Fells Users Express Bike Concerns

The DCR claims that only a small number of people have ever complained about bikes, and therefore it must not be a problem. The following excerpts from letters sent to the DCR shows, however, that many people are indeed very unhappy about mountain biking in the Fells.

Recreational Use

  1. The revelation that the Fells still has an unusual level of ecological diversity means that there is even more to protect; not only the tranquility and enjoyment of all those who come on foot is eroded, but the very basis for the stunning quality of the Fells is threatened when trails are widened into rutted boulevards and the denser woods are punctuated by spider trails, hardened by the constant impact of heavy, fast bikes under strong riders able to cover every section of the Fells in a brief visit.   [A.B. 11/15/2010]
  2. I have noticed how some of these narrower hiking trails have already been modified by bikers to create jumps and curved embankments; and it is clear that these modifications are changing the erosion patterns, disturbing fragile plants, and creating wider/dirtier/muddier trails that are less appealing as hiking trails. [A. C. 9/14/ 2010]
  3. I am writing with concern about the process (and potential outcome) of the decision making about the Middlesex Fells. In order to preserve the natural wilderness it is important to maintain the majority of trails as footpaths rather than allow access to mountain bikers. On numerous occasions, while walking in the Fells I have come across bikers who are traveling at the edges of the trails, thus widening them from the narrow tracks, and destroying the natural habitat. There are many miles of trails in the Fells already designated as available to mt. bikes. These are trails that I try to avoid, as it is very unsettling (at the very least, and dangerous at the most) to suddenly encounter bikers traveling (typically at high speeds) without regard to potential pedestrians. Please preserve the trails that remain open to foot traffic for the majority of the public, who are looking for an authentic way to experience our natural habitat.  [A.B. 9/29/2010]
  4. Mountain bikes: They are really tearing up the Fells. Once narrow hiking trails have been widened in places to 30 feet or more, and the trails are full of raised rocks and tree roots because the bikes have torn the soil away. In some places, there is heavy erosion and water bars, bike jumps, etc. have been constructed helter-skelter. The riders often pass me at extreme speed, and where the trails are narrow, I must jump aside, sometimes very quickly. They ride anywhere and everywhere, even on trails there are clear postings that bikes are not allowed.  [J. M.,  Winchester Mass]
  5. Personally, I have lived in Medford since 1998 and I have hiked the trails on nearly a daily basis since then, in all seasons. I recently encountered a couple who was hiking and they commented on the peacefulness being like ‘paradise’. I have witnessed destruction of the habitat and existing trails on Rams Head Hill that has been done by mountain bikers, digging holes in the soil in order to build-up biking ramps and jumps. This destruction scars the land and kills the plants, significantly disrupting the ecology of this treasured green space.  [M.E. 10/26/2010]
  6. I OPPOSE, very strongly the conversion of the Fells Reservation Hiking trails to bike use. Over the last 20 years, my family and I have enjoyed the wonderful gifts of hiking in all seasons in the Fells Reservation hiking trails. In the last ten years, with the huge proliferation of mountain bikes using the trails, the hiking trails have been seriously degraded. Small trails have become highways, with exposed tree roots, rutted trails and destroyed abutting foliage… It is so sad to see a place of such beauty and solitude being environmentally degraded so rapidly. It would take 50 years of people constantly walking over a path in all seasons to erode as much soil and foliage as a group of bikers can do in one pass on a trail that is too wet or too dry. I urge the DCR to protect our Fells for the future use of people.  [B.S. 11/14/2010]
  7. The premise that bike impacts are the same as hiking/walking impacts ignores years of clear evidence of extensive bike damage in the Fells, including dramatic trail widening and erosion, as well as the impact that bike use has on other visitors It is essential that steps be taken to protect Fells plant and wildlife, and to ensure the safety of everyone who enjoys the Fells. [B. and S. G. 11/16/2010]
  8. The Middlesex Fells has been a refuge since I was a child growing up in Winchester. Now as an adult in my 50’s who resides in Somerville, I appreciate it even more deeply. As someone who walks the trails, I oppose any plan that does not protect the sensitive areas and that adds recreation beyond foot traffic. The Fells is a beautiful resource where nature should be protected and visitors should be able to enjoy its beauty in safety.
  9. To have a refuge where we do not have to deal with traffic, cars, bikes, fast moving objects and the stresses of life, is a resource we cannot afford to lose! In this all too fast paced world, please save the Fells with it’s beauty and serenity! [G.W. 10/17/2010]
  10. My wife and I are frequent walkers in the Middlesex Fells. We treasure this natural open space, its ecological values, the wildlife and the plant life. It is an integral part of our city, our neighborhood and our daily life.Unfortunately, our enjoyment and the ecological health of this unique and priceless space have been severely compromised by rampant and illegal mountain bike usage. Many trails are badly eroded, areas are trampled and destroyed and the general atmosphere for many walkers on many days is one of fear. In fact, because of the wild and uncontrolled riding of many bikers, we no longer walk at all in the East side of the Fells. It is both an unpleasant and unnerving experience to do so.  [T. L. 11/18/2010]

