Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mountain biking not coming to Cincinnati parks

Cincinnati mountain bikers will have to leave the City to pursue their sport in the foreseeable future, according to a recent report to City Council from Cincinnati Parks Director Willie Carden Jr.

In the report, requested by eight of nine councilmembers in April, Carden said that his department's general prohibition against off-road bike trails is based on a combination of past experience and national and international research.

"The Park Board does not permit this use, and research conducted by Park staff and experience with off-road bike use in parks confirms that permitting off-road bike trails in parks will likely result in damage to Park's natural resources and could prove to be a detriment to parks rather than the asset that proponents claim," he said.

According to Carden, the fundamental mission of Cincinnati Parks is to conserve, manage and sustain the City's natural and cultural resources, and off-road bike trails conflict with this mission.

"That does not mean every enjoyable outdoor activity should be permitted," Carden said. "Research reveals that there is a substantial maintenance cost and risk of environmental damage associated with off-road bike use in natural areas and that the risk for illegal and damaging behavior is higher in urban settings such as in Cincinnati Parks."

Issues such as compaction, channelization and erosion can damage the natural environment, he said.

"Studies found that bike wheels 'apply a constant swath of compaction, unlike feet, which apply an interrupted series of localized compactions', 'wheels apply shearing force to the ground either during acceleration or braking,'" Carden said.
Cincinnati's soils and year-round precipitation can also contribute to problems.

"Clay soils remain saturated longer and are more prone to erosion damage when wet," Carden said. "Although mountain bike groups discourage members from riding on wet trails, they have no ability or authority to prevent bikers from doing so, and no control over the skill of users."


The worst damage is caused through illegal trail creation, he said, citing studies showing that 50 percent of mountain bikers in countryside areas leave designated paths, with that behavior increasing the closer one gets to urban areas.

This means that local governments must budget for either new trails or increased enforcement and maintenance on existing ones.

"The typical response of the biking community has been to blame local government for not building additional new, more exciting trails," Carden said. "Cincinnati's current city budget does not allow Parks to take on significant new expenditures."

Local groups such as Queen City Bike, Cincinnati Bike/PAC and the Cincinnati Off Road Alliance (CORA) have expressed interest in new trails and have offered to help build and maintain them.

But Carden referred to a failed 1997 effort by CORA to build and maintain a pilot trail project at Miles Edwards Park to bolster his argument.

"CORA didn't maintain or police them, and eventually agreed to shut the experiment down due to high levels of damage and illegal use," he said.

To Carden, this inability to properly police the trails is Cincinnati Parks' greatest concern.

"Parks appreciate offers by groups to construct mountain bike trails that would protect critical habitat areas and avoid erosion and damage to the resource," he said. "Parks also appreciates their offers to maintain these trails. The fact remains that there would still be some people who would not ride responsibly and there is no effective way to enforce responsible riding."

Mountain bike trails are currently either open or in development at Devou Park in Covington, Mitchell Memorial Forest in Miami Township, and Tower Park in Fort Thomas.

Photos "Mountain Biking" and "Marahau mountain biking" courtesy of Flickr users Thorne Enterprises and Grayskullduggery, respectively, through CC-BY-SA-2.0 license.

Previous reading on BC:
New parking facilities required to provide bicycle parking (5/24/10)
Metro, TANK to offer free rides on Bike to Work Day (5/11/10)
Bike Month begins, hopes to change local bicycle culture (5/3/10)
Region's first bike 'corral' opens in Northside (4/27/10)
Report on Cincinnati Parks bike policies due this month (4/8/10)