Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cooperation, not condemnation, will help trails


Bill Cannell lives in Ketchum.

By BILL CANNELL

Regarding the paid advertisement placed by Brian Ross in the Express responding to Jason Kauffman's article on Renee Catherine's comments on trail damage and mountain bikers: I have been riding and hiking the trails in the area for about 15 years. I still ride part of the year in the East, where I raced mountain bikes for 10 years. I was the first IMBA representative for the state of Maine. Although I have not put in as much time working on trails here as I should have, I have built a number of entire trials in the East, annually maintained trails and have worked with the IMBA Trail Team.

In addition to our incredible trail system, one of our biggest assets is the friendliness and cooperation among our trail users. Compared to the hostility that existed in the East a number of years ago, our happy spirit of multi-use is a joy. It is disappointing to hear Renee Catherine point fingers at the motorcyclists and mountain bikers, especially since it was the motorcyclists who originally worked hard to create this atmosphere of cooperation between users, and since it is the motorcyclists and mountain bikers who do most of the trail work.

I have recently hiked and biked on many of the local trails. Damage from the combination of water and use does exist, but not to the alarming degree that Ms. Catherine exaggerates in her apparent zeal to place the blame on motorcyclists and mountain bikers. Ruts "a foot deep or more"? A foot-deep rut would put a mountain bike tire down literally to the hub. Has anyone seen anything like that? I haven't.

A study was done in the 1980s comparing damage by different trail users. The conclusions were that horses going downhill did the most damage. Hikers and mountain bikers both left marks on a wet tread path, but a mountain biker left a lighter impression than a heavily laden hiker. Regarding the impact of a trail user on wildlife, it was found that the important factor was not the velocity of the trail user, but the amount of time that the user spent in the animal's territory. Therefore a mountain biker or a horse, traveling faster then the hiker, would impact wildlife less.

We have some of the best trails in the world. We have consistently beautiful weather that allows us to spend lots of time on the trails. We all greet each other with smiles and friendly hellos and yield appropriately. Let's keep it that way instead of using the kind of divisive language employed by Ms. Catherine. Once begun, grudges among different species of users could grow exponentially. I once met a hiker on a multi-use trail in a Maine state park. To build that trail I had spent two years in public meetings, plus another year working on the trail itself. The hiker told me that I should not be riding a mountain bike on the trail. Those who know me well can imagine the calmness and diplomacy with which I responded. Let's not have any of that here. As Aristotle said in his "Nichomachean Ethics," "The high-minded man does not bear grudges, for it is not the mark of a great soul to remember injuries, but to forget them." Everybody has an equal right to use the trails in a considerate manner. Let's work together.

The last thing this valley needs is another nonprofit trying to raise more money, but maybe we need a trail coordinator doing the excellent work that Chris Lehman did, but as a full-time, paid job.




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