Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Parks director says Mount Airy Forest 'not ideal' for mountain biking

Mount Airy Forest is too environmentally sensitive and not ideal for a mountain bike trail pilot project, according to a recent report to Cincinnati City Council by Cincinnati Parks Director Willie F. Carden, Jr.

The report comes a month after Council adopted a motion directing Cincinnati Parks to work with the Cincinnati Off Road Alliance (CORA) and other volunteers to develop up to 20 miles of trails in the western portion of the 1,459-acre park, west of Interstate 74.

Instead, Carden said that the Park Board has proposed a pilot project in West Price Hill's Miles Edwards Park, which has less sensitive soils, slopes, and plant and animal communities.

In 2001, a consultant studying the plant communities of Mount Airy Forest found a wide variety of wildflower habitat including rare plants such as ginseng green dragon and goldenseal. Other wildflowers such as black cohosh, trout lily, trillium and dutchmen's breeches were also in abundance.

Soils within the park are comprised of Ava, Eden, Pate, and Switzerland, all of which are highly erodible, Carden said.

"Because of these weaknesses, many of the soils are moist almost year round and not conducive to trail riding, no matter how trails may be built," Carden said.

Diverging ideas

The Park Board's view on mountain biking trails in City parks was outlined in June 2010 in a report to Council, by Carden, in which he said that empirical evidence suggested that the trails caused environmental damage, lead to crime and vandalism, and were far too costly given the City's budget constraints.

In August 2010, Council's Livable Communities Committee directed Cincinnati Parks to work with a by-then committed group of biking enthusiasts to design and build a trail somewhere in the City.

The Park Board selected Miles Edwards Park.

"The Park Board never heard back from CORA but apparently CORA proceeded to develop a trail proposal for Mt. Airy Forest and presented this directly to City Council," Carden said.

In November 2010, CORA submitted a full proposal for the Mount Airy Forest Backcountry Trails, which would begin with a 7.5-mile loop for various skill levels, designed and constructed to sustainable, International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) standards.

Damage a concern

Carden maintains that other park users, from hikers to horseback riders to environmentalists, oppose mountain biking in City parks.

The Park Board continues to view mountain biking as an activity that could damage the parks and would be "an inappropriate use", he said.

"Research in the field is somewhat contradictory as there is evidence of resource damage due to mountain biking even on appropriately built trails, as well as studies claiming this not to be the case," Carden said. "There is no question, however, that some people do not observe rules about when to ride and that people will also ride off of mountain bike trails and in restricted areas, and this causes damage."

CORA has pledged to build and maintain the trails, but Carden remains unsure about its ability to do so.

"Park staff visited trails that CORA maintains at East Fork, Mitchell, and Caesars Creek and found examples of poor maintenance such as washed out culverts, severe erosion, injured trees and vegetation, litter, and failure to abide by signage," Carden said.

Carden said that is appears that riders are using wet trails and creating new trails where the existing trail is not challenging enough.

"And this all occurs at these trails which CORA built and maintains," Carden said.

Pilot project conditional

CORA has also offered to identify donations and grants to install signs, trailhead features, barricades, and other capital improvements, which it has done at other parks.

"However, if they were to do this at Miles Edwards Park, or any other city park site, there would be no Park Board staff available to inspect the work or to assure it met appropriate standards," Carden said. "Furthermore, enforcement of trail riding rules would be problematic."

But Carden did say that the Park Board would be willing to work with CORA on a pilot project at Miles Edwards Park, given several conditions.

CORA would be required to develop timetables for construction; have firm volunteer commitments for trail construction, maintenance, and public education; and show a commitment to meet with the West Price Hill and Delhi Township communities on issues arising from trail construction.

"If CORA steps up to take on this task they would be asked to first address the community council and neighbors before Parks would allow the project to proceed," Carden said. "CORA would also be asked to commit to construction, maintenance and enforcement in a memorandum of understanding with the Park Board."

Previous reading on BC:
Mountain bike trail coming to Mount Airy Forest (2/21/11)
Cincinnati may get mountain bike trails after all (8/17/10)
Mountain bikers expected to advocate before council committee (8/2/10)
Mount Washington resident questions mountain biking research (7/7/10)
Mountain biking not coming to Cincinnati parks (6/15/10)