What can Washington riders learn from recent trail closures in Vermont?
Many of our fat tire friends out East were understandably shocked. How could such a successful trail network, especially one that boasts well over 100,000 visitors a year, who together inject a cool $10 million into the local economy, be subject to such a heavy-handed closure?
As mountain biking rides a wave of popularity and increasing acceptance, news of a high-profile closure seems almost foreign.
Locally, good news on trail development and access has become normalized. Evergreen has opened new mountain bike trails every single year since 2007. Our membership has more than tripled in the past 5 years, from less than 2,000 in 2015 to more than 6,600 today. And more women than men now participate in our skill building classes and clinics.
If you can’t remember Nirvana’s first album release, then you probably don’t remember ever reading anything bad about the state of mountain biking in Washington either.
Why? Because in 1989, just a few months before “Bleach” hit record stores, CORBA (Concerned Off Road Bicyclists Association) was officially founded in Washington as a direct response to a flurry of trail closures to mountain bikes.
Squak, Cougar, Tiger, Beaver Lake, Novelty Hill… One by one, access was melting away.
Less than a year after forming, CORBA became the Backcountry Bicycle Trails Club (BBTC). In 2005, BBTC rebranded as Evergreen. Thus, the seeds of bountiful trail access we enjoy today were sewn by passionate riders, volunteers, organizations and advocates whose mission was once entirely different: Stop the bleeding.
The Kingdom Trails closures in Vermont illustrate that we’ve entered into a new realm of access challenges. Pushing for recognition and acceptance as a legit non-motorized user group is (nearly) a thing of the past. Today’s challenge is keeping up with the rapid growth of mountain biking and sustainably managing access for all users on increasingly crowded and underfunded trails.
It’s up to all of us, as passionate mountain bikers and stewards of the trails we’re fortunate to enjoy, to rise to the occasion and meet this challenge.
This means working diligently to keep land owners and managers happy by properly and sustainably designing and maintaining both multi-use and mtb-only trail systems to hold up under high use.
It means never-ending education of new riders on the importance of both proper trail etiquette and volunteering to help maintain trails. It means supporting trail advocacy organizations.
It means never taking for granted the access decades of hard work by tireless mountain bike advocates has afforded us.
It means remembering where we came from and how hard the trail was to get here.
A few weeks after news of the Vermont closures hit, Outside reported that the decision from property owners in the area to ban mountain bikes on their land (but continue to allow access for hikers, trail runners, nordic skiers, snowshoers and horseback riders) was likely due (at least in part) to increasingly poor trail etiquette from mountain bikers.
Most of Washington’s best riding exists on public land but there are notable outliers including Galbraith in Bellingham, Tokul in Fall City, parts of Beacon Hill in Spokane, and several other tree farms.
The issue of trail etiquette doesn’t discriminate between public or private land though. As mountain biking grows, so does the onus of responsibility on its participants to practice strong trail etiquette and courtesy to all other trail users.
If we can learn anything from the situation in Vermont, it’s that trail access is dynamic and fluid.
Change is our only constant, but we can protect against similar disappointing news on our own trails in Washington. As long as we all remain diligent on the following points, mountain bikers around the Evergreen State have nothing but more dirt adventures to look forward to.
How To Ensure A Bright Future For Washington Mountain Biking:
• Trail etiquette matters… As the sport of mountain biking grows and trails become more crowded, it’s paramount that trail etiquette rules are followed and mountain bikers take the high road when it comes to courtesy and respect for all trail users.
• Don’t take trails for granted… Access is a privilege. Enjoy it. Respect it. Protect it!
• Take time to understand the land you ride on… Is it public or private? Do you need a permit to ride there? What about a parking pass? Take time to know the requirements of the trails you frequent. Proudly display your access pass to show you care and support your public lands, and respect trail use and access signage.
• Get to know the land manager… Go the extra mile and find out who owns and/or manages your favorite trails. Thank them in person or send them an email to let them know how much you appreciate being able to ride on their trails.
• Be a good neighbor… Remember to respect parking areas and access points to your favorite trails. When you’re in a residential area, park respectfully, keep noise to a minimum, always leash your dog, and pick up after yourself to leave no trace.
• Be nice! Whether you’re greeting a fellow mountain biker, saying “hi” to a group of hikers, or chatting with someone on horseback– always be friendly! A little kindness can go a long way in keeping trails open and accessible.