Forest Trails Talk – A Narrative on Addressing the Elephant in the Room
Last night I attended the Forest Trails Talk, a discussion panel hosted by UCSC student, Melissa Ott, on the illegal mountain biking that happens on UCSC’s upper campus. As an avid mountain biker and nature lover, I realized how important this discussion was, yet at the same time, I saw the potential for absolute chaos in a packed house of burly mountain riders and passionate nature advocates. There has always been unspoken tension on the subject of the illegal mountain biking that happens on upper campus, so it was safe to assume there might be some mud-slinging. My personal thoughts going into the event: this oughta be interesting.
5:45pm, people slowly begin to trickle in.
By 6:15pm, we have a packed house. Members of the bike community roll their bikes to the corner. People admire the slew of muddied mountain bikes parked outside the building. Community members find their seats.
I look around to examine the room: Student environmental activists, mountain bikers drenched in sweat after a ride up to campus, some older community members (that probably have not been on a bike for some years), young children and their parents, and some few women mountain bikers.
What a diverse group…
The panel begins.
First up, Eric Johnson from Hilltromper shares some of the survey results that they gathered the past weekend up by the illegal trails. 60% of mountain bikers know that those trails are illegal and they frequent them regardless.
I’ve heard it before — I also may be slightly guilty of accidentally riding my mountain bike through Dead Camper.
Next up, Alex Jones, the UCSC Campus Natural Reserve Steward. He talks about the uses of upper campus as a natural reserve and environmental research ground. Oh by the way, did you know that there are only about 7 locations (in the world) where Ohlone Tiger Beetles can be found? And it just so happens that they’re centralized in the Upper Campus area where some mountain bikers may be crushing these endangered species as they shred down the trails? Oh, and that illegal mountain biking trails are a substantial contributor to soil erosion?
*Pang of guilt*
Moving down the panel, Will Curtis, Captain of the UC Santa Cruz Mountain Biking Team takes the mic. The applaud is noticeably louder as they introduce him. Will, instead of talking about the cons of illegal single-track riding, brings into the conversation why so many people love mountain biking. He shares stories about how awesome it was to get passed on a trail by a father sharing his own love of mountain biking with his three young daughters — that he also fell in love with nature as a child riding through the forest.
I am reminded why I love mountain biking and why it’s important to be here, not just for me, but for others to take joy in this sport.
Drew Perkins, Trail Officer for the Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz (MBoSC) takes the mic. I think it’s worth mentioning that Drew played a huge part in the construction of the Emma McCrary multi-use trail and I’m grateful for the thought and consideration that went into the building of that trail. During his time on the panel, he explains the importance of going through the technicalities of building a mountain bike trail and getting it on the city’s radar. Why? Maintenance, environmental impact, and of course, safety.
Sometimes, the truth really sucks.
Next on the list, an academic perspective. Professor Chris Wilmers is a wildlife biologist and director of the Santa Cruz Puma Project, who has worked throughout the Santa Cruz mountains and with the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County on local conservation issues. He continues the discussion of environmental impact, but begins the topic of streamlining processes to build more legal trails in the future.
Why does it have to be so hard and take so long to build a legal mountain biking trail?
I can tell this is a question on many people’s minds as it got brought it up a lot during the open Q&A. The consensus I got is, well, it’s not the prettiest subject — mostly politics. Either way, streamlining implementation is a step towards the solution.
Lastly, Lono Barnes (pictured on far left), a firefighter from Santa Cruz Fire Department. There were many times in the conversation where audience members mentioned that regardless of the trails being legal or not, riders will not stop exploring the upper campus trails. Lono Barnes agrees and he brings up an idea of creating signage for the trails so that in case of accidents people can identify where their location is. He mentions that the amount of calls the fire department receives due to mountain bike injuries is fairly low, but not unheard of. It’s safe to say that it’s kind of hard to get help when you don’t know where you are. Can you imagine the phone calls the Fire Department must receive? “Uh, so I broke both my wrists, but I’m not sure where I am– I see lots of trees and well, the sun seems to be going down.” Lono addresses the safety concerns that the illegal trails pose on mountain bikers and approaches the discussion from the perspective of a firefighter who is concerned for the rider’s safety, yet shares the same love of single-track.
Overall, the point of this panel was to finally gather the community members and address the fact that there’s an elephant in the room and it’s not going away anytime soon.
To my pleasant surprise, there was no mud-slinging with the exception of some mud prints on the carpet. Even during the Q&A session which lasted about 30 minutes, the audience members brought up great points in a very civil manner with the purpose to further the conversation on illegal single tracks in Santa Cruz. People came together to learn about an issue and possibly work towards a solution, but before doing so, got input from the experts and got involved in the conversation. In actuality, the Forest Trails Talk demonstrated to me a part of what civic engagement should look like – a collaborative process of sharing perspective and information to come to the best solution possible. There’s a symbiotic relationship between citizens and the community, and it’s not about participating for your own selfish desires, but deciding on what is best for the community. So regardless of how much “gnar” mountain bikers love to shred, the people in the room realized that as mountain bikers and lovers of nature, we have a civic duty to come together and discuss the impacts each one of us plays in the community.
To continue the discussion on illegal single-track riding at UCSC’s upper campus, visit this workshop:
View the full gallery from the event: