Flashback to 1995: Hikers and Bikers Square Off Over Trails

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Flashback to 1995: Hikers and Bikers Square Off Over Trails

Postby mergs » Fri Jun 06, 2008 12:55 pm

This is a flashback to 1995: when the biking ban became big news, the discussion become strident, and access was lost in South Mountain Reservation.

source: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.h ... A963958260

May 30, 1995
In Essex County, Hikers and Bikers Square Off Over Trails

Donald Meserlian, a hiker, despises mountain bikes and their fat, knobby tires, especially on the unpaved trails in the South Mountain Reservation here. Besides chewing up the paths, he argues, they ruin the tranquillity of the woodlands and drive out hikers, bird watchers and strollers.

"It's like weeds taking over the grass," Mr. Meserlian said. "Pretty soon we'll have all weeds. Better they go to quarries, with their rocky bases."

Patrick Driscoll, mountain biker and owner of a bicycle shop here, scoffs at that sort of talk.

"Mountain biking is a new sport, and people better get educated," he said. "Mountain bikers are a positive presence. We're the hikers of the '90's, and we're getting a bad rap."

For the last five weeks, Mr. Meserlian and Mr. Driscoll and their allies have been waging a feverish hiker versus biker duel before Essex County's legislative body, the Board of Chosen Freeholders. The arguments are more strident and the stakes higher than most of the biker-hiker showdowns that have cropped up in the metropolitan region in recent years as the popularity of mountain biking soared.

Elsewhere, many park planners and officials are trying to keep the peace and, over the long term, to find the money and land to cut the bikers their own trails and fields. After all, these planners say, the bikers, or their parents, are taxpayers.

But in South Mountain and Essex's two other big parks, Eagle Rock and Mills, the mountain bikers are outlaws of sorts, and are subject to arrest and $100 tickets if they roam onto unpaved hiking trails.

The bikers are fighting to end those seven-year-old restrictions, and at first the freeholders seemed willing to yield. An amendment allowing the bikers onto unpaved trails from Thursdays to Sundays was introduced in April and approved on a first reading by a vote of 7 to 1.

An uproar from hiking groups ensued. Last Tuesday night, nearly 300 people turned out for a final hearing, startling freeholders accustomed to seeing a handful of people at most of their meetings. They wound up rejecting the amendment, 4 to 3, with two board members absent.

The fight over the restrictions was led by two new local groups: Reservation Rescuers, representing the hikers, and Progress for Parks, a cycling group led by Joe Noel, a photographer who works part time in Mr. Driscoll's bicycle shop. But some close to the fight said that each side enlisted outside powers to help -- the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference for the hikers and the International Mountain Bicycling Association for the bikers.

For bikers, South Mountain is considered prize terrain, whose steep, challenging slopes already draw bikers from Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania.

The bikers reason that if they can win the fight at South Mountain and its two sister parks, other counties will be less likely to restrict them. The campaign here has grown more important since April, when neighboring Union County ended a two-year experiment that allowed mountain bikes on unpaved trails in its big park, the Watchung Reservation.

"Some people just rode wherever they wanted to and cut through new areas, destroying the forest floor that's there," said Debra Judd, a recreation coordinator for Union County's Park Commission.

Park officials elsewhere have similar complaints. At Mercer County Park near Princeton, some mountain bikers leave their trail and cut across an adjacent golf course to reach some fields they enjoy, said Frank Ragazzo, executive director of Mercer's Parks Commission. They ignore "No Trespassing" signs and often take down chains at the crossover point, he said.

"Just about every week," Mr. Ragazzo said, "we have golfers threatening mountain bikers and mountain bikers threatening golfers and we have to call a ranger."

Other park officials like Kenneth Thoman, an ecologist with Monmouth County's parks, said most bikers are conservation-minded and eager to volunteer to help cut new trails or maintain old ones. Since 1991, Monmouth County has redesigned 10 miles of trails in one of its biggest parks, Hartshorne Woods, to separate people on leisurely strolls from hikers and bikers who want more rigorous trails. For the most part, he said, the co-existence works well, though planners are considering separate trails for bikers.

