"Flow trails" for mountain biking
The following comments were posted in response to Kimberly Hirai's blog, "Illegal trailblazing as a negotiation tool?"
"Flow trails" for mountain biking don't necessarily cost more to build than hiking trails. But sustainable trails for any user group do cost more than trails cut randomly through the woods.
One reason is land managers often bring in a trail professional to ensure the trail is designed to minimize erosion, while at the same time ensuring it has good flow and meets the needs of user groups and land managers. The way sustainable trails are built also generally costs more. The $30,000-per-mile figure that you came across should take into account volunteer hours, equipment and tools, design time, mapping, signage, etc. By certain estimates, it takes 528 volunteer hours to build a mile of bench-cut trail. At $12 an hour, let's say, that's $6,336. You might not actually pay that out, but it's still taken into account. You may also have to armor creek crossings, build retaining walls, bridges and so on, to protect sensitive areas and minimize erosion on switchbacks.
One reason mountain bike trails are getting built this way is that organizations like the International Mountain Bicycling Association have done a fabulous job promoting and educating mountain bikers -- and land managers and other user groups -- on sustainable trail building. Mountain bikers were getting a bad rap for eroding trails and started losing access. IMBA set out to prove that it wasn't the bike that was the problem, it was the design and construction of the trails. As any hiker can attest, we hike trails all the time that are in horrible shape, not because mountain bikers are riding those trails, but because they weren't designed and built in a sustainable way.
I don't agree with building illegal trails. The reason illegal trails are working is because the land managers are starting to realize there is a huge demand for mountain bike trails. But a better way to gain access is to organize as a group and approach land managers in a positive and professional way. Plus, it's no fun to put in all that time and effort just to have the trail you built closed once it's discovered.
Victoria Harbour, Ontario, Canada
I've done some trail work for the Forest Service in Arizona and Idaho. My impression of the mountain-biking crowd is that they are the tip of the spear. Behind them are hordes of ATVers, motocross riders, jet-powered unicyclists, rhinoceros pack trains -- you name it. Humor aside, I have seen venerable hiking trails torn to shreds. Mountain-bike volunteers then appear, and the water bars become banked turns. How convenient. The problem is cultural: Everyone wants more, more, more. Dedicated biking trails are simply not enough in this selfish age.
In my humble opinion, land managers should treat all activity activists with the same disdain. Promote recreational uses that are low-profile, low-impact and consistent with historical uses and values.
San Diego, California