Vagneur: Entitlement among mountain bikers
It appears wood nymphs have been out cavorting in the rainy forest, or maybe it was a Christo wannabe, stringing blaze-orange tape from innocent trees and bushes every 10 yards or so. Only the apparent sense of entitlement displayed by the miscreant could exceed the absurdity of the moment.
It never ceases to amaze me how a big-game hunter from Oklahoma can bag his quarry in the middle of the forest and find it again the next day without stringing a line of Hansel and Gretel “idiot” clues through the forest, but a renegade mountain biker from the Roaring Fork Valley, undoubtedly one of those who consider themselves “outdoorsmen,” can’t follow a well-used game or cattle trail without hanging umpteen yards of ugly tape every few feet. I’d tell you where to look for this egregious disregard of common sense and regulation, but I spent a couple of hours taking it all down the other day.
The East Sopris Creek/Hay Park area seems to be the most recent area of attack on the environment by errant bicycles and non-motorized vehicles in a “Restricted Area or on the Restricted Roads and Trails between May 21 and November 22. …” Taken from order No. 2013-03 of the White River National Forest, Scott G. Fitzwilliams, Forest Supervisor, pertaining specifically to the Hay Park area and trail (www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5417590.pdf).
In other words, if a trail is unmarked, it means that it is not a designated bicycle or non-motorized trail, and to use it as such is illegal. It doesn’t mean to haul a chain saw up the mountain on your back to clear a path 10 feet wide for your bicycle along any line that pleases you, stringing neon-colored tape willy-nilly so you can find it again next weekend.
Further, “The purpose of this order is to protect public lands from damage caused by off-road or trail wheeled travel.” All designated trails are clearly marked, and lack of a sign indicates that it is not designated for bicycle travel. The only designated bicycle trail in that area is the Hay Park Trail.
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I’m sure the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association will alert its membership to these malefactors who don’t seem to understand the seriousness of illegal trails and who show contempt for U.S. Forest Service regulations. They are giving the group a bad name. In addition, littering (the ugly tape is trash) is prohibited and not cool. Last year, when I wrote about a similar issue, the International Mountain Biking Association was in touch with me almost immediately, which resulted in a tour of the area by Sen. Mark Udall’s office and representatives from Wilderness Workshop.
Not too long ago, a friend asked, somewhat rhetorically, why cattlemen put salt licks in the middle of various trails. The answer seems obvious — if a mountain biker finds himself on a route that includes the occasional salt lick, he is most likely on a trail not designated for mountain-bike use. Perhaps the question should better come from the cows as to why someone on a bike is blasting through their area of rest and replenishment. Lately, it seems like we cow people are clearing more paths for self-entitled amateur mountain bikers than we are for horses and cattle, and my new approach is that if deadfall lying across the trail isn’t high enough to drag the teats off a lactating udder, I leave it lay.
And before you get all up in arms about bikers versus cattlemen, think about this: Cattlemen directly pay the government to run their beasts on the open range and spend thousands of dollars in additional money to keep the trails and fences in good repair. And keeping the salt licks stocked. What is it that mountain bikers and other non-motorized-vehicle users pay directly to the government for the privilege of using the forest land?
The unauthorized trails I wrote about last year, starting in the Hay Park area and heading down the divide into the West Sopris Creek side of the mountain, have been “improved” this year and are clearly showing signs of erosion after the recent heavy rains.
Now admittedly, some of these off-the-grid tracks were forged to avoid steep, hard-to-navigate areas, but the forest rules clearly state that if a trail is too steep or if using it causes erosion, the mountain bikers should avoid the trail altogether. I guess the “illegal-trail misanthropes” didn’t get that message, either.
It’s kind of like getting a driver’s license — if you don’t read the book, you don’t pass the test. If you don’t know the rules for traveling in the forest, maybe you should work on that before you lose your privileges.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at email@example.com. All pertinent information can be found on the White River National Forest website.
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