Sometimes the explosion of interest in bicycling actually saddens me. How so? How can a fanatic two-wheel advocate and activist feel or say anything negative about our beloved mode of transport, which is exceeded in holiness only by the canoe (only one moving part – and it doesn’t get any better than that)? Well, consider what many of our local brethren and sistren, as the late Molly Ivins would have called them, are up to.
An organized group of off-road cyclists, the product of years of passionate but disorganized efforts, seems determined to open a couple, and perhaps eventually all of the Monroe County Parks trails to “shared use” by mountain bikers. A draft Master Plan regarding the county parks around the rim of Irondequoit Bay is rapidly moving toward adoption – so rapidly as to arouse suspicions of insider influence. Among other things, the plan would legalize mountain biking, within stated limits, in Tryon and Irondequoit Bay West parks. I say “legalize” rather than “introduce” because rogue cyclists long ago invaded these and other county parks. I regularly see these “enthusiasts” in Highland, the most urban park in the system, where I’ve come close to being run over by off-trail slalom freaks. And just last week, on one of my regular strolls there, I paused to tamp down a gash left in the wet soil of the Pinetum by a lugged tire powered by some Lug Nut. And as for Tryon Park – why, to hike there is to enter a laboratory of off-road-bike-wrought destruction.
Well, my purpose here isn’t to rant, though a little bit of that feels mighty good. No, I want to enlist bicyclists of conscience in an environmentalist campaign to limit mountain biking in the parks, preserve the fragile park habitats and ambience, and prevent unpleasant or even dangerous interactions of hikers and bikers on narrow trails. Bikes are vehicles, and they’re not appropriate “sharers” of walking trails, even on durable soils. It should be possible to create special-use areas on appropriate sites (newly purchased parklands, anyone?) for mountain bikes, but that’s not what the Master Plan is focused on, nor is that what the off-roaders seem to desire. In any case, the county may take irreversible, or at least difficult-to-reverse, action on the plan very soon. So get plugged in, and let me know if you need more information. For starters, read the letter below, then check out the environmentalist website www.parkspreservation.org, which has considerable background material and a link to the text of the Master Plan. Thanks to all.
March 13, 2009
TO: Hon. Maggie Brooks, County Executive, et al.
RE: Ellison Park Area Master Plan Update
Dear County Executive:
The thirteen undersigned organizations find the draft Master Plan for parkland around Irondequoit Bay to be unacceptable. The proposed Master Plan does not represent the interests of the residents and park users of Monroe County, but instead, the interests of a small, vocal user group. It does not meet its stated goals of conservation and sustainability. In short: mountain biking does not belong on existing, often narrow and winding, park trails.
• A ban on off-road bicycles was written into our park code for good reasons that remain valid today. It was based on concerns for the safety of the public, and the care of our environment. Political winds should not compromise proper park stewardship.
• Safety is a major concern. Trail walkers must not be placed in harm’s way by cyclists traveling on the same narrow dirt trail. The experience of walkers is greatly diminished if they must be looking over their shoulders for oncoming cyclists. “Shared use” is a myth on existing, narrow park trails.
• Numerous public statements have been made, and letters written, both from individuals and prominent environmental organizations, that express serious concerns about opening our parks to cyclists. The draft Master Plan ignores these concerns.
• The Master Plan states, “public comment indicated that this [shared use trails in Tryon Park] is something that is highly desired by the community.” This is a misrepresentation of the public comments. The comments of members of the undersigned organizations, representing some 6000 citizens, indicate a lack of support for shared use on existing park trails. A single, small special interest group of mountain bikers does not represent the community, or most park users.
• There were major, unacceptable changes introduced in the Master Plan presented to the Parks Advisory Committee (PAC) in February 2009, despite representations by the Parks Director and Consultant at the January 2009 PAC meeting that there would be no substantial change to the preliminary recommendations.
• These major changes included the use of existing trails in Tryon rather than carefully designed sustainable trails, the addition of a second park (Bay Park West) for mountain biking, and proposed shared use trail loops in the Ellison Wetlands.
• We are concerned about environmental impacts caused by cycling on steep, erodible trails. Simply allowing use on existing trails without considering impacts is not good stewardship.
• With the many miles of recently constructed multi-use trails (Genesee Riverway, Genesee Valley Greenway, Lehigh Valley, etc) there are ample bike paths in the county to help cyclists stay healthy. The county park trails are a unique domain without faster traffic where walkers can safely do the same. To claim that mountain biking on park trails is necessary to stem the epidemic of childhood obesity is to distort the facts.
All the above concerns cause us to ask: Is there an unstated agenda to open all trails for shared use in the Ellison Park Complex? Will Ellison Park Complex be the first falling domino in the county park system, as we open each park to off-road cycling? That is the stated goal of the mountain biking organization.
This is a cause for alarm for all park users, for all of us who cherish our parks as one of our County’s greatest resources, and pay for them with our taxes.
Finally, the master planning process has not been inclusive. We recommend that a citizen participation group comprised of diverse representative user group organizations work with the consultant and Parks officials in order to contribute ideas and review and discuss each successive draft in the process.
We urge our County Executive and our Legislators to continue to be proper park stewards and to resist the political pressures so that we, our children and grandchildren will be able to have access to safe, environmentally sound, park trails. We urge you to reject this draft Master Plan at this time – there are too many important issues that must first be addressed.
Burroughs Audubon Nature Club, Center for Sustainable Living, Federation of Monroe County Environmentalists, Genesee Valley Audubon Society, Genesee Valley Hiking Club, Living in Harmony, People for Parks, Rochester Area Mycological Association, Rochester Birding Association, Rochester Butterfly Club, Sierra Club (Rochester Regional Group), League of Women Voters (Rochester Metropolitan Area), Wednesday Hikers