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How Badly Do Cities Need Trails? Badly Enough that they're Built Illegally

21 Mar, 2018

By: Michael Popke
Arrest of Two Men Who Created a Trail Inside a Nature Preserve Highlights Struggle Between Cyclists, Conservationists and Public Officials

Two 54-year-old men were arrested last month and charged with criminal mischief and trespassing after building an illegal mountain-bike trail in Indiana’s Fort Harrison State Park. According to bicycling.com, “the pair used shovels and herbicideson a roughly 1.5-mile stretch of the Chinquapin Nature Preserve, a protected 100-acre corner of the park off limits to the public. “

The news illustrates the importance of public officials keeping up with a demand for outdoor facilities at a time when outdoor sports are growing. It also highlights the challenges park officials face by keeping all constituencies happy while protecting wildlife — essentially an impossible task.

According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the two men who built the trail in Indiana — Michael Hufhand and Jed Kidwell — were caught on trail cameras and posted updates on a Facebook page for local mountain bikers. One of them allegedly used social media to solicit donations for weed killer to spray on the site. Damage is estimated at more than $50,000, and both men are banned from the park and face up to two-and-a-half years in prison for the felony.

“We want people to use our parks but stick to established, legal trails,” Ginger Murphy, the state DNR’s deputy director of stewardship, told bicycling.com. “These trails were built for the safety and protection of both people and wildlife.”

Local riders, however, told the website that keeping riders out of the area in question at Fort Harrison State Park “was simply an appeasement to bird-watching groups, which had threatened lawsuits after the announced plans to build new bike trails.”

Meanwhile, some trails might be accommodating a greater number of e-mountain bikes this year. Last November, the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) updated its position to support Class 1 e-bike access to certain trails. Class 1 have only pedal assists, no throttles and cannot exceed a maximum assisted speed of 20 mph.

A first-of-its-kind IMBA environmental impact study conducted in 2015 on bike-optimized trails in a western Oregon forest revealed that Class 1 e-mountain bikes “were not significantly different”than conventional mountain bikes in terms of displaced soil and tread disturbance.

These trail-related developments come at a time when, nationally, interest in trails is becoming a greater priority for both residents and municipal leaders.

There’s definitely a shiftin people’s focus to want to do … trail-based activities locally in addition to playing baseball, swimming or any of the other things towns, YMCAs or private organizations are providing,” Adam Bossi, a project consultant for Colorado-based GreenPlay, which advises towns on recreational offerings, recently told The Buffalo News. “When it comes to trails, especially, we did see a strong desire across the board for better walking and biking experiences. Folks want to be able to get to different places without getting in the car.”

A 2014 American Planning Association studyfound that two-thirds of millennials and baby boomers want cities to focus less on recruiting new companies and more on investing in new transportation options, walkable communities, and making the area as attractive as possible. A “cultural shift” is driving interest in trail-based activities such as walking, jogging and cycling, Bossi said.

That approach makes economic sense, according to Rick Davis, mayor of Tonawanda, N.Y., which in August opened the $1.14 million Blue and Greenways Intermodal Hub, a rest stop and plaza for bicyclists and hikers using the city’s trails and pathways. “We really wanted to capitalize on the frequency that those bike trails get usedto provide people with a place to stop and rest and hopefully frequent some of the businesses in our downtown area,” Davis told The Buffalo News.

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