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We’ve been meeting with lots of people about mountain biking lately – our San Vicente Redwoods partners (POST, Sempervirens Fund, and Save the Redwoods League), County officials, and the Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz County. The meetings are about the challenges and opportunities of building mountain bike trails at San Vicente Redwoods. I realized during one of them that our overarching goal is to make mountain biking respectable.

Making mountain biking respectable mostly means keeping mountain bikers on the trails. Here’s how we are planning on doing that. We’re planning on trails so awesome no one will want to build their own. And if they do build their own, they’ll be shut down immediately (the way you fight graffiti by removing it quickly). And on top of that, we’ll invest in having a law enforcement presence – and an education presence, so that would-be illegal trail-builders can learn why it’s so important to stay on the trails and out of certain areas (like mountain lion denning areas).

One reason mountain bikers build their own trails is there aren’t many legal ones. There are only 35 miles of legal mountain biking trails in Santa Cruz County and 240 miles of hiking trails. Nobody knows how many miles of illegal mountain bike trails there are, but certainly the shortage of legal trails itself encourages illegal trails.

One of the things the San Vicente partners talked about was phasing in the trail building and carefully monitoring trail use before building more trails. This approach recognizes that our commitment at San Vicente Redwoods is to both provide access and protect the natural resources. And it recognizes that the mountain biking community has a reputation problem – all those uncounted miles of trails weren’t built or maintained with the same care we’re showing at San Vicente Redwoods.

We look forward to working with mountain bikers to make mountain biking as respectable a way of enjoying nature as hiking or horse-back riding.


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Stephen Slade is the Executive Director at Land Trust of Santa Cruz County. He has more than 40 years non-profit experience in fundraising, communications, and management – and a deep passion for the lands that make Santa Cruz special.

Find out more about Stephen Slade…

This Post Has 10 Comments
  1. Hmmm. As a non-biker, I agree with the sentiments, but would add another element to respectability. I have been (to my way of thinking, callously ) “forced” off trails 3 times at Wilder by fast riding downhill cyclists, 2 of whom yelled “sorry” over their shoulder, 1 of whom yelled “we’re in a race!” I’m happy to share the trails with the many responsible cyclists. I would offer that courtesy on shared use trails is another element of respectability.

    1. Walt — I’ve had to hug the shoulder of trails to make way for mt bikers a few times, too. Or, to put it another way, get out of their way. That’s why we’re planning on separate trails, so that us hikers don’t have to jump out of the way and bikers can have their fun.

  2. In my mind, the beauty of the San Vicente Redwoods as a concept is the way its visionaries have gone about defying conventional thinking at every turn to astonishing results. From the audacity of trying to carve out a new open space in an area this populous to the complexities of the partnerships involved to the ground-up formation of a new model for creating, funding and perpetuating public lands, it is nothing short of a marvel—and that’s before we even consider its majestic natural splendor.

    So while I empathize with some of the concerns about mountain biking, I see them as minor, manageable burrs under the saddle. If you look at the design intent of Land Trust’s trail plan through fresh eyes you’ll see that not only does it preemptively address all the perceived issues, it might carry the bonus factor of creating an incubator for the next generation of land stewards—helmets, knobby tires and all.

    And frankly speaking, we now need those stewards more than ever. National Parks and public lands are under attack, the fox is in the henhouse at the EPA, and proposals that seemed preposterous and impossible a year ago are now all on the table as we see development and extraction interests lining up at the trough to pillage our natural treasures with the backing of a regressive administration.

    Those of us who enjoy outdoor spaces—whether actively or passively—need to band together and unify in defense. And while this project may seem removed from the politics of the moment, we collectively need the moral and actual victory the SVR represents to send a message–to resist if you will–the downward spiral we confront. We need this victory to demonstrate we care and that these places are important to us, and we need a broad coalition of interests and voices to be represented in this call.

    The mountain biking community is teeming with people who want to do the right thing and who feel a vested interest in the outdoors. With the thoughtfully designed trail plan the Land Trust has proposed, impacts are dispersed and easily mitigated, users are distributed over a large area to minimize conflicts, and quality trail experiences will exist for people on foot, horseback and mountain bikes. At the same time, the plan sets aside large swaths of land for flora, fauna, aquatic life and wildlife to flourish and thrive largely undisturbed.

    You may dismiss my arguments as self-interested—and by now you’ve deduced I’m a mountain biker—so there’s some truth in that. But no more than your own, if we’re being honest. And in all of our self-interest there’s the altruism of protecting these places for generations to come. Despite our differences of opinion, we have common ground—literally.

