The Sunny Brae forest trail issues are far from resolved. While Kevin [Hoover] did a good job of reporting he uncharacteristically gave Forest Management Committee (FMC) members and city staff a pass by letting them avoid addressing certain key issues.
First of all, there was basically no public process prior to the design and development of the high-speed trail in question. The July 17 meeting that was claimed to be the approval process took place long after the trail was already developed, in place and in use. To say it was approved after it was built is like saying we don’t need permission because we grant our own forgiveness.
One lightly publicized meeting that was steamrolled by a single interest group hardly justifies the claim that all interests have been considered.
The only user group that was consulted by city staff prior to the development of the controversial trail was a small cadre of mountain bikers. They held secret meetings with city staff to push for turning this trail into a downhill bomber bike run.
I must add that this trail in a pre-developed stage, while steep, had been in use for decades by horsemen and hikers. The exclusion of these users for a few high-skilled bike riders hardly seems “even handed” as one FMC committee member claims. It is an insult to the rest of us to even suggest such considerations were made.
There are numerous horseman associations in the county. The city failed to contact even one. I represent one of them as vice president and trail chairman. Our Northern California Horseman’s Association recently conducted two fundraising events for the Community Forest and raised over $12,000. At no time were we consulted on an issue that would remove a historic horse trail and in general set a precedent that is designed to ultimately lessen available trails. Certainly we were not told this effort was in progress prior to our fundraising events.
We submitted a letter to the City Council a month ago encouraging the city to maintain its shared trail policies rather than pursue segregating uses. This trail represents the very first Community Forest trail that bikers don’t share with the rest of the community.
I will add that both Mr. Halligan and Mr. Furniss of the FMC both know me personally. Dennis used to bring his daughter to our home for horseback riding lessons and Michael used to live right next door. While the Forest Management Committee was wondering how extensive the objections are, a simple phone call would have made that more obvious.
Arcata’s Open Space and Agriculture Committee also has four horse owners sitting on that committee. We were not approached through that venue either. It remains unclear who in the community was involved in this decision aside from a few bikers.
It was shocking to read that the original Forest Management guidelines were no longer relevant since the expansion of the Community Forest. I was surprised that Kevin Hoover did not ask the obvious questions; what management guidelines have been in use since that expansion? Have we been flying blind since then? What other elements of the original guidelines are being ignored?
More importantly why are we just now straying from our standard of shared use trails? How did that get decided? And when? Where is the transparency? At least one FMC member acknowledged their failings in the transparency department. The question of course remains; What are they going to do about it?
For the most part mountain cyclists are very cordial. I personally have had only a few close calls with speeding bikes in the Community Forest but I do know other folks who have been run into or their dogs run over.
I will continue to question why we are encouraging that type of activity in a small and precious network of community trails when doing so will only increase these types of problems.
Separating uses is but a small minded way to “solve” a problem. Such an approach simply does not take into account that it pencils out to fewer trails for us all.
Frankly I am surprised the mountain bike community is willing to risk so much of their hard earned capital. What they are saying by pushing for these separate use and high speed specialized courses is that they cannot exist on shared use trails.
They are also saying that they don’t want to share trails and the rest of the community should just go somewhere else because they have some Red Bull to work off.
They are transforming from selfless trail advocates into selfish trail tyrants right before our eyes. I certainly hope they come to their senses and put their old hats back on.
The other option could be to simply sell the whole Sunny Brae tract to the bikers since they are trying to take it over anyway. That way the rest of the community could recoup their investment.
My suggestion first offered to the FMC a couple of months ago was to have city staff meet with a variety of user groups individually at first in order to gather specific needs and wants. Later involve all groups through their representatives at a more public venue. Then the city will be able to say they have not merely capitulated to a single interest group but indeed involved the whole community. They cannot honestly say that right now.
Communication with the public is an integral tool to achieve success with planning and management efforts.
Uri Driscoll is a lifelong horseman and member of Arcata’s Open Space and Agriculture Committee.