A Trail of One's Own?
IMBA activists have often heard proposals for separate mountain bike trails. The idea seems to appeal to a number of people because it purports to eliminate user conflict with other trail goers. Bicyclists confronted with the choice between separate trails or total closure have sometimes accepted a separate trail solution.
I think mountain bicyclists should think carefully before endorsing this idea. It perpetuates the myth that bicycling is incompatible with other uses. It threatens access to existing multiple use trail systems. Often, it unnecessarily leads to the too many trails in an ecosystem best left wild.
Sometimes, the pressure for separate trails comes from other users who don't want bicyclists on "their trails". They may be hikers who feel their sweat equity has given them ownership, or motorcyclists whose green sticker money has actually paid for trail opportunities. Hoarding the thousands of miles of existing trails, some users have told bicyclists to go build their own. This country club mentality has no place on the public lands and while bicyclists are willing to build and maintain trails, it makes sense for us to do it with and for the benefit of all trail users.
Some land managers think separate trails will eliminate user conflict. It's commonplace in recreational land management to separate incompatible uses. This philosophy need not apply. Responsible bicycle use is compatible in most cases. When users know that a trail is multiple use, they expect to encounter others. When users follow trail protocol, they can safely negotiate their trail encounters. Besides being unnecessary, monitoring and enforcing separate trails is a management nightmare.
Even if bicyclists and other users had separate but equal mileage (something I've never seen proposed), they'd covet their neighbors' trails. Everyone would still want to see what the other users were enjoying. Trail users like to explore. Twenty miles of multiple use trail is worth more than two separate ten mile sections.
From day one, IMBA has advocated multiple-use trails. This position is based on the following beliefs:
IMBA is aware that local conditions vary and that sometimes separate trails are a legitimate compromise solution to a management problem.
There are a couple of cases
where separate trails make good sense. Large trail systems with very crowded
trailheads could have separate feeders. A designated mountain bike area could
allow experts to race train without the inconvenience of other users. Some
very technical, trials type sections might be set aside for mountain bikers
to hone their skills. Similarly, trails designated for mountain bike beginners
might allow for individuals to develop their trail riding abilities before
joining other users on the multiple use trail systems. It's hard to think
of many other situations where separate trails offer any advantages.
Copyright International Mountain Bicycling Association. Permission to reprint granted, provided credit is given to IMBA and article author (if noted).
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