|TO: Carl Demrow and the Trails Committee of the Appalachian Mountain
AMC, PO Box 298, Gorham, NH 03581 603-466-2721 x203
From: The New England Mountain Bike Association
P.O. Box 2221, Acton, MA 01720-6221
Contact: Philip Keyes, President, 700 Main St., Acton MA
978-263-0459 (voice/fax)firstname.lastname@example.org (email)
Date: December 11, 1997
RE: Comment on October 1997 Draft of the AMC's Trail Use Policy
Thank you for allowing the New England Mountain Bike Association to
comment on the October 1997 draft of the AMC's proposed Trail Use Policy.
Our organization holds the AMC in the highest regards, and in many ways,
NEMBA has modeled itself after the AMC in our quest to become a regional
New England organization. Like the AMC, NEMBA's trail advocacy programs
are designed to promote sustainable recreational trail use, environmental
awareness and the preservation of our open spaces. Both of our
organizations fundamentally support the important relationship between
conservation and recreation --a relationship which engenders a strong
sense of stewardship of public open spaces and the environmentand both
our organizations have a special responsibility to harness the energies of
our constituencies and educate them about the need to care for our trail
systems and be sensitive to the experience of other trail users. It is not
surprising that many of our members are also members of the AMC.
In our brief 10 year history, NEMBA is now in a position to have a
positive impact throughout much of New England. We currently have eight
chapters in the six New England states, and we are experiencing a
membership growth of almost 50% annually. While small compared with the
AMC, our membership of over 900 households has performed over 7000 hours
of volunteer trail maintenance over the last two seasons, and our trail
projects are expanding considerably for the 1998. We have also initiated a
Trail Grant Program designed to fund local projects and channel money to
public lands. One of our emphases for 1998 is to work with other user
groups, including the AMC, Trailwrights, and the equestrian organization,
the Bay State Trail Riders Association. We strongly believe that all
human-powered user groups need to work together to protect the trails, to
preserve more open spaces and to develop an awareness and sensitivity
towards each other. The AMC has traditionally been a paragon of multi-user
inclusion, and NEMBA hopes to become both a resource and a partner in
future trail work.
It is evident to us that this is not a Trail Use Policy, but rather a
Mountain Bike Policy, and the AMC should call it such. Regardless, we have
serious concerns about the draft and its consequences which we will
Comments on the Trail Policy Draft
1) "The AMC supports the existing prohibition of mountain bikes on
the Appalachian Trail and opposes their use in federally designated
NEMBA supports this provision in its entirety.
2) "The AMC believes that appropriate use of mountain bicycles should
be directed toward those trails (rail trails, woods roads, and cross
country ski trails, etc.) determined to be most suited for their use in
regard to safety and resource protection."
NEMBA believes, and all available research attests, that there is no
significant difference between environmentally sound hiking and bicycling
trails. A trail that is environmentally sound for hiking is equally sound
for mountain biking. Studies of relative user impact have shown that the
physical impact on trails are similar between hiking and bicycling
(Seney:1990). In a recent study (Cessford: 1995), the researcher concludes
that the "downhill effects of mountain bikes, where they have their
greatest erosive potential, are not greater relative to those of other
activities (e.g., walking)." Some trails, of course, are not constructed
in an ecologically sound manner, and both hiking and bicycling will
negatively impact them. For this reason, trail construction and
rehabilitation are a critical and necesary for all areas which receive
significant use. NEMBA works to control damage on a site by site basis by
constructing waterbars, trail hardening techniques, switchbacks and trail
re-routing. We utilize trained personnel to lead our volunteer trail
maintenance events, much like the AMC.
Implicit in the draft's language on point two is the underlying
assertion that mountain bikes are inappropriate on all but double track
trails. Not only is this incorrect, as argued above, but is also
prejudicial to mountain bicyclists. It is like telling the hiking
community that they are welcome on portions of the AT, but they should not
climb any of the mountain peaks. Singletrack trails are the trails of
choice for mountain bikers. As with hikers, singletracks offer mountain
bikers a closeness to nature and sense of beauty that simply cannot be
found on rail trails or woods roads, and in most cases, if a singletrack
trail is inappropriate for a mountain biker, it is inappropriate for a
hiker as well. In sum, mountain biking is a legitimate use on most
3) "AMC supports the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA)
guidelines for safe trail riding."
NEMBA, of course, supports IMBA's Rules of the Trail. However, these
guidelines have been developed to promote responsible and safe shared use
of trail systems, not the type of policy in the present AMC draft. All but
one of IMBA's Rules (Control your bicycle) speak equally well to all trail
users, and AMC's Trail Policy may wish to refer to each one specifically.
- 1) Ride [Hike] on open trails only.
