Bay Nature magazineJuly-September 2015


Bayview: On the Trail, With Wheels

July 6, 2015



ome 19 years ago, in between jobs, I took a midweek camping trip to Big Basin State Park in late October. I was the only one in the campground that night and the only person on the long trail down to Berry Falls the next morning.

It was a glorious autumn day in the mixed hardwood and conifer forest, with the leaves of the big-leaf maples turning yellow, Townsend’s warblers foraging in the trees, winter wrens appearing along the creek, and no other sounds but those of the trees, the birds, and the flowing water. But as I started back mid-afternoon, my idyll was broken by the sound of loud male voices coming from up the trail.

Better for them to be biking on the trails than playing video games, right? But at the same time, there’s a voice inside me that says parks like Big Basin aren’t playgrounds for humans.

The voices got closer and closer, and louder and louder, and were soon accompanied by the high-pitched squeals of hastily applied brakes. Minutes later, four guys on mountain bikes came busting down the single track, exulting—I supposed—in their speed and physical prowess. Of course I was ticked off. My delightful day of communing peacefully with the sights and sounds of nature had been disrupted. These guys weren’t reveling in the big-leaf maples or Townsend’s warblers. For them, this forested slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains offered little more than an awesome slalom course.

As I continued up the trail, I noted the two-foot-long skid marks in the soft duff. At the trailhead, I checked the signs, and sure enough, they were clearly marked no bikes, except that the red slash across the bicycle had been partially scraped off. The only (and best) way to vent my anger was to write an article excoriating the whole sport and its spandex-clad practitioners.

Now, I was and am a bicycle rider. I’ve ridden a road bike to work for 35 years. And I’ve done my fair share of mountain biking as well: I enjoy the physical exertion and mastery required to power up and down dirt roads over beautiful terrain. And I do believe that there’s no one “right” way to experience open space. But, as I asked myself that day 19 years ago, is there a hierarchy of experience here? Putting aside the illegality and hubris of those guys biking where it was prohibited, was I just expressing a personal bias for my contemplative, nature-focused way of experiencing the park?

This question comes back to me as we publish an article on mountain biking in the East Bay Regional Parks. On the one hand, the parks are there to be enjoyed by everyone. And mountain biking is one of the fastest-growing recreational uses of the parks, especially among youth. Better for them to be biking on the trails than playing video games, right? But at the same time, there’s a voice inside me that says parks like Big Basin aren’t playgrounds for humans. They’ve been created for recreation, yes, but they’re also places of refuge for many of the animal and plant species we’ve elbowed out of more developed areas. And places to observe those species and gain insight into a world not totally dominated by humans. So I guess I remain biased toward quiet observation.

But there’s room for all, as long as we can have a culture of cycling that respects the rights of others on the trails —both human and non—and respects the work it takes to create and maintain the trails themselves. I’m happy to say that I’ve had few similar encounters in the years since, and while conflicts between trail users persist, the work of groups such as the International Mountain Biking Association in support of responsible cycling has helped shift the debate (mostly) from shouting to discussion. If you’d like to continue that discussion, please add a comment of your own below.

About the Author

From 2001-2017, David Loeb served as editor and then publisher of Bay Nature magazine, and executive director of the nonprofit Bay Nature Institute. A Bay Area resident since 1973, David moved here after graduating from college in Boston. The decision was largely based on a week spent visiting friends in San Francisco the previous January, which had included a memorable day at Point Reyes National Seashore. In the late 1990s, after many years working for the Guatemala News and Information Bureau in Oakland, David had the opportunity to spend more time hiking and exploring the parks and open spaces of the Bay Area. Increasingly curious about what he was seeing, he began reading natural history books, attending naturalist-led hikes and natural history courses and lectures, and volunteering for several local conservation organizations.

This was rewarding, but he began to feel that the rich natural diversity of the Bay Area deserved a special venue and a dedicated voice for the whole region, to supplement the many publications devoted to one particular place or issue. That’s when the germ of Bay Nature magazine began to take shape. In February 1997, David contacted Malcolm Margolin, publisher of Heyday Books and News from Native California, with the idea of a magazine focused on nature in the Bay Area, and was delighted with Malcolm’s enthusiastic response. Over the course of many discussions with Malcolm, publishing professionals, potential funders, and local conservation and advocacy groups, the magazine gradually took shape and was launched in January 2001. It is still going strong, with a wider base of support than ever.

Now retired, David contributes to his Bay Nature column "Field Reports."

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