Fells bike-riders concerned about resource impacts:

  1. I write to express my grave concern over the proposed changes to trail policy in the Middlesex Fells that would allow mountain bikes on the current hiking trails. As a frequent user of the Fells both as a hiker and a biker, I greatly appreciate the current distinction between the two categories of trails. Allowing bikes on hiking trails would disrupt the calm that people seek on those trails. Hiking the Fells is a precious mini-wilderness adventure easily accessible to our urban/suburban population. I brought up my kids hiking and biking the Fells, and they emerged with a love of the outdoors .There are plenty of biking trails in the Fells, including a very challenging loop trail. The hiking trails should be preserved for hikers. [D. J. 9/29/2010]
  2. I enjoy a good bike ride and I also enjoy a peaceful, quiet walk in the woods with my dog.  As I get older, more of the latter.  Please keep these activities segregated and keep the Fells safe for hikers.  There are plenty of legal bike trails there already.  Please don’t turn the Fells into a mountain bike park, grind up the landscape and drive out all the hikers. That would be just awful. [B. H. 9/16/2010]
  3. I am very concerned about the potential impact of bikers on the Fells trails. I have biked there myself, and am glad that certain of the wider trails are open to bikes, but would not like to see the smaller, more remote trails opened to bikes. The damage to the trails and impact on the surrounding wildlife could be devastating. I urge you to do a complete and thorough review of this issue before changing the access rules.  [C.M. 9/29/2010]
  4. The Fells is a regular haunt of mine because I am carless and can reach it easily via the Oak Grove T station from downtown Boston.  I have been there every weekend for the previous month and am concerned that the DCR is selling short hikers, walkers and others who visit the Fells for peace and quiet.  I have nothing against bicycles; I ride one myself on roads and bike paths.  But I don’t think they belong on hiking trails in the Fells.  It presents a danger to me and to wildlife because I and they cannot hear the approach of a bike.  [D.H. 10/26/2010]
  5. As you are no doubt aware, the Fells is a fantastic resource for a wide range of community members–families with children, runners, bikers, birders, hikers, etc. I believe strongly that the Fells needs to continue to serve this broad constituency and not become a mountain bike park. I use the Fells for all of the above purposes, including mountain biking, but I don’t want people biking around me as I enjoy a leisurely walk or try to see some wildlife, or as I admire the lady slipper orchids blooming in the spring. It is important to thoughtfully plan and manage trails in the Fells to make sure it serves all constituencies and is preserved for future generations.        [J. M.  Melrose]
  6. Personally, as a mountain biker and hiker who lives by The Fells, I don’t see expanding the number of trails which are open to mountain biking as a sensible compromise. I believe the present balance is appropriate. I am a teacher, an outing leader, a biker, a runner, a conservationist — they all have different needs and push against each other’s at times. The impact of mountain biking on the experience of a hiker is very significant. Most bikers are considerate and caring, stopping or moving out the way for hikers. However, the problem is that the tone that is set when bikers are on a hiking trail (speed, noise, tread path impact) makes for a very diminished experience for the hiker.  [A. C. 10/26/2010]

