The US 9th Circuit Court decided in 1996 that natural resource and public safety protection requires limits to trail access by mountain bikes. The findings of this important Court ruling are being ignored by many aspects of DCR’s proposed Fells Resource Management Plan.
Bicycle Trails Council of Marin v. Babbitt, (9th Circuit Court, 1996):
Several bike organizations including the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) filed an injunction to try to stop the National Park Service [NPS] from enforcing its regulations establishing which trails were to be open to bicycles and which trails were to be closed in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a National Park in California.
The bike groups challenged the National Park Service’s application of regulations, which specified that,
“Routes may only be designated for bicycle use based on a written determination that such use is consistent with the protection of the park area’s natural, scenic and aesthetic values, safety considerations and management objectives and will not disturb wildlife or park resources.”
The National Park Service upheld this policy as consistent with the US Congress requirements that “ALL UNITS OF THE NATIONAL PARKS WERE TO BE TREATED CONSISTENTLY, WITH RESOURCE PROTECTION THE PRIMARY GOAL.”
The Court ultimately ruled in favor of the National Park Service, affirming that the National Park Service was acting to uphold this federal mandate that RESOURCE PROTECTION must be the primary goal for all categories of land under NPS management.
The result of this court decision is that mountain bikes generally are not allowed on narrow trails in the National Park Service system.
This differs markedly in all respects from DCR’s proposed Fells Resource Management Plan, which sacrifices Fells Reservation resource and visitor protection.
Here are the important US Court findings which illustrate the extent to which DCR has ignored Fells natural resource and public safety protection in favor of special interest biking groups wishing to convert the Fells Reservation into a bike recreation center.
- The Ninth Circuit Court ruled that it was “reasonable” to prevent introducing bike use in areas of parks which would result in “compromising the nature and character of the area.” The Court dismissed bike group claims that “ the closing of trails might force bicyclists to ride in other areas” by stating that riding in any other such protected areas would also be forbidden.
- The Court found that the Park land managers did have jurisdiction to declare that single-track trails were not suitable for bicycle use.The Court declared that it had no over riding obligation to “accommodate the most skilled bicyclists by providing them steep and difficult trails,” and had no obligation to provide “single-track” experiences” (as DCR is asserting it must provide bike riders in the Fells Reservation – see the Fells RMP pages x, xi, 58, 60, and Appendix N, p. 108.). In reaching this decision the Court declared that it must protect its properties from “uses which would destroy its scenic beauty and natural character of the area.”The ruling stated that land protection statutes did not require the National Park Service “to give bicyclists unfettered reign of the park without regard to the recreational interests of those whose chosen mode of recreation is inconsistent with such unfettered reign. These statutes certainly do not mandate the interpretation that bicycles must be allowed to roam free through the park.”
- Bike Caused Trail Damage and Resource Protection: The Court upheld the National Park Service staff reports which documented bike-use trail erosion damage: “park officials noted serious erosion problems on certain steep narrow trails and determined that restricting bicycle use would slow such erosion. Second, park officials noted that on narrow trails bicyclists passing other users would either leave the trail or force the other users off the trail to the detriment of off-trail vegetation and wildlife.” The Court based its findings on an actual bike-use erosion survey conducted by the National Park Service on steep and narrow trails, as well as “numerous reports in letters and testimony of users and staff who had observed this erosion.” [NOTE: Fells trails are similarly steep, narrow and rocky, requiring protection which DCR is rejecting in its proposals to open them up to bike use.]
The NPS survey stated that, “Downhill bicycle travel on steep slopes is usually accompanied by braking and often by skidding which tends to push dislodged surface gravels into ditches, water bars, and drains. Heavy bicycle use on steep trails usually requires that these ditches, water bars, and drains be cleared more frequently than those used by hikers and equestrians only.” These NPS field surveys were supported by, “Detailed letters and reports in the administrative record evidence user and staff experience supporting this finding that bicycle use exacerbates steep trail erosion.”
The Court stated that; “Regarding the damage to plant life, the administrative record is again replete with letters and reports indicating that when bicyclists pass hikers or equestrians on narrow trails at least one of the users is forced off of the trail and onto surrounding plant life. This is not surprising since the administrative record also includes evidence that mountain bicycle handlebars are often as wide as 24 inches across while some of the single track trails are as narrow as 18 to 36 inches across.”