- 2) Leave no trace
- 3) Control your bicycle
- 4) Always yield trail
- 5) Never spook animals
- 6) Plan ahead
Bicycle safety is a central concern for NEMBA, and we have played a key
role in promoting the safe and responsible use of mountain bikes on
shared-use trails. Our Share the Trail Brochure (n.d.) educates mountain
bicyclists to be good diplomats and emissaries of our sport, and instructs
them on how to make encounters with other trails users positive and
enjoyable. Unfortunately, media-generated images of mountain bicyclists as
gonzo riders has been especially damaging and has created a false
impression among some non-cyclists that such irresponsible mountain bikers
might be around every corner. Research indicates that the
perception of safety concerns is dramatically greater than actual
experiences that safety has been compromised, and reported
incidents of injury are extremely rare. In his chapter on the social
impacts of mountain bikes, Cessford (1995) concludes:
[While] potential hazards do exist from irresponsible riding, cases of
actual accidents or injuries are not common. From a sample of 40
resource managers, Chavez et al. (1993) noted that only one case was known
which had resulted in injury. And Coughlan (1994) found that although 38
percent of walkers considered mountain bikes "compromise safety", only 10
percent reported safety concerns as a negative outcome from actual
encounters with mountain bikes. Most mountain bike riders in Cessford
(1995) considered the safety hazard to others from bikes was
over-estimated, and that the actions of a few irresponsible riders caused
most problems. It appears that in most cases, the "safety" concerns relate
more to an anticipation of potential threat than any actual experiences of
NEMBA believes that it is not only mountain bikers who need to be
cautious and courteous to other trail users, but that other trail users
need to be more aware that they are sharing trails with mountain
bicyclists as well. In many areas, mountain biking is a relatively new
phenomenon and other trail users are unaccustomed to encountering bicycles
on the trails, and are generally suspicious of this new user group. Mutual
awareness and education will go a long way toward calming the fears of
non-cyclists, and promote greater cooperation in caring for the trails.
"To protect the essential aesthetic experience of hiking and other
legitimate trail uses, AMC believes that local, state and federal
agencies should designate appropriate single use trails in each area or
We believe this to be the most divisive feature of the AMC's proposed
trail policy, and one which NEMBA vehemently opposes. Mountain biking is a
legitimate trail use, and its essential aesthetic experience must also be
protected. We believe that user groups must work together, develop a
common understanding of each other needs, and ally ourselves to protect
and maintain our trails. Contrary to this view, the very nature of this
point pits user groups against each other as each tries to carve out its
small bit of turf. Rather than work together for the common good of a
park, equestrians, trail runners, hikers, XC skiers and mountain bikers
would be forced to argue against each other in order to receive priority
treatment in securing a segment of the trail. Rather than working together
to increase the number of trail opportunities for everyone, we would all
lose access to a limited resource. In short, it creates a "lose-lose"
situation, with the major loser being the collective preservation of our
open spaces. We view this as extremely detrimental to the core vision of
both our organizations which seeks to engender a sense of stewardship and
appreciation of the natural environment. If enacted, this policy would
engender nothing more than hostility between user groups, and act as a
wedge to prevent user groups from cooperating.
Single-use trail systems are only appropriate in very few and highly
specific cases, mostly related to highly congested urban parks, and most
land managers regard single-use management as a technique of last resort.
Out of seventeen management techniques discussed by the USFS's Andy Kulla
(1995) in his "Hierarchy of Options for Managing Trail User Conflicts,"
imposing single-use trails ranked near the bottom at number fifteen. In
Roger Moore's (1994) study of "Conflicts on Multiple-Use Trails,"
sponsored by the National Recreational Trails Advisory Committee, Moore
highlights twelve management principles for minimizing trail conflicts,
and his study concludes "that when trail conflict situations are tackled
head on and openly they can become an opportunity to build and strengthen
trail constituencies and enhance outdoor recreational opportunities for
NEMBA believes that the AMC's proposed policy is prematurely adopting
an extremist position of last resort. By taking this position, and
essentially throwing the baby out with the bath water, we believe that
many important opportunities for working together to develop a wide range
of solutions will be lost. We believe that this policy as a whole would
also drive a wedge into the AMC's own membership.
NEMBA is concerned that point four highlights a serious and damaging
misconception that, in contrast to mountain biking, hiking is a more
"pure," more "wholesome," and essentially a "superior" form of recreation.
This is not the case. Mountain bicyclists and hikers share similar
experiential and motivational desires for engaging in their preferred
activity (Bjorkman 1996). Many mountain bikers are hikers, and even those
who are not, enjoy the sports for essentially the same reasons. Mountain
bikers love the outdoors with a passion. They love the sense of
exploration and discovery of what is around each corner of nature's
byways. They love the healthy lifestyle and exercise that is intrinsic to
the sport. They love leaving the modern world behind and being
self-sufficient and independent, and they love the sense of conquest of
climbing a difficult trail and taking in the view from the top. Most
importantly, they love the trails, and out of this has developed a strong
desire to steward and take care of our open spaces.