Mountain biker opposed

  1. I write in opposition to the expansion of Middlesex Fells Mountain Bike access. Biking is currently allowed in the Fells, I’m sure mountain bikers want more access, but I want to able to walk with my family without fear. We already need to be careful on the larger trails/roads, and that’s OK. I’m glad to see the bikers enjoying themselves, and I’m glad they have a place to do it, but they have enough.[J.Z., Jr. 10/26/2010]

Biker  & hiker

  1. I would like to add my voice to the debate for expansion of bike trails in the Fells Reservation. I am an avid biker, but the changes to the tenor of the trails in the Fells with respect to biking are quite negative. The majority of the bikers who use the Fells are not respectful of trail rules, and there seems to be an aggressive attitude toward non-bikers. I have walked the Fells since my childhood, and I would like preserve the beauty and condition of the Fells for my children and future generations. The Fells are the lungs of our crowded cities. We have a duty to protect the Fells plant and wildlife environments, as well as the safety of Fells users. The quality of the Fells experience must be managed with care and thought for all users, and I agree that bikers must be limited to the fire roads.  [T.M. 11/17/2010]
  2. I was a biker at one time there myself but only on designated fire roads. I knew and respected the rules. But not today. I have stayed off the trails for years because I didn’t want to become one of the many bikers who were disturbing the young families’ quiet time in the woods that is so close to a major urban population. From the development of the hospital to the opening up of all the trails to bikes is such a disappointment of a beautiful spot we have in our backyard soon to be lost to those who don’t understand how lucky we truly are to have these woods as a peaceful getaway. Please stop the hiking trails becoming biking trails. Once the damage is done it is too late. [S.S. 11/17/2010]

