the deadfall at least 12 feet wide.

Not one to stop short of his dreams, the sawyer (without Forest Service approval) continued his ample strip of scorched-earth policy, continuing north down what traditionally has been known as the Fenced-in Spring Trail, smoothing it down to the humus and removing every little twig and stone. However, either the high price of gasoline or important matters back at the cubicle kept the pillaging piker from returning. Maybe it was the rain. The overwide swath ended as abruptly as it started.

Matters in my world kept me going through that area about twice a week, and I noticed the never-before-seen tracks of mountain bikes with beginning regularity, and on a couple of occasions, I encountered groups of lost bikers who clearly needed some guidance on how to find civilization once again. Between us, it was peaceful and friendly, and there was an understanding that we could coexist in the same countryside through the use of good manners and mutual respect for the land.

This year, however, the little group of bikers I got to know that first summer has sprouted wings. Apparently not content with several trails in the area, they (or their cohorts) once again have taken to chain saws — but this time to create bandit trails of considerable length. I’d like to say how many illegal trails I discovered in one day, but the count was high enough to muddle my memory — I counted four or five, but maybe it was six. They all were created in the space of two weeks.

It’s not hard to spot such nonsense, especially when this latter-day group of Lewis and Clark wannabes has a derelict penchant for marking every revolution of the spinning wheel with a gob of blaze-orange tape affixed to branches along the way. So obvious is their egregious behavior on its own that a blind man could follow the path without such obvious panic at the possibility of losing the way. As a matter of fact, I plucked enough orange tape off trees and branches to fill my saddlebags to the brim. And a word to the wise — rock cairns aren’t necessary to mark clearly obvious trails or forks in the same. They’re just another form of human-created sight pollution.

A blinding torrent of orange tape, marking bandit trails through the trees, is not really what one likes to encounter out in the wilds, and it’s distressing to note that such rude behavior shows an overwhelming lack of respect not only for the surrounding wilderness but for the rest of mankind, as well. Whoever these “imaginative” pedal-pushers are, they’ve severely set the evolution of mankind back a long way.

In their defense, if it’s possible, it should be said that the bandit trails have been constructed to traverse around steep parts of the downhill ride. But come on, guys — if you’re that inept, maybe you should stay off the tough stuff.

Hopefully, this group of miscreants doesn’t represent the rest of the mountain-biking community. If you are a serious mountain biker and wish to protect the integrity of the sport, you should have a serious talk with the people I’ve just mentioned. If you don’t know who they are, I can help.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at ajv@sopris.net.


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