The long and venerable tradition of hiking has created great advocacy
groups, such as the AMC. The short tradition of mountain biking is doing
exactly the same thing. While the AMC has over a 100 years of history
under its belt, groups like IMBA, NEMBA and more than 300 other mountain
biking groups are attempting to pursue the same goals with only a decade
of experience. We agree that mountain bikers have a long way to go, but we
have made great strides in an inordinately short period of time.
We believe the solution is education, not segregation. We believe in
mutual understanding through interaction, not ignorance through isolation.
5) "AMC believes that local, state, and federal agencies should make
sound and responsible decisions concerning trail use that hold users
accountable for sustainable maintenance on the trails that they use."
We agree that all user groups should carry their weight. In most of the
areas where NEMBA performs trail maintenance, we are the only group who
makes more than a token effort to give back to share-use trails. However,
we do not wish land managers to use this fact to alienate all other users
from the trails we work on. Far from it, we are developing maintenance
series to which all users may come and help out. Neither hiking nor
mountain biking organizations are extensive enough to cover the long list
of trails and parks that are in need of care, and many trail systems go
unattended. However, if all the diverse user groups held trail maintenance
events and provided a structure to allow individuals to get involved, then
we might stand a slight chance of covering at least a majority of the
NEMBA has invested tens of thousands of volunteer hours to build an
organizational structure which allows individuals to volunteer to help our
under-funded open spaces, and we resent the erroneous implication in this
policy point that the AMC is carrying the burden itself.
6) "AMC chapters may choose, by majority vote of the individual
chapter committee, to suspend maintenance activities on designated
multi-use trails when other user groups are unwilling to share
responsibility for maintenance, management, and education."
We agree that AMC chapters should not be forced to volunteer for any
duty that they do not see as worthwhile and beneficial to themselves and
the organization. However, we find the condescending tone and threat
implicit in the policy statement to be beneath the dignity of the AMC. It
presumes that the AMC is doing all the work, and if it doesn' get some
support, it's going to pack up its marbles and go home. In short, it is a
childish statement which makes the AMC look unprofessional, and, in fact,
NEMBA does not want to end on such an unflattering note, however,
because our organization is great believer in the AMC, its cause, and its
sense of fairness and duty. We understand that the AMC is under pressure,
especially from its southern chapters, to take a hostile stance against
mountain biking, and we hope the Trails Committee has the foresight to see
the larger picture, not only of what will be lost by taking such an
inauspicious stance, but also of what will be gained by working
with the many groups, like NEMBA, which run the gamut of the Appalachian
Groups such as NEMBA are sincere in their desire to work with the AMC,
and NEMBA and the AMC's Boston Chapter already have events planned for the
1998. Rather than isolating maintenance organizations from each other, we
recommend that the AMC request that their chapters make an outreach to
include other groups and users in their own events. NEMBA is a strong and
vivarant organization, but we also welcome your help and guidance. We are
appreciative of AMC's Pat McCabe's assistance, for example, which has been
instrumental to our efforts to model ourselves after the AMC's
organizational structure. NEMBA and the AMC share the same goals and
aspirations. We also share the same fears that our open spaces and the
environment are under threat. This is the true enemy, and we are your
Bjorkman, A.W. 1996. Off-Road Bicycle and Hiking Trail User
Interactions: A report to the Wisconsin Natural Resources Bureau of
Research. Eagle, Wisconsin.
Cessford, Gordon R. 1995. Off-Road Impacts of Mountain Bikes. Science
and Research Series, No. 92. Dept. of Conservation. Wellington, NZ.
Available online at http://www.mountainbike.co.nz/politics/doc/impacts/index.htm
Off-road Mountain Biking: A profile of riders and their recreation
setting and experience preferences. Science & Research Series No.93,
Department of Conservation, Wellington.
Chavez, D.J. et al. 1993. Recreational Mountain Biking: A Management
Perspective. Journal of Parks and Recreation Administration, 11(3): 29-36.
Kulla, Andy 1995 A Hierarchy of Options for Managing Trail User
Conflicts. United States Dept. of Agriculture. Missoula MT. Available
online at http://www.imba.com/resources/bike_management/hierarchy.html.
Moore, Roger 1994 Conflicts on Multiple-Use Trails. Synthesis of the
Literature and State of the Practice. Report No. FHWA-PD-94-031. Federal
Highway Administration. Washington DC. Available online at http://uog2.uog.edu/marc/conflict.html.
NEMBA n.d. Share the Trails Brochure. Available online.
Seney, Joseph. 1990 Erosional Impacts of Hikers, Horses, Motorcycles
and Mountain Bikes on Mountain Trails. Unpublished Master's Thesis, Dept.
of Earth Sciences, Montana State University, Bozeman MT.