Families, the elderly and safety on the trails

  1. Please put the Fells before bikers and dog packs–I know many older residents as well as younger children who are afraid of injury and no longer walk these woods. [S. B. 11/18/2010]
  2. I am 65 and find that there often is little regard for the walkers and for my leashed dog. I am not as nimble and cannot jump out of the way as I might have years ago. But I don’t think that I should have to lose my privileges of a quiet walk so someone can hurtle down upon me at breakneck speed, tearing up the trail that I am trying to enjoy.  E.F. 11/18/2010]
  3. As we all know, once a privilege is granted, it is very difficult to take it away.  Right now, the children can run ahead for a little distance, enjoying freedom not easily experienced in today’s world. If there are bikers on the trail, it would be too dangerous as a bike’s approach is sometimes very quiet, but fast.    [J.P. 10/27/2010]
  4. I’m the founder of a group called Bay State Kids Outdoors. For the past year, we’ve taken groups of children and parents into the woods and fields of Massachusetts. We’ve run over 50 trips and logged over 1,000 hours of Kid/Nature time. Visit our website www.bsko.org to see our mission and activities.
  5. This summer I stopped taking my group to Sheepfold at the Fells. We had a really stressful hike to the tower with loose dogs and careless bike riders. We didn’t want to expose kids to that again. This isn’t theoretical. The Fells is a gem. Truly. But the Fells Management needs to decide if it wants kids and families to visit. If the state continues to wink at reckless dog ownership and free for all bikers we’ll stop going. We have cars and can go where we please. My sympathy rests with those who can’t drive to NH and who count on the Fells for easy access to nature.  [B. M. 10/4/2010]
  6. As a frequent hiker in the Middlesex Fells, I need to share with you my concern about Fells now, and just as often on trails not designated for bike use. I can’t count the times that friends and I have had to jump out of the path of a speeding bikers, often as they come over hills or around corners, catching us off-guard. I’m a fairly fit senior citizen, able to move fast enough so far to avoid injury. But I imagine that those who can’t move so fast — the elderly and those with small children — are being driven out of the Fells after a close call or two on ‘hiking only’ trails. [S.L. 11/19/2010]
  7. As a resident of Melrose for over 10 years, I have had many occasions to observe the bike usage of the Fells while walking on its trails. I of course encountered mountain bikes many times, and at least half of those times occurred on trails I thought were clearly closed to bikes. On a number of occasions, the encounter resulted in very close calls either to my children or myself, one almost resulted in an assault charge.
  8. As a person who uses a bicycle many days a week to commute for over 30 years, I have no issue with bikes. However I have frequently noticed among mountain bikers a clear disregard for others, and a culture of trying anything or any trail, safe in the assumption that they will not be stopped. There is also the speed and control issue – I can appreciate the desire to go fast as I ride fast myself, but it is truly contrary to safety on mixed-use trail.mPeriod.  [C.B. 11/18/2010]
  9. Dear Mr. Sullivan, As Medford residents, my family and I frequently hike throughout the Fells, and numerous times I have had to quickly push my young daughters (aged 4 & 6) from the trail because of approaching mountain bikes.  [W. P. 9/15/2010]
  10. My family enjoy the Fells as it is, a place of unique and relatively undisturbed beauty for quiet walks–a place apart for refreshment and replenishment, a place to observe and learn about the delicate balance of nature. Unfortunately, the character and, more importantly, the ecological health of this unique and priceless space have been severely compromised by rampant and illegal mountain bike usage. Many trails are heavily eroded, and a number of areas have been badly trampled. The damage is real, and we have borne sad witness to it.
  11. In addition, because of the wild and uncontrolled riding of many bikers, walking is often, unpleasant or fearful. Bikers often swoop down on people, including children. [T. and L. K. 11/19/2010]
  12. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve almost been run over by a mountain biker bent on cycling through what used to be a quiet nature reserve for children and families, school groups and seniors. As a 35 year resident of Medford, an avid bird-watcher, naturalist, parent, and teacher, I understand multiple use spaces, and I can tell you that mountain biking does not belong in an urban reservation. The Middlesex Fells is desperately needed by its local citizens, who range in age from infants in backpacks and strollers, to older visitors who cannot always hear the cyclists approaching, let alone dodge them.  [L.K. 10/4/2010]
