Guest Opinion: Don’t just criticize Idaho trails; help keep them in shape

GUEST OPINION: OUTDOORS

March 1, 2014 

I am a volunteer ranger for the Ridge to Rivers system. Rangers are the ones out there compiling trail usage statistics, asking people to leash their dogs, picking up trash and dog waste, and addressing aggressive mountain bikers. We are the front line when it comes to receiving and reporting complaints from trail users to R2R management. I am drawing on my experiences as a ranger as I address the issue of mountain bike racing in the R2R system.

Although mountain bikers represent the minority of trail users in R2R, they are a priority when it comes to trail building and design. R2R works hard to provide a safe, challenging and exciting experience for mountain bikers.

Even though bike riders represent only 35 percent of overall trail usage in the system, the majority of the volunteer rangers patrolling the system are mountain bikers. These trail rangers are selected specifically to provide insight into the mountain biking experience on the trails with the goal of improving that experience for mountain bikers. R2R espouses the same trail etiquette guidelines set forth by the International Mountain Bicycling Association. The point of aligning rules with the largest organized mountain bike advocacy group in the world is to promote safety and consistency.

Directly comparing R2R to trail systems in Bend or Oakridge is inadequate. Those locations have completely different soils and topography, as well as different levels of trail usage. Much of R2R is made up of highly erosive soils, as evidenced by the steadily widening and deepening trails. Hosting a race doesn’t just affect the trails on the day of the race. There would be prerace training and postrace riding on the same course. This broadens the impact of the event on trails and trail users far beyond the day of the actual race.

While the promise of increased revenue is compelling, throwing out statements about mountain bike racing generating millions in revenue for our community is not meaningful without a broader analysis by individuals qualified to conduct that type of analysis.

Increasingly, there has been a nationwide trend to hold mountain bike races at ski resorts, since they are perfect venues for such events. Luckily, we have Bogus Basin a mere 16 miles from Downtown Boise. One option would be to focus on improving that venue instead of exploiting the already vulnerable and overtaxed R2R system.

Those points made, my reason for writing this is actually to address a related but more global issue: the constant negativity and complaining directed at R2R’s perceived shortfalls. Too often I observe trail users voicing complaints and using the trails with a sense of entitlement — an attitude that you have the right to exploit the trails for your benefit to the exclusion of the enjoyment of other users. That approach gets us in the wrong mindset, and we end up missing the big picture.

I wish we could collectively be more appreciative for this wonderful community we live in and this amazing trail system resource we share. Be thankful for all of the things that are great about our trail system and give R2R credit for getting a lot of things right.

And perhaps most important, if you don’t like something about the trail system, volunteer your time to help improve it. There never seems to be shortage of complaints and suggestions, but there is almost always a shortage of volunteers at publicized trail cleanup and improvement events.

Dressler is a Boise resident.

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