Monmouth's biggest problem is a flood of bikers forced south by the bans in Essex and Union Counties.

As in Monmouth, Morris County park officials are studying the need for separate biking trails, as they did for equestrians several years ago when they clashed with hikers.

In the aftermath of the Essex vote, Joseph N. DiVincenzo, president of the Essex freeholder board, said he wanted to hire an expert from Rutgers University to study the feasibility of creating separate hiking and biking trails at South Mountain.

"We're trying to keep an open mind," he said. "In my mind it's not a dead issue."

The antagonists seem in little mood for accommodation.

"Is there any compromise on destruction?" Mr. Meserlian, the hiker, said.

"Separate but equal sounds great, but it's discrimination," Mr. Driscoll, the biker, said.
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Unhappy Trails: A Clash of Nature Lovers...

Postby mergs » Fri Jun 06, 2008 1:01 pm

source: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.h ... A963958260

April 3, 1995
Unhappy Trails: A Clash of Nature Lovers; Hikers Claim Mountain Bikers Are Disturbing the Peace but Bikers Won't Backpedal

The mountain bikers gathering at Mianus River Park were from all over, but they had one thing in common besides their fat-tired bicycles. They loved the quiet trails in the park, 215 acres of undisturbed woods in the heart of busy Fairfield County.

"I lived on Cat Rock Road near here when I was growing up," Barry Biondo of Stamford said as he lifted two bicycles off the rack of his Porsche Carrera. "When I got my mountain bike, I remembered this and thought, 'Wow!'

"They're not going to kick us out of here, are they?"

Marjie and Steve Roney, a Manhattan couple who had heard of the park from a bike shop, were back for another ride. "It's really beautiful," she said, then paused. "I don't understand what hikers get upset about."

It is actually quite simple: hikers are upset about sharing nature trails with people on wheels, and about the damage that mountain bikes are causing to trails as the sport grows in popularity.

Hikers are fighting back, demanding that bicycles be banned from parks, and in a few cases resorting to sabotage. Carpet tacks have been spread on the Peekskill-Briarcliff Trailway in Westchester County. Cords have been tied between trees in South Mountain Reservation in Essex County.

But mountain bikers are also determined to secure their place in the outdoors. When bicyclists came to Mike Zuckerman, a bike shop manager in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., with flat tires caused by carpet tacks, he called in county officials. "It seemed to us there was sabotage on the trails," he said.

Bikes, the officials told him, were illegal on the booby-trapped hiking trails. So he began a petition drive to make them legal.

From Central Park to suburban nature preserves, park officials say there are too many mountain bikers who seem determined to ride where they want and in the process tear up the ground and wear new trails into the terrain.

Some parks officials, like many hikers, are out of patience. "If you want to mountain bike, go to the mountains," said Henry Stern, New York City's parks commissioner, who has ordered patrols to confiscate bicycles found off the pavement in Central Park and Prospect Park.

Park officials, however, also recognize that much of the conflict -- and much of the trail damage from overuse and illegal riding -- comes from the fact that there are more and more mountain bikes in the region and not enough places to ride them off the road.

One result is widespread illegal riding. But another is that the relatively small number of parks like Mianus River that allow bikes are quickly deteriorating.

"Mountain biking can cause disproportionate damage if you have tremendous demand and hardly anywhere to ride," said Tim Blumenthal, the executive director of the International Mountain Bicycling Association in Boulder, Colo., which works with local groups to gain access to trails.

"In suburban areas, people get home from work and want to ride and they can only think of one place," he said. "It gets kind of boring riding the same loop, so then they see a deer trail and start riding that. And there are so many mountain bikers that it doesn't take long before that trail is absolutely clear and starts to form another, unplanned loop."

