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Guest Commentary by Kevin D. Korenthal
| Friday, Aug 26, 2011

When government inserts itself into the process of determining winners and losers, the people always lose. No example illustrates this fact better than the decision by Los Angeles County Park and Forestry Service officials to ban mountain bikes on many recreational trails controlled by the county.

It seems bizarre to anyone I have talked to about this issue that while hikers and equestrian users are allowed full access to trails in “natural areas” around the county of Los Angeles, people on mountain bikes are not.

This policy, which has already been proven to be without any substantive reasoning to support it, was originally presented as a means to reduce damage to flora and fauna in these “natural areas.” Although irrelevant to the conversation, the Natural Areas Association founder, George B. Fell, defines Natural Areas as “areas of land which have scientific, educational and aesthetic value by reason of distinctive natural features.” The Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation Mission and Vision Statement claims that the agency exists to promote a healthy lifestyle and strengthen the community through diverse physical, educational, and cultural programming, and enhances the community environment by acquiring, developing, and maintaining county parks, gardens, golf courses, trails and open space areas.

The definition of “diverse” as I understand it does not include discrimination against one group of recreational users or the preference of one group over another. Furthermore, the county Parks and Recreation website contains no mention of why park officials in the Placerita Nature Center area and Vasquez Rocks have disallowed the use of mountain bikes within the parks and trails areas.

And the discrimination is spreading. The Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington, discriminatorily excludes cyclists as well. Its Southern California connection, the Coast to Crest Trail, is tentatively a multi-use trail (meaning it will be open to all non-motorized recreational use) but without continued participation in its development by the mountain bike community, that could change.

Again, we were originally presented with the narrative that the county felt  mountain bikers harm the natural beauty of the parks by damaging flora and fauna at a rate ostensibly greater than hikers and horseback riders. But peer-reviewed, scientific research readily available to anyone who can initiate a Google search on the subject does not back this supposition. In fact, numerous studies have been conducted over the years which demonstrate that mountain bikes, because of their minimal contact with the ground, trail packing abilities and because mountain bikers rarely wander off trail actually have far less negative impact on trail, flora and fauna than horses and the studies demonstrated that bikes had equivalent impact to hikers.

Another excuse for keeping bikes off the trails relates to safety concerns. Bikes descending steep trails can build up speed. Careless mountain bikers may cause accidents. But Los Angeles County officials, despite having erroneously allowed bikes on the Placerita Nature Center Trail for almost a decade, cannot find a single example of an injury that occurred on that trail as a result of mountain biking. Having said that, there are always ways to improve safety and obviously, when three separate trail users are in competition for access, accidents will happen.

But where does the county derive its authority to choose mountain bikers as the losers in this situation? Mountain biking is one of the fastest growing recreational activities around the world. Clearly, the county is acting on biases unrelated to the truth about the impact that mountain bikers relative to other trail user groups.

I am a long-time conservationist and avid cyclist, both road and mountain bike. My hard-earned tax dollars have gone toward the creation and maintenance of these trail systems. I cannot accept the exclusion of mountain bikers from public trails any more than I would accept banning road cyclists from our streets. And neither should you.

If you would like to be involved, or just stay up-to-date on efforts to return access to county trails to the mountain bike community, please join our Facebook group and sign our petition.

We’ll be looking for folks in the communities where these trails exist to write letters to the media and public officials and to turn out for meetings regarding trail access. Together we can return equal access to our trails.

 

Kevin D. Korenthal is a 28-year Santa Clarita resident and creator of the Facebook group, The SCV Trail Users – Safe & Equal Access To SCV Trails. Korenthal’s commentary is availble on this blog.

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