Home Columns Opinion OPINION: Say “No” to Regular Mountain Biking in Hubbard Park

OPINION: Say “No” to Regular Mountain Biking in Hubbard Park

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In response to Tim Shea’s “A Thank You and Plea” letter requesting that Hubbard Park be opened up to mountain biking: I also took my kids to one of the bike events at Hubbard Park, but my experience and perception was very different than Tim’s. I assumed these were one-off events to teach kids about mountain biking, but from the moment I arrived I started receiving pitches about how mountain biking should be allowed in the park and what we as active parents could do to make this happen. I heard about how we could cut new trails and put up signs and how we wouldn’t have to drive to go mountain biking. The problem is, I think allowing mountain bikers regular access to Hubbard would be a terrible mistake, and using kids and families as an emotional wedge to gain this access is a questionable ploy, especially since the park is already used by hundreds of kids a year.

My kids, who go to Union Elementary, take numerous field trips to Hubbard every year to explore natural ecosystems and as inspiration for writing and art projects. We bought our house largely because of its proximity to the park, and my family hikes there several times a week. To us the park is a source of solace, and mountain biking on its trails is contrary to my view of Hubbard as a natural area. There are many reasons why mountain bikes are not allowed in our National Parks or in the vast majority of city parks (safety, liability, trail damage, to name a few); even Boulder, the mountain biking capital of the world, does not allow mountain bikes on most of its local trails. Mountain bikers have to ride or drive the few minutes out of town to dedicated trails, just like we have to here. That is the norm, not the exception.

I can see why mountain bikers would want to ride full time in Hubbard Park, though. It would be a blast. I have been mountain biking since the mid-80s and it’s easy to see Hubbard’s appeal. The trails are rolling and well-maintained, and there are great climbs, downhills, and single tracks with jumps already built in, and it is close to town so people could ride there all the time … and therein lies the problem. Lots of people would ride there all the time.

Anyone who has spent significant time in Hubbard Park knows it is not a large park. Though the trails are well laid out, when you sit on the bench overlooking the ravine, you clearly see the trail and hikers coming up from the valley back to the main trail. From other points if you stop and listen you can hear people at the picnic areas and fields. If mountain bikes are allowed, you would see and hear them at most points in the park, and even if MAMBA (Montpelier Area Mountain Bike Association) were to cut separate trails through the park for its own use, you would still see and hear them from other trails (and with so little terrain in the park, cutting new trails would be an ecological disaster).

Say, a mile or two of the current trails are opened to mountain bikers and that they actually stay on those trails; if you go out for an hour hike at 3 mph walking pace how many times will an accomplished rider going 10–15 mph minimum pass you? Now multiply this by 10 or more mountