The Dawn of a Golden Age for California Singletrack?

Mountain Bike Trail Groups Gain Access for Riders Throughout the State

By Matthew De Young

I grew up mountain biking in the San Francisco Bay Area, a place that has been simultaneously a mountain biker’s promised land and a kind of purgatory. While there is a huge amount of public land and miles of trails easily accessible from most points in the Bay Area, many parks and trails are closed to mountain bikers. As a teenager I became acutely aware that as mountain bikers my friends and I were the “black sheep” of the trail user community. The singletrack we rode was often built illegally and we were never certain how long any given trail would last before it was “erased” by land managers. Even trails officially open to mountain bikers could be an unpleasant experience. Rangers hiding in the bushes with radar guns ready to issue speeding tickets were not unheard of. Hikers often eyed us with a wary distaste, and addressed us with cold words. In typical teenage fashion we embraced our outlaw reputation, and this did nothing to help the cycle of marginalization.

Eventually I left California for Colorado to work for a company that specialized in building trails catering to mountain bikers. Our clients were mostly public land managers, the counterparts of those I had demonized through my youth in California. I found that I had to let go of the chip on my shoulder as rangers, hikers, and horseback riders in most instances seemed to regard cyclists as their equals on the trail. Most of the trails we built in Colorado were multi-use trails, laid out with the intention of reducing user conflict while still providing an enjoyable experience for all. This was achieved by maximizing sight distance and incorporating features that limit biker speed while still providing some excitement. We also built trails designed for the sole use of mountain bikers, trails that allowed for high speeds with jumps, berms, and other technical features. I could not get over the fact that we were building these progressive trails in city parks, in state parks, and on Federal Lands where they were easily and conveniently accessible to local residents. If this was becoming the norm in Colorado, what was the major malfunction in California?

What I came to realize is that mountain bikers in Colorado had not simply been handed these facilities out of the blue, but had put in serious effort in terms of painstaking diplomacy to make sure land managers addressed their needs.

After a couple years in Colorado, I moved back to California. I was keen to get involved with local trail advocates and to find out what was going on statewide. What I found was that there is a growing culture of trail advocacy among mountain bikers in California, and that while the State is lagging behind many parts of the U.S. and Canada in terms of opportunities for mountain bikers, various groups are working to change that in a hurry. Here is a regional breakdown of some of the progress.

Santa Cruz

New trail tools ready for work in Santa Cruz. Photo: Root One Productions

While Santa Cruz is widely regarded as a mountain bike Mecca, a first time visitor would be curiously hard-pressed to find much in the way of riding. Looking at a trail map of the Santa Cruz area a mountain biker might be left sorely disheartened to note that legitimate trail access opportunities are limited. In fact, most of the public lands surrounding Santa Cruz aren’t open to mountain bikers or only allow them on fire roads.

So why do mountain bikers still flock to the area to ride? Quite frankly it’s because riding illegally in Surf City is the accepted practice. Extensive illegally built trail networks crisscross the hills above the town. Linking these illegally built trails with other trails closed to mountain bikes makes for some of the best riding in California. And while the riding in Santa Cruz is extensive, the quality of the trails vary widely, as many of these pirate trails have built been built with little concern for sustainability and only see sporadic maintenance. Riders also risk hefty fines if they are caught riding in certain areas.

Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz (MBOSC) was formed in 1997 with the goal of changing the situation promoting mountain biking as a legitimate form of recreation in the area. MBOSC has been instrumental in maintaining mountain bike access to trails, bringing riders together to perform trail maintenance, and collaborating with land managers to provide new access opportunities for mountain bikers.

Volunteers shaping a berm on the Emma McCrary Trail in Santa Cruz. Photo: Root One Productions

One of MBOSC’s most notable successes has been the approval and ongoing construction of a new multi-use trail linking the city of Santa Cruz with surrounding State Parks and UC Santa Cruz. The trail, dubbed “The Emma McCrary Trail” after the recently passed stalwart fixture of the Santa Cruz Trail community, traverses Pogonip, a Santa Cruz city park historically closed to mountain bikers. The approval and construction of this trail is a watershed event for MBOSC who faced entrenched and fierce opposition from land managers, city council members and other user groups in its efforts to establish trail access for cyclists through Pogonip.

Nearly 2,200 volunteer hours have gone into trail construction thus far, according to Drew Perkins, MBOSC’s trails officer, who has been hired by the City of Santa Cruz to oversee trail construction. The trail is slated to open in the spring of 2013 and will be open to hikers, bikers, and equestrians. MBOSC has plans to build on this success with the construction of new trails in nearby Soquel Demonstration Forest and the reconstruction of trails in De Laveaga City Park.

