Enter the trail access drama…

And here I thought I moved to a place with fewer access ‘issues.’


Another long-ish read but good intro into.

The issue is of the cancellation of the 100 mile Tahoe Sierra mountain bike race that I had wanted to do this weekend. The issue is as old as mountain bikes and in many ways reminds me of what I left in Boulder/Ned and what I grew up with in Marin. Even with as few users as the Western States gets to the east of Foresthill, there are still access issues – even for a one day event.

To further the insult, the Western States Trail itself is closed and partially burned over by the American Fire – from somewhere around Last Chance Road to Swinging Bridge across Eldorado Creek. So far the fire has engulfed approximately 15,000 acres of Tahoe National Forest (and some private land) and approximately 15 miles of Western States singletrack that benches in and out of the steep American River canyons.

Having horses myself (no, i don’t ride) and being a mountain biker for most of my life (yes, i do ride) I don’t understand why we can’t all just get along and share. I would definitely support alternating days of use for horses and bikes if land managers feel that would help reduce potential danger and conflict between faster moving bicycles and easily-spooked horses. But to be fair, that would also need to extend west into the Auburn State Recreation Area where mountain biking is currently not allowed on the WS.

I am a cautious and careful but sometimes a fast rider that always rings my bell as fair warning for fear of spooking a horse or hiker too late. There are indeed many sections of the WS that are very narrow and some too narrow to pass – the Deadwood to Eldorado Creek section for example. On many parts, I don’t even know how I’d let a motorcycle or horse pass without scaling a poison oak covered canyon wall. But it is possible and it does happen without event.

The weird thing about this debate is first that the trail sections are at least 20 miles from the closest bigger city (Auburn). Foresthill is a town of 1,500 or so and doesn’t have a big group of mountain bikers that use the WS trail. I almost exclusively recognize the tire tracks on the WS outside of town as either mine or Sean’s. Occasionally I see moto tracks. More often there are foot and hoof tracks. Mostly there are animal tracks. Basically, the portions of the trail certain equestrians wish to close off to cyclists don’t see a ton of users because of the trail’s remoteness and challenging nature. No beginner and not many intermediate mountain bikers would venture this far to ride the WS from Lyon’s Ridge to Foresthill. It involves hiking your bike, steep singletrack descents and climbs, lots of switchbacks, some rocks and drop-offs, and generalized awesomeness but for someone with more advanced mountain biking fitness and skills.

I’ve no doubt the danger is mostly for the equestrians and their horses, and I understand their fear. I know how horses can spook and the power they have to get themselves into trouble. For being such massive and seemingly mellow individuals, they are quite fragile. The argument is usually…because horses came before bikes, equestrians deserve the ‘historical use’ of this trail and bikes should find another route. (Remember when snowboarding wasn’t allowed at any ski resort in Tahoe other than Boreal?) I’m not of the mind that new uses shouldn’t be allowed especially on such remote backcountry trails outside of Wilderness Areas. We all should be able to share no matter what device we choose to explore the backcountry – by foot, hoof, or tire. It’s public land and instead of making another parallel trail specifically for mountain bike use (a suggestion from the noted equestrian group in the article), let’s find a way to share this amazing historic trail by all giving up a little bit so we can enjoy it as a whole. After all, we’re all out there for very similar reasons – to have fun, to feel that sense of peace, adventure, and wildness that the backcountry brings to all of us.

One thought on “Enter the trail access drama…

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  1. When this sort of thing was happening in Boulder, the horse folks refused to work with us, then they were shocked when they lost access to a ton of trails. If you like access to public lands and outdoor recreation, it’s always better to work together than try to ban each other. Sorry to hear that trail access is a problem at the new digs…

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