History of Conflict in Marin County, CA
The history of conflict between hikers and mountain bikers in Marin County, CA is a long one that began in the early 1980s. Hikers being run off trails, heated arguments and threats of violence became commonplace. An assault on a park service ranger by a mountain biker caught riding on a trail closed to bicycles ultimately led to a squad car pursuit by the Fairfax Police and the Marin County Sheriff’s Department.
The conflict quickly drew in equestrians as speeding cyclists spooked their horses. Two horses were injured so badly they had to be euthanized and a small number of riders were injured when they were thrown from their mounts. The “Trails Preservation Council,” an organization opposed to the use of bikes on hiking trails and bridle paths, was soon formed and when it publicized a procedure for reporting ugly incidents with mountain bikers, threatening calls were left on the Council’s telephone answering machine.
Vandalism also became part of the phenomenon. Signs posted by the park service restricting bicycle use to certain trails were torn out of the ground as fast as they were replaced. In 1993 park rangers discovered an illegally constructed trail built by mountain bikers who had cut down an impressive number of trees, uprooted large swaths of vegetation and used picks and shovels to alter the terrain. Other illegal trails were subsequently built despite the park service’s efforts to stop the practice. Despite the arrest and conviction of some of the vandals, mountain bikers continued to vandalize protected parks and open spaces. A search on “Google” using the term “illegal trail” reveals that illegal trail and stunt course building by mountain bikers is now widespread, across the country.
In Mill Valley, CA residents living close to a hiking trail taken over by mountain bikers complained about excessive noise from shouting cyclists and squealing brakes to the city council. At a council meeting held to discuss the problem, mountain bikers from communities far distant from Mill Valley were called in by local cyclists to overwhelm local opposition and give the impression to the council that most Mill Valleyans desired the trail be left accessible to cyclists. A compromise was offered whose conditions the cyclists present agreed to. However, the conditions were never met, the noise continued and the town council was compelled to close the trail to mountain biking. Shortly thereafter wanted posters bearing pictures of the faces of some of the complaining residents, overlaid with representations of a rifle scope’s cross hairs, were found nailed to trees along the trail. Private property was vandalized. Some neighbors were furious – others were terrified.
The conflict grew, and as it expanded into the consciousness of the general public it became a regular feature of the county newspaper, the “Marin Independent Journal.” Hikers and equestrians argued back and forth with mountain bikers through letters to the editor on an almost daily basis for months. Eventually, the conflict became known as the “Hiker Biker War,” not only by residents of the county, but across the the country.
The conflict between mountain cyclists and other trail users in Marin County endures to this day, and having lasted here for three decades, it is by no means unique to Middlesex Fells.
309 Todd Way
Mill Valley, CA 94941
September 26, 2011