    So I’d humbly propose that we all rise above the tit-for-tat and focus on the big picture. Perhaps we make strange bedfellows and perhaps it’s an audacious ask. But as the Land Trust has already proven with SVR, we can do this.

  3. I am always surprised by the intense hostility directed towards mountain biking, even, as in this case, when the builders of mountain biking trails are going to great lengths to make sure all the bad things don’t happen. I myself haven’t ever, don’t plan to, ride a mountain bike. I am a walker, like, I imagine, most of those opposed to mountain biking.

    My perspective is that people are going to ride their bikes in nature and we should start building them trails to ride on for the same reason we build camp grounds and hiking trails. And I do not kid myself, camp grounds and hiking trails do not leave nature unscarred. Our presence always leaves traces. And the reason I welcome these inevitable human traces is that people will not protect what they cannot see, feel, enjoy, appreciate. Not enough people, anyway.

    I don’t think what we are trying (TRYING) to do at San Vicente Redwoods will result in any magical changes. I do think it will get thousands of people out in nature – and that we can do it in a way that minimizes our impact. The mission of the Land Trust is to “protect, care for, and connect people to the extraordinary lands that make this area special.” It doesn’t say, “except for people on mountain bikes.”

  4. Would like to see your data on the miles of legal mountain bike trails in the County. That figure looks incorrect, but I guess it depends on your definitions. Where can I find the data?

    1. I think I got it from Mt Bikers of SC County. If you come across a better number, let me know. The point, of course, is that there are far fewer legal mt biking trails than hiking trails — and that encourages illegal trail building, given the popularity of mt biking.

      1. The MBOSC says “less than 40 miles” on their web site. 35. 40. Doesn’t really matter. What matters is the total miles of trails – legal or illegal – that are wrecking havoc on native habitat throughout Santa Cruz County.

        Building more “legal” trails will not be INSTEAD of, it will be in ADDITION to all the miles already dug into the earth. It is quite naive of the Land Trust to think that more miles of legal trails will magically get all mountain bikers to restore and repair the damage that exists as well as do no further harm. Arana Gulch greenbelt is a perfect example. Paved bike trails were built in Arana, paving once living soil, just for the bicyclists. Now mountain bicyclists use the perimeter dirt paths – which are for walkers only and posted NO BIKES. See? This what we can expect everywhere.

        I suggest a moratorium on further mountain bike trails until all illegal trails are restored to their former habitat conditions. Once the mountain biking community can prove – with real evidence – that illegal trails are restored to native habitat and will never, ever, be used again, then we can talk about making more. Since this will never happen, a moratorium suits me just fine.

      2. I see on the Wilder Ranch State Park brochure that there are 35 miles of trail open to mountain biking in that park alone:

        The professional standard four outdoor recreation planners to establish the balance between hiking, biking, equal access, wilderness, high use, etc., trails is to use social science surveys to determine the visitor use expectations and then to work within natural resource constraints to meet those.

        We have one such well-done survey for our region:

        This study is for San Mateo County Parks. What can we learn from this survey? Most people want hiking trails, with a very small percentage wanting off pavement biking. And, there is some mention of hiking people being put off by mountain biking on the same trail.

        We need data for our immediate geography that asks people similar questions, but with more focus on user diplacement.

        Do we want safe trails for families? How many people want quiet trails where they can view wildlife? These and other uses are not compatible with mountain biking. Contrary to the bad data you have presented, most public park trails are multi-use with a strong potential to be displacing families with children and those who want to experience wildlife.

        Your suggestion about the psychology of illegal mountain bike trail creators, maintainers, and users is beyond my training…I sure would like data to support that contention, as well. That sounds like a social science publication that I have not run across yet.

  5. I’m glad to read that the Land Trust recognizes the huge problem of illegal mountain bike trails (such as the ones hacked through the forest at Nisene Marks State Park), as well as the illegal riding of mountain bikers on hiking-only trails. Many hiking trails have steep sections that will quickly erode with mountain biking use, yet they are a draw because of the “E-ride” thrill they provide to bikers. Nisene Marks’ trails were meant to last generations, but they’re being decimated in a matter of seasons due to the illegal use by mountain bikers, most of whom can read the English language signs prohibiting their riding, but do it anyway. Having the ability to enforce the rules on site is welcome news for San Vicente, I just wish this could be the case for other open space lands that have been severely damaged by mountain bike riders unwilling to follow the rules.

    1. We absolutely recognize the challenge of changing a culture that has developed around mountain biking — and are committed to changing it at San Vicente Redwoods. We hope this example — and having awesome, well-designed, well-maintained trails — will help reduce destructive mountain biking throughout the the county.

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