The Court decision quoted the NPS staff report which “cited concerns with erosion and plant life damage as a factor both in its decision to close most singletrack trails to bicyclists.”
The Court noted trail damage caused by typical bike user behavior: “Even on slightly wider paths, there is evidence that bicyclists often occupy the center of the trail and travel in groups, thus further limiting the space available for other users when the bicyclists pass them. Further, there was evidence that many bicyclists had difficulty staying on the trails where the steepness of the trail caused high speeds and the narrowness of the trails gave little margin for error and made sharp turns difficult. Park staff and visitors reported that bicyclists on these steep narrow trails often skidded to control their speed, slid off of trails on sharp turns, or cut across off trail areas at certain “switch-backs.”
The Court decision concluded that the National Park Service to restrict mountain bike access was “supported by ample evidence in the record.”
4. Visitor Protection and user conflict: From the Court’s decision; “Ample evidence in the administrative record supports the finding by NPS that bicycle access to all trails increases incidents of user conflict and compromises visitor safety. The record includes hundreds of letters from park users recounting stories of collisions or near misses with speeding or reckless bicyclists on all kinds of trails but particularly on steep and narrow trails. Hikers and bird watchers repeatedly told how they have been forced off of trails by speeding bicycles and how they have had their peace and solitude on the trails interrupted by bicycles that–because they are quiet and fast–seemed to appear out of nowhere and be immediately upon the hikers and other users.” [Note: DCR has summarily dismissed scores of similar Fells visitor safety concerns reports regarding these as merely ‘anecdotal,’ unverified and unconfirmed since not officially filed as official “incidents reports.]
The Court uniformly rejected disregard of such visitor comments; “the Ninth Circuit rejected this argument and held that subjective reports by park visitors of user conflict could support a reasonable agency determination that such conflict existed: Individual comment is a very persuasive indicator of “user conflict,” the Court ruled.
The Court concluded that, “…ample evidence supported the National Park Service finding that bicycle access to all trails increased user conflict and decreased visitor safety.”
The complete Bicycle Trails Council of Marin v. Babbitt Court Decision is available here.
Middlesex Fells draft Resource Management Plan by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation submitted on Sept 14, 2011. These are links to other important pages on this site.
- Studies debunked - flaky studies do not support claim the hiking/biking impacts are similar or that biking hiking should be treated the same. new trails unjustified, DCR has no power to even issue tickets to offenders, no funding or staff to implement plan.
- illegal trail use - bikers on closed trail, reviews of closed trails from bike websites, Fellsbiker encourages illegal use.
- NEMBA/Gary Fisher illegal group ride video -New England Mountain Bike Association brazenly shows their disregard for the Fells.
- impacts can last for centuries - one of many before and after photos showing the enormous impacts recreation is having on the Fells
- nature trail replaced with bike trails - DCR wants to closed Dark Hollow nature trail, one of the most ecologically diverse and important sections of the Fells with 12 distinctly different plant communities. Photos and info on each area.
- Bike lobby: more trails equals more bike sales - bike industry sales stagnate during recession, lobby has opening over a thousand miles of new trails which helps dealers and manufacturers sell more bikes. Gives trail grants and other assistance to members like the New England Mountain Bike Association. Fells critically important to success elsewhere, if Boston accepts bikes will easy to get bike trails in countless other locations around the country. If Boston rejects bikes, just the opposite will happen. This is why it is so critical that the DCR make a decision based on facts about bikes, not flaky studies fed to them by NEMBA, IMBA, BikesBelong, and the mob of bikers who have attended every Resource Management Plan meeting.
- DCR says no complaints about bikes, dozens of letters show to DCR show this is not the case at all. Excerpts from just a few of the many letter written to the DCR complaining about bikes impacting the Fells experience, trail erosion, safety and other issues.
- Sierra club against bikes in the Fells - DCR plans go against Sierra Club policy
- Important Court Decision declares Mountain Biking is not a legal “right” - bikers complain about exclusion and elitism on the part of those trying to protect the Fells but the court says this is not a valid argument to justify biking.