Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Hiking and Biking Sometimes Need Separate Trails

by Drew Hanson

A recent solicitation from the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) may be helping fill the organization’s coffers but it is creating a stir among their friends in the walking and hiking communities.

Click on the image at right to read the offending ad.

National Scenic Trails are open to everyone. We all share all eleven of them. But no one should be allowed to do whatever they want on them. There are rules to using trails just like there are rules to all sorts of other things in our lives. For one, we're not allowed to walk or pedal a bike on controlled access freeways like most interstate highways. The rules protect safety, preserve civility or leave the shared thing in the same general working order for the next person to use. In some places, rules even protect the high quality of an experience.

Unfortunately some advocates pressing to change trail use like to loosely use the word "share" as though adding more types of uses is somehow altruistic. Such slack talk misuses a word we all learn as kids. How something is shared is key. Challenging are the more subtle things about sharing that require leaving the shared thing in the same condition as we found it. If one child borrows a friend’s bicycle but returns it with torn handle grips, that's not good sharing.

What if I were to argue, why won’t the rest of you just share a museum like the Guggenheim (in New York) by letting me ride my bike inside? Eh-hem. How would such a ride affect the experience of others? Would that be good sharing?

One online mountain bike advocate recently wrote, “If your children said ‘I was here first!’ and wouldn't share with their friends would you let them get away with it?” A response is that we all teach our children how to share. This means following rules regarding how a toy is used, not wrecking shared toys, not harming others, not intimidating others, etc. If my child finds a toy first, she is taught to share it with others as long as everyone is using it by the rules. Some toys, like handmade or antique dolls, may need special rules. If there are too many demands on the toy and the children cannot work it out, I may need to buy more than one of the same toy so they can play separately.

Regarding the need to sometimes separate trail uses, another online advocate quipped, “separate but equal, didn’t we try that before?”—suggesting Brown v. Board of Education somehow relates to trail use. It doesn’t. No person is being discriminated against by trail use rules any more than is the case with use rules for highways or museums. Anyone may use a public trail, highway or museum, as long as they follow the rules, which sometimes prohibit pedestrian use.

Some mountain bike advocates like to cite a study from the organization American Trails about multi-use trails as proof that mountain bikes can be on hiking trails. But, first, American Trails is an organization that is biased toward high impact trail uses. An article about higher impact uses of the Ice Age Trail appeared in Pedestrian View in September, 2012.

Second, in the 1980s-90s on the Ice Age Trail when mtn bikes were gaining popularity on the segment through the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest, hikers and trail maintainers accepted the added use. But gradually the greater impact of bikes became more and more apparent. The issues were studied, land managers consumed by the problem, a report completed and in the end it was determined that hiking use and biking use needed to be separated. (They chose to make the old segment of the Ice Age Trail part of a new mountain bike trail system while a new roughly parallel hiking trail needed to be created, but that's water under the bridge.)

The resulting report, "Off-Road Bicycle and Hiking Trail User Interactions: A Report to the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board", Alan W. Bjorkman, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources-Bureau of Research, May 24, 1996, 124 pages, was quite thorough. An excerpt from page 1 of the report: "Purpose: In the Spring of 1992, the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board authorized a three-year study to describe social, biological, and physical impacts of off-road mountain bike use. This was in response to mounting evidence of physical impact and social conflict on off-road biking trails. This report is the result of three seasons of natural and social science research." In a nutshell, the report documented and quantified various negative impacts (perceived, physical and user conflict) of having mountain biking and hiking on the same trails.

Where bike use has occurred on a segment of National Scenic Trail since a segment was opened to the public, such as the Sugar River Trail portion of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, and if it can continue to occur safely and without erosion, it should continue. Also, where a large enough land base exists along a National Scenic Trail and where the natural resources can support new trail systems without harming rare things, separate mtn bike trails should generally be a reasonable option.

I would personally advocate for new off-road bike trails in certain areas along the Ice Age National Scenic Trail that might otherwise become ATV trail systems, housing developments, and more (unless the presence of rare things prohibits any other uses). But advocating for the addition of mtn bikes on the tread of a National Scenic Trail will continually put IMBA at odds with others.

Let's be honest, anyone is free to enjoy any portion of any National Scenic Trail provided we all follow a shared set of rules. Divisive efforts that pressure public officials to change the rules that keep National Scenic Trails safe, civil, sustainable and high-quality are misguided.

Active outdoor recreationists like walkers, hikers, bicyclists and mountain bikers need to work together to preserve more places for silent sports, support full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, maintain high-quality experiences and respect the fact that separate trail systems are sometimes needed.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Great Hiking Protected Near Rib Lake

Terminal moraine is the prized landform of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. It makes for great hiking, beautiful scenery and roughly defines the route of the Ice Age Trail. But to hike the entire Ice Age Trail involves walking only about 12 miles of terminal moraine.

So the protection of a 156-acre property on the terminal moraine in Taylor County is an especially exciting accomplishment. The Ice Age Trail Alliance announced the news today in a press release. The purchase will permanently protect the route of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail through the property--part of a larger effort to create a premier hike between Rib Lake and a vast block of Taylor County Forest. Already known in Ice Age Trail circles for its August Ice Age Days, the Rustic Inn and Camp 28, the future looks even greener for Rib Lake!

Kevin Thusius, the Alliance's Director of Land Conservation, stated, "We feel very lucky to be able to protect this property so generations of Ice Age Trail users can enjoy it." The property also features an old growth stand of oak and pine.
A Grand-Pappy on the Property

The Alliance is planning to relocate the existing route of the Trail through the property. It currently runs on a wide gravel woods road but will be redesigned into a more natural footpath that allows pedestrians to enjoy the outstanding geologic features under the canopy of mature woods. A public parking lot along State Highway 102 is also planned to provide better public access to the Trail.

The property was purchased by the Alliance within the seller’s timeline with financing from The Conservation Fund’s Land Conservation Loan Program. The Alliance is seeking funds from the state’s Knowles-Nelson Stewardship program and the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund to finance the purchase and repay the loan.

"Recognizing a serious threat to the natural viewshed enjoyed by hikers on the Ice Age Trail, the Alliance swiftly developed a conservation strategy to save the historical landscape." said Reggie Hall, Director of the Fund’s LCLP. "We’re honored to provide quick financial assistance to the Alliance for this effort to preserve and enhance access to significant geographic features along the beloved scenic trail."

The Ice Age Trail Alliance is a nonprofit volunteer- and member-based organization established in 1958 that works to build, maintain and promote the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. One of only 11 National Scenic Trails, the Ice Age Trail is a thousand-mile footpath that highlights Wisconsin's world-renowned Ice Age heritage and natural resources. Visit www.iceagetrail.org to learn more.

The Conservation Fund is a top-ranked, national nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting America’s favorite places before they become just a memory. A hallmark of the Fund’s work is the deep, unwavering understanding that for conservation solutions to last, they need to make economic sense. Through its Land Conservation Loan Program, the Fund provides bridge financing and real estate expertise to help land trusts conserve historic farms, natural areas, favorite community parks and more. Learn more at www.conservationfund.org.