Hikers: share trails with mountain bikers

Matthew Stranzl, Reporter

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Personal bias aside, Marin County is one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

From Mt. Tam’s poppy-populated meadows and sprawling redwood groves to Point Reyes’ picturesque lighthouse and infinite seashores, Marin offers outdoor experiences for naturalists and outdoorsmen aplenty.

Marin County, a locale of 828 square miles, boasts over 600 miles of rustic trails, which birthed a flourishing community of joggers, hikers and equestrians.

A day on the mountain reveals rosy coexistence between the open space user groups, who greet each other cordially, warn of their passing, “On your right!” and flash benevolent smiles. Everything seems Disney movie perfect, when nothing could be further from the truth.

In the 70s, the harmony between user groups was disturbed by an unforeseen force, the burgeoning mountain bike (MTB) scene.

Pioneers such as Joe Breeze and Otis Guy took their beach front cruiser bikes and hurtled them down Marin’s mountains, inadvertently creating a brand new sport.

Bike safety and technology has drastically improved, and new disciplines of the sport are constantly evolving. As it’s birthplace, Marin has become a sort of mecca for MTB disciples, who migrate en masse to our grassy slopes.

According to Access4Bikes, one in five Americans owns a mountain bike. Whether they’re getting used to shred some gnar or just collecting dust in a gloomy garage, it’s still an astounding statistic.

Throughout America hikers, MTB’ers and equestrians coexist on trail systems, but Marin, the sport’s birthplace, is a startling anomaly. Twenty three percent of our open space visitors are mountain bikers, who only have access to 16 percent of singletrack trails.

Mountain bikers do have access to fire roads, which are precipitous and rut riddled, built for EMT crews to respond to emergencies.

Anti-riding activists lament that MTB’ers are speeding thrill seekers, but this misconception comes from the aforementioned fire roads, whose steep descents and towering drainage bars promote X-Games-esque jumping and shattering speed.

Technical riding has evolved into a flourishing counter-culture, a tight knit community criminalized by land managers. In 1991, The Trails Community for Marin County futilely attempted to make MTB’ing a misdemeanor crime.

Their campaign faded into oblivion, but today government grants and taxpayer dollars are being spent on SMS cameras and radar surveillance to marginalize the MTB community.

Instead   of addressing   genuine crime, rangers are forced to waste precious time at trail intersections, lurking in chaparral bushes, ready to lunge at illegal riders and slap them with a hefty fine.

Since singletrack in Marin is a rare commodity, many riders perpetuate the stigma against them, riding illegally and constructing rogue trails. I myself am guilty a million times over of these crimes, as the oppression of MTB’ers has no reasonable end in sight.

Advocacy groups have been established, but their attempts are constantly rendered futile by the old standard. A minority of entitled hikers, most visible as the loquacious lobbyists of the Footpeople, Marin Conservation League and Audubon Society, refuse to face reality and instead dedicate their time to tireless tirades against MTB’ers.

A phenomenon among the youth, 11 local high schools offer MTB  teams who volunteer frequently to maintain local habitats.

The chicanery of the entitled, conservative folks has considerable influence on County politicians, who serve the constituents with the most boisterous voice.

They cry foul over the erosion and conflict caused by mountain bikers, when the four hooves of a 2,000 pound stallion churn up topsoil and trample terrain at a rate unparalleled by two rubber tires.

Conflicts are rare, but brief verbal exchanges blossom to violent confrontations when, publications jump on board to harness the appeal of controversy.

In 2015, Marin IJ reported on an alleged hiker/biker altercation in the Terra Linda Open Space Preserve. However, no charges were filed against either party, and witnesses claim that the hiker was attempting to snap a picture of the rider and propelled herself in his way.

The IJ has struck once again, plastering the actions of  illegal trail riders on the front page and painting them as cold-blooded criminals. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as they are productive citizens enjoying public land that their taxes support.

They chose to include their names, professions and personal information, cardinal sins of journalism that violate every rule of objectivity. They even went as far as featuring quoted opinions from an anti-bike activist, showing true colors like a patriot waving a flag in the sky.

As one of the America’s most progressive and affluent counties, recreation and arts have flourished. Environmental conservation and natural nutrition have united many, but for all Marin’s liberality mountain biking is still looked down upon.

Just last week, the Marin Audubon Society won a lawsuit banning public use of many trails at night, a ruling claimed by many to be directed towards mountain bikers.

It’s a travesty the conflict has reached such a scalding boiling point, and it’s time we educate both sides of the conflict and patch differences, construct new trails and stop criminalizing a recreational community

Some bad apples may spoil the harvest, but oppressing them will only bring more frustration.

It’s time mountain biking is no longer shrouded in stigma, given dirty glances and addressed as a crime; it’s an Olympic sport promoting health, friendship and a bond with nature.