  13. For over fifteen years, I have been involved with Winchester Trails as a guide. We take the children on two hour nature walks to enhance their appreciation of nature. At the the end of our walk I tell the students that they are the future stewards of the Fells.
  14. Hopefully our young students and adults will protect this beautiful forest.My daughter and I walk on the Stoneham area of the Fells. On several occasions we had to move off the trail for a fast riding biker. These bikers fly down slopes with great speed , loosening rocks causing the trails to erode. We enjoy walking in the Fells for the peace and quiet and great beauty nature has to offer. Please protect the Fells for future generations to enjoy.  [M.H. 11/19/2010]
  15. As a frequent hiker of the Fells trails, I can speak to the importance of keeping some separation between bikers and hikers. In families with small children, like mine, sharing narrow trails with mountain bikers is not realistic. I think mountain biking is a great sport. But please do not promote it at the expense of hikers.  [J. B.  10/4/2010]
  16. I love hiking in the fells, but I stay off bike trails because the bikers have knocked me down more than once. At seventy years old I can’t jump out of the way safely. As a baby I lived on East Border Road. 69 years later I still enjoy hiking there. It will never be the same again if biking happens. Don’t ruin this nature reservation  [J.H. 10/5/2010]
  17. We chose to buy a home in Medford, in large part, because of its proximity to the Fells. We are a young family and enjoy peaceful hiking with our children as well as running and hiking there on our own. Any change in trails usage that expands biking will drastically reduce the safety of the Fells for non-bikers. We often jump out of the way of bikers. Last year, I had a near miss while grabbing my son to pull him from the trail as a lone biker raced by. I was six months pregnant and would have been hit if we were not very alert and quick. We were on a trail closed to bikers.
  18. Anyone who hikes regularly in the Fells will confirm that there is little to no policing of the area or enforcement of rules. In six years, I have never seen anyone from the DCR in the Fells. Dog walkers let their dogs defecate on and off trails and do not keep them on a leash.
  19. It is impossible to imagine that the increase in biking will be monitored any more rigorously. Non-bikers will be unsafe and the environment will be degraded. It’s bad enough now, why make it worse? Why not value such a gift?   [K.M. 10/26/2010]
  20. My wife, Laurie, and I have lived within a short walk of the fells for the last 25 years. We hike, bird watch, and observe plants, trees, and the small creatures which call the Fells home. For us hiking in the fells is a way to find a quiet, contemplative environment and escape the hyperactive world that exists in the world just beyond the edges of the fells.
  21. There can be no such escape on a single track hiking trail shared with bikers traveling at speeds much higher than walking speeds. Any trail given over to multi-uses including biking forces my wife and I to seek alternate routes. For this reason we encourage the people who make decisions with regard to trail use to not increase the number of multi-use trails at the expense of hiking trails.  [D.C. 11/8/2010]
  22. I  have weekly encounters with speeding mountain bikes that have been scary and dangerous. On several of these occasions I’ve been physically forced off the paths by speeding mountain bikers – many of whom travel in packs of five or more. To their credit, I’m sure their harm is unintentional, but their high speeds on illegal single-track trails make this risk unavoidable. My only choice has been to stop using trails that they frequent, and in some cases, avoid the Fells entirely on the weekends.
  23. I beg the DCR to continue to restrict areas of the fells and times of year for mountain bike use and to retain fines and introduce an enforcement policy and clear markings for what is permissible and what is off-limits. [K.H. 11/19/2010]
  24. Within recent years, we no longer feel that the Fells is “friendly” to older walkers and families with young children. Instead, it seems that mountain bikers are taking over. Even without this proposed change, we are distressed by the number of trails that are being destroyed. As a result of mountain bikers, many of the trails are severely rutted and often muddy, making them inaccessible for the rest of us. Bikers also frequently use trails that are supposedly off limits to them. Finally, some bikers have the attitude that they “own” the trails. I am a senior citizen who has been frightened by the aggressiveness of rude bikers, coming up behind me and shouting for me to get out of the way. This is not what we want the Fells to become. Instead, we want it to continue to be a place of peaceful walks in nature, beautiful plant communities and diverse wildlife.