Marin

Marin County has been the stage for some of the fiercest anti-mountain bike battles in the state, and likely the nation. The National Park Service set the precedent for land manager’s exclusion of mountain bikers when it shut down trails to riders in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in Marin, the sport’s birthplace(!), in the 1980s. Equestrian, hiking, and environmental groups have provided consistent opposition to any attempts made by cyclists to establish mountain bike access on public lands. While the mountain bike community continues to work with public land managers with limited success to establish mountain bike access, riders have found an ally in the local Boy Scout Council.

Camp Tamarancho is a Boy Scout Camp just outside of Fairfax. In 1996, Jim Jacobsen, then President of the Bicycle Trails Council of Marin and a professional trail builder, approached the Marin Council of the Boy Scouts of America about building mountain bike oriented trails at their Camp Tamarancho property. The Boy Scouts were receptive to the idea and thus began a six-year campaign of trail construction. Over 10,000 volunteer hours went into the creation of an 8.2 mile network of singletrack. Not only do these trails serve as a playground for Boy Scouts, but they are open to the public as well for a nominal fee. The Boy Scouts charge riders $5 for a day pass or $40 for an annual pass. These revenues go directly back into camp operations and also support the Friends of Tamarancho volunteer group, who maintain and take charge of new trail projects.

The Friends of Tamarancho are currently working on a new trail extension that employs progressive, mountain bike specific trail construction, the first of its kind open for public access in the region. The extension will be approximately two thirds of a mile of head-high berms and large rolling jumps. It will link up to an adjacent skills park with log rides and other technical features. While this may sound like an experts only affair, it is being built to appeal to most riders. The features are designed so that they can provide advanced riders with the opportunity to catch some air while still allowing beginners and intermediate riders the opportunity to keep their wheels on the dirt. The trail will be directional, with only downhill traffic permitted.

San Luis Obispo

New trail at Montana de Oro State Park near San Luis Obispo. Photo: CCCMB/FTA

Trail access for mountain bikers in San Luis Obispo County is expanding rapidly. This is largely due to the efforts of the Central Coast Concerned Mountain Bikers. CCCMB was founded in 1987 in response to trail closures at Montana de Oro State Park just south of Morro Bay. Since then CCCMB has collaborated with State Parks, the U.S. Forest Service, the City of San Luis Obispo, and San Luis Obispo County to promote mountain biking. Not only has CCCMB preserved mountain bike access to lands managed by the aforementioned land managers, it has been the driving force behind new trail construction on their lands as well. CCCMB has a large volunteer base and regularly draws sixty plus volunteers to its workdays. On the last annual Super Bowl Sunday Trail Workday, 245 people showed up to volunteer. This large labor force has given CCCMB the ability to push projects forwards even as land managers are cutting staff and scaling back operations by backfilling their losses with volunteer labor.

CCCMB has had success in partnering with other user groups, an area where many advocacy groups struggle. Its board of directors includes equestrians and hikers. Equestrian and hiking groups have donated money to CCCMB for trail construction and maintenance and have collaborated to fund environmental assessment for new trail projects for cash strapped land managers. This unity among user groups has resulted in increased trail access for all.

CCCMB is currently working on an extensive trail project at Montana de Oro State Park. After the initial closure to bikes in the 1980s, it was determined that a portion the park would be open to bikes, while the other portion would be reserved for hikers and equestrians. State Parks approached CCCMB in 2008 with hopes of utilizing CCCMB’s trail design and construction expertise for some trail reroutes on some badly eroded trails in the part of the park closed to bikers. As a token of good will CCCMB dove into the project and undertook design and construction. It has since been determined that bikes will in fact be allowed on much of the new trail construction.

The project includes rerouting the four-mile Oats Peak with seven miles of sustainably constructed trail as well as the construction of several miles of new trail. CCCMB volunteers, the California Conservation Corps, and the Forest Trails Alliance (FTA) have performed construction. FTA, a non-profit mountain bike trail advocacy based out of Forest City, has performed all of the mechanized construction on the project utilizing a mini-excavator and a skid steer. Their fees have been paid by State Parks with money furnished by AT&T as mitigation for construction performed within the park. The San Luis Obispo Parks Open Space and Trails Foundation (SLOPOST) have covered additional expenses. As a non-profit, FTA’s revenues will go directly back into trail advocacy in the Forest City area.

Humboldt

While Humboldt County has huge tracts of public lands, historically mountain bike access has been limited. The Bigfoot Bicycle Club based out of the Arcata-Eureka area has been hard at work to change this. After years of working with various land managers, Humboldt County mountain bikers are achieving great success, as evidenced by the number of trail projects underway and in the pipeline.

The California Conservation Corps transporting a culvert during construction of the Paradise Royale Trail in Humboldt County. Photo: Gary Pritchard-Petersen

The construction of the Paradise Royale Trail in the King’s Range National Conservation Area, on southern Humboldt’s Lost Coast, was a major success for local mountain bikers. When the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) opened its land management plan review for the King’s Range NCA for public comment, mountain bikers showed up, some affiliated with the Bigfoot Club, and voiced their desire for trails open to mountain bike use. Gary Pritchard-Petersen, the manager of the Kings Range NCA recognized the need for legitimate bike access and engaged the cycling community to meet their needs. Local mountain bikers, the Bigfoot Cycling Club, and IMBA became involved, and the Paradise Royale trail was born.

