Marin Co. Supes set to tackle bike-ped-equestrian trail conflicts
- Published Tuesday, November 3, 2009, by the Marin Independent Journal
Supervisors tackle Marin trail conflicts
By Mark Prado
The Board of Supervisors emerged from a two-hour public hearing Tuesday poised to tackle the volatile issue of mountain biking on Marin County lands.
Possible solutions included creating a separate park area for bicyclists, or designating trails primarily for bike use.
With the county looking to do a comprehensive management plan for its trails, supervisors thought it a good time to try to address the issue that has vexed the county for years: bike use on open space trails.
While they didn't take formal action, supervisors generally agreed that creating a subcommittee to look at the issue while developing the management plan is a good idea.
"It's an unresolved issue," said Supervisor Steve Kinsey. "The status quo is not working."
The issue has been a hot-button topic for years in Marin as hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians jostle for space on trails, in particular on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais. Environmentalists also worry bikers are harsh on the land, tearing up habitat of flora and fauna.
The county's Open Space District allows bikes on fire roads but not on narrower trails, although there are some exceptions such as the Tamarancho area above Fairfax. But some rogue bikers ride the narrow "single-track" trails anyway -- because they provide a more challenging experience -- or carve their own illegal trails into the mountain. Mountain bikers are allowed on some state land, such as China Camp State Park.
With two to eight district rangers available to patrol 155 miles of county trails, enforcement has been challenging.
"We need a program that doesn't rely on a police state to be effective," Kinsey said.
Now the supervisors are hoping to develop a solution that could please all interests in the coming months.
"The best way is to develop a park for that type of single-track experience so that there is not the conflict," Supervisor Susan Adams said.
The board subcommittee would work with bike advocates to develop the plan, and would also consult with hikers, equestrians and others.
Supervisor Charles McGlashan said any plan would not bring bikes onto existing single-track trails, but would make sure the bike community is "enfranchised." He also supported the idea of a park or trails for bikers.
"We can't 'just say no.' To stiff-arm the mountain bike community would be a terrible mistake," he said.
Tuesday's meeting was initially slated for the Manzanita Room at the Marin Center, but due to an overflow crowd of more than 100 people it was moved across the hall to the Showcase Theater and began after a half-hour delay.
About 35 people spoke to supervisors on the contentious issue, and were virtually split in support of and opposition to bikers.
"If we try to mix on a single-track trail with mountain bikes, the main issue is safety," said Joel Bartlett, co-president of the Marin Horse Council. "It is the primary issue."
Tom Boss, a member of Access4Bikes, said problems could be solved with communication.
"You can't solve problems if you don't talk to each other," he said. "We have to start working together."
Others complained of rude bikers on trails that spooked horses and blew by hikers, although several people said most are well-behaved and that there are only a few who cause problems.
Joe Kohn, of the Marin Native Plant Society, voiced concern the environmental impacts of biking were being overlooked.
"There are many rare, native plans that are damaged by bikes," he said.
Supervisors will take up the issue again at a yet unscheduled meeting to finalize plans for addressing the bike access issue.
Any decision would only apply to county trails.
Earlier this year, after an outcry from environmentalists and others, state parks officials rescinded approval of a plan to allow mountain bikers on a popular four-mile trail through Samuel P. Taylor State Park. In addition to Bill's Trail, officials have considered allowing bike access on the Easy Grade Trail and McKennas Gulch Fire Road on Mount Tamalpais and the Mount Burdell Trail in Olompali State Historical Park, but those plans are on hold.
Also earlier this year, the Marin Municipal Water District embarked on a pilot project to rid Mount Tamalpais of rogue trails that officials say scar the landscape and damage the environment.
Some of the trails have been the result of people wandering off the beaten path; others have been carved by renegade hikers and mountain bikers using tools.
Contact Mark Prado via e-mail at mprado@...