Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Mountain Bikers Meet with Senator Gobi, DCR and EEA Leaders to Discuss Access to the Ware River Watershed
On February 16, 2017, Senator Anne Gobi (5th Worcester District) arranged a meeting between NEMBA, a local mountain biker engaged with Ware River Watershed access issue, leadership from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation (DCR) and Executive Office of Energy & Environmental Affairs (EEA), and the Legislative Director for Representative Kimberly Ferguson.
At the meeting, Wachusett NEMBA Vice President Brett Russ and local rider Wilson Dobson urged the DCR and the EEA to take action to legitimize and allow shared-use passive recreation, including mountain biking, on the existing trails in the Ware River Watershed. Russ and Dobson also urged them to put a halt on the anti-mountain bike propaganda and misinformation being spread by officials in the Division of Water Supply Protection (DWSP) and Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA).
DCR Commissioner Leo Roy and EEA Assistant Secretary Dan Sieger affirmed that they supported increasing mountain bike access to the watershed. However, Commissioner Roy believes that this must be done through the review process of the next Public Access Plan. He wishes to accelerate the time table for the Public Access Plan so that it begins in the fall of 2017 instead of 2019.
Russ and Dobson expressed skepticism that this process would be fair and fact-based. They said that there is evidence that DWSP is already creating new maps of the watershed which dramatically increase the amount of buffer lands where many of the current trails are now located. The maps appear to go well beyond the legally established guidelines defined in the Watershed Protection Act and appear to be falsely fabricated with invented tributaries, impossible water connections, and arbitrary “protection zones”. Russ and Dobson expressed concern that the DWSP was already engaged in planning the Public Access Plan in order to pre-determine the outcome of the process and re-affirm the ban on mountain biking and trails.
Senator Gobi urged DCR to start the public process in the spring or early summer instead of waiting until the fall. Commissioner Roy said that he would look into the details about how the public planning process will work, so that it can be fair, rational and based on fact and not prejudice.
Russ and Dobson commented that there are many in the larger mountain bike community who have lost patience about the lack of action to provide equitable access to the watershed.
Commissioner Roy asked if there were other DCR properties in the region where NEMBA could help develop trails for mountain biking. Russ described NEMBA’s proposal to DCR for an 8+mile trail system in Oakham State Forest. However, DCR only approved a one-mile trail. Another potential opportunity for new trails could be in Spencer State Forest. Commissioner Roy said that he would review NEMBA’s Oakham Proposal and that he’d be willing to do a site visit to Spencer State Forest with NEMBA once the snow has melted.
Post Update: The Friends of the Ware River Watershed are asking people to support non-motorized trail access to the watershed. Add your name to this online petition on Change.org: Support Sustainable Trails in the Ware River Watershed.
(Photo: Brett Russ, DCR Commissioner Leo Roy, Senator Anne Gobi and Wilson Dobson)