The Paradise Royale Trail is a treat. The views of the Pacific nearly 2,000 feet below are epic, you can ride from your campsite, and the campground has its own skills park. The Paradise Royale Trail is a perfect example of well-designed singletrack. There are no awkward turns requiring the rider to dump a bunch of speed with a fistful of brake, all of the switchbacks are rideable, and you are constantly kept on your toes. It is worth the trip.

Farther north, twenty miles northeast of Eureka, lies the Lacks Creek Management Area, a nearly 9,000 acre piece of land also managed by the BLM. The Bigfoot Bicycle Club as well as the Humboldt Trails Council have been working with the BLM to open up trail access to the property. Environmental assessments have been performed, clearing the way for nearly thirty miles of trail construction. This will include ten miles of mountain bike specific trail, including a downhill specific trail, and fifteen to twenty miles of multi-use trail, of which a few miles have already been constructed.

The Arcata Community Forest, is a 2,350 acre forest owned by the City of Arcata. The forest sits directly adjacent to the City as well as Humboldt State University. Sustainable logging revenues fund forest management, habitat restoration, and creation and upkeep of recreation facilities in the forest. The forest features just over eleven miles of mostly multi-use trails. The city recently purchased an adjoining piece of property known as the Sunny Brae Forest, which had been the site of several illegally built mountain bike trails. Bigfoot Cycling Club has worked closely with the city on the trail development plan for this new acquisition. Several miles of multi-use trail will link the Sunny Brae Forest to the Arcata Community Forest, and construction on these trails began in the fall of 2012. Plans have also been made for the construction of directional mountain bike specific trails catering to every skill level.

These victories are just a few examples of what mountain bikers can achieve when they organize themselves, even in the face of staunch resistance. By working with land managers and with other trail users, these groups have provided increased trail access not only for cyclists but in many cases for hikers and equestrians as well. Turning mountain bike access from a divisive issue into an opportunity for community growth has been an additional success story for these advocacy group.

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Want To Get Involved?
California Mountain Bike Trail Access Groups by Region

Auburn – Folsom Auburn Trail Riders Action Coalition (FATRAC) – www.fatrac.org
Downieville – Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship (SBTS) – www.sierratrails.org
East Bay Area – Bicycle Trails Council Of The East Bay (BTCEB) – www.btceb.org
Forest City – Forest Trails Alliance (FTA) – www.foresttrailsalliance.org
Kern County – Southern Sierra Fat Tire Association (SSFTA) – www.ssfta.com
Lake Tahoe – Tahoe Area Mountain Bike Association (TAMBA) – www.mountainbiketahoe.org
Los Angeles – Concerned Off-road Bicyclist Association (CORBA) – www.corbamtb.com
Marin County – Access4Bikes – www.access4bikes.com
Marin County – Marin County Bicycle Coalition (MCBC) – www.marinbike.org
Mendocino County – Ukiah Valley Trail Group (UVTG) – www.mendotrails.org
Monterey – Monterey Off Road Cycling Association (MORCA) – www.morcamtb.org
Nevada City – Bicyclists Of Nevada County (BONC) – www.bonc.org
Orange County – Share Mountain Bike Club – www.sharemtb.com
Pasadena – Mount Wilson Bicycling Association (MWBA) – www.mwba.org
Reno – Poedunks – www.poedunks.org
San Diego – San Diego Mountain Bike Association (SDMBA) – www.sdmba.com
San Luis Obispo – Central Coast Concerned Mountain Bikers (CCCMB) – www.cccmb.org
San Mateo/Santa Clara County – Responsible Organized Mountain Pedalers (ROMP) – www.romp.org
Santa Barbara – Santa Barbara Mountain Bike Trail Volunteers (SBMTV) – www.sbmtv.org
Santa Cruz – Mountain Bikers Of Santa Cruz (MBOSC) – www.mbosc.org
Sonoma County – Sonoma County Trails Council (SCTC) – www.sonomatrails.org
Tehachapi – Tehachapi Mountain Trails Association (TMTA) – www.tehachapitrails.org

2 thoughts on “The Dawn of a Golden Age for California Singletrack?

  1. Terrence

    Hi mates, how is the whole thing, and what you want to say regarding this paragraph,
    in my view its truly remarkable designed for me.

  2. Jeff B

    Great article Matthew! Good things really are happening in the Golden State.

    One correction regarding Forest Trails Alliance (FTA). FTA is based out of Nevada City, Ca., about 45 minutes from Forest City. Forest City is our home trailbuilding area.

    Jeff Brooks
    FTA President

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