Lack of enforcement

  1. There needs to be a proven, working commitment for regular random periods of enforcement by uniformed personnel with arrest powers. It could be a task force of Massachusetts State Police, the Environmental Police and officers from adjacent towns. But more than a plan is needed; enforcement needs to be working before any changes in use in the Fells. [H.H. 11/16/2010]
  2.  I walk in the Fells almost daily and have observed bikes everywhere, regardless of signage. The land erosion from bike use is dramatic and damaging. I sincerely hope this can be contained to the wider, packed pathways, but what I’ve encountered is bikers pushing through the most delicate foliage looking for biking challenges and certainly not in the Fells to experience the beauty and serenity that will disappear if biking continues at this level. [B.B. 10/27/2010]
  3. The Fells should be used by all people for various types of recreation. However, allowing mountain bikers on all the trails is a very bad idea. From a purely selfish point of view, it changes my hike from a quiet, wilderness experience to one where the bikers, typically a small pack of young men, are racing each other and are charging up from behind, shouting at me to move out of their way QUICKLY. I can move quickly, but not everyone can – which poses a safety risk. Mountain biking disturbs the wildlife, tramples the flora and widens the trails. I don’t begrudge the enjoyment people get from mountain biking, but can’t we please continue to limit it to specific areas so The Fells doesn’t become a giant mountain biking course with some trees? [E.G.10/30/2010]
  4. I typically visit the Fells on weekends in the few hours before sunset. During all of my visits to the Fells, I have never seen any park officials. I have, however, frequently seen people along the banks of the three western reservoirs fishing (especially on the north reservoir), or allowing their dogs to swim in the reservoirs. DCR acknowledges enforcement is necessary in the Fells, but the enforcement of current rules is already lax. It is not clear that the DCR has a complete picture of what goes on during the times when no rangers are present, or that DCR has determined what staffing level would be needed to cover the current rules and current number of park users (let alone new rules and additional users).  [E.B. 11/18/2010]
  5. The Fells Trails Plan does not include means for effective enforcement measures to protect Fells resources and visitors. With no consequences for breaking rules, the Fells Trails Plan will mean either greater numbers of bike riders will ride wherever they choose,  or, State Police will need to give citations for infractions of regulations designed to protect nature and safety of visitors.  [T. T. 11/18/2010]
  6. We strongly recommend that before any significant change in uses is made, that DCR attempt to manage the current conflicts and demonstrate that these techniques work and are sufficient.
  7. In addition to user conflicts, DCR has stated – and I have observed – that there is widespread flouting of existing rules by all user groups. This also suggests that DCR should attempt to demonstrate that the techniques outlined in the plan can, in fact, help change user behavior. If that can be shown and documented, then proposed changes could be more readily embraced. On the other hand, if these techniques are found to be insufficient, that will be valuable information as well and DCR may decide that different approaches or more resources are needed at this site.   [ELM, N.G. 11/19/2010]
  8. DCR should not take on extensive new trails or expanded uses at the Fells until it can manage the existing trails and uses. After sensitive area damage has been contained and addressed, DCR could consider implementing recreational enhancements consistent with the RMP, with cooperation of all user groups. [Mass A, J.C.  11/19/2010]

 Nature of the Fells:

  1. The Middlesex Fells Reservation is not an “Urban Park.” It is a natural Reservation of unique and great biodiversity of flora and fauna—the closest we can get to wilderness and undisturbed nature in a suburban area near Boston. It is now, and was named a “Reservation,” not a Park, because those who had vision in 1894 realized that they needed to preserve what was left of the “Big Woods,” the lakes, ponds, hills, rocks, and wetlands— the “natural state” of our State. [MM – 11/18/2010]
  2. In this world of impermanence there are few things that don’t change, but there are some that carry an eternal resonance within us, that touch a deeper chord, like this grand old Fells Forest. Those woods and boulders, streams and birds, are always there whenever we choose to turn to them. Dipping into a world that changes at a much slower pace and scale, we form a bond with the land; an old gnarly tree hanging onto a ledge, the quiet hollow by a pond, where dragonflies ply the air like brilliant flying jewels. What peace of mind we can know at these times, when we connect with the forest’s timelessness. Serenity? Solitude? These are ours for the asking, and the forest always answers yes.  [W.K. 11/3/2010]
  3. As a Reservation, the Fells is already “multi-use:” it provides clean drinking water, peace and serenity for visitors, exercise and fresh air to urban dwellers, unique botanical research for over a hundred years, maintenance of nearby property values, a chance for children to experience nature, and educational programs for all ages and groups among other “uses.” It provides a home for thousands of animals and hundreds upon hundreds of species of plants. Multiple government agencies such as the Department of Conservation and Recreation, Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, the towns of Winchester and Stoneham, and the cities of Medford, Malden and Melrose all “use” the Fells now. It is truly a multi-use property in need of our protection. I urge DCR to consider naming the Fells as a “patch reserve” so that the extraordinary natural features which attract so many people are protected for future generations.   [A.B. 11/18/2010]

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.

Here are more letters to the DCR. Note how many people oppose more bike trails.

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