As a new outdoor season arrives, park officials are working with bicycling groups for the first time to open more trails. Their success, however, will depend on bicyclists' giving up much of the mobility that their bikes offer, for most park officials agree with hikers that bicycling on every trail is as inappropriate as bicycling on city sidewalks.

In the 73-square-mile Harriman State Park, for example, the Palisades Interstate Park Commission is preparing to allow bikes off paved roads for the first time but will restrict them to one six-mile loop, made up mainly of fire roads.

Similarly, under a statewide trail system being proposed by the New Jersey Office of Parks and Forestry, mountain bikes will be largely directed to fire roads and abandoned rail beds.

At the root of the conflict, however, is not eroded trails but clashing sensibilities. It is a question of whether hiking and biking are incompatible and whether one activity ruins the other.

Many hikers say that sharing narrow trails with bicyclists speeding by is as much fun as driving along a country road crowded with moving vans. Many bicyclists say, "What's the problem?"

Neil Zimmerman, for example, is unpopular with many of his fellow hikers. As president of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, which maintains 1,200 miles of hiking trails, he favors giving up some trails to mountain bikes.

"Mountain biking is a legitimate activity and should be allowed," he said. "But when a hiking trail has mountain bikes on it, it's no longer a hiking trail. And many of our members fear that no matter what kind of agreement you reach, mountain bikers will go wherever they want."

Mike Pollock, a bicyclist from Pound Ridge, N.Y., said: "I get the impression that some people think walking in the woods is a better and more human use than being on a bicycle. I hike, too, and I don't see the difference. I see it the same way as bicyclists who hate motorcycles. It's a traffic issue. The world isn't getting less populated."

The ability of the two groups to share parkland is being tested most severely in parks where the number of bikes is so large that trail damage is obvious to everyone.

In Stamford, where parks officials were approached by both Mr. Pollock and hikers about trail damage in Mianus River Park, a coalition of biking, hiking and conservation groups is forming volunteer crews to repair trails and to educate park users about trail etiquette. The park is in Greenwich and Stamford, and each town maintains its own parkland.

"We've agreed the damage results from increased use -- of all kinds," said Jeff Green, a walker who helped form the coalition. "My fear is that unless we do something today, three years from now the park will be so damaged that no one will use it."

In Essex County, N.J., every trail in the 2,000-acre South Mountain Reservation is being used by bicyclists, despite an ordinance banning them, and hikers are so angry that they're refusing to cooperate in any plan to share the trail system.

Some of the narrowest trails have been sabotaged with cords tied across them, a potentially lethal hazard to bicyclists.

"Neither side would cooperate," said Patricia Sebold, an Essex County Freeholder who has been working on a compromise. "The hikers want the bikers out totally, and the bikers want total access."

A compromise being considered by the county would bar bicycles on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays but allow them on all trails the rest of the week. But the problem facing Essex County and every other park system is enforcement. Budgets have little enough money for necessary maintenance, let alone for trail police.

"Some bicycle riders see it as very acceptable, and some see it as not acceptable at all," said Pat Driscoll, the owner of the Millburn Bike Shop next to the reservation. He added that the only bicyclists he knew who were respecting the recently imposed ban on bikes in the park were himself and his employees. He now rides in the Watchung Reservation in Union County.

Mountain biking is illegal in Watchung, too, he was told. "It is?" he said. "Have you seen an ordinance?"

Many bicyclists say the solution isn't to keep bikes off trails, but to teach bicyclists to share them responsibly -- observing speed limits, giving the right-of-way to walkers and not riding in wet weather, when trails are easily churned into mud.

"The biggest problem we have is renegade riders, who either don't know the rules or don't care," said Mr. Blumenthal, of the International Mountain Bicycling Association. "There are bonehead hikers, too. But because of the range of a mountain bike, the negative impression that one wayward mountain biker can leave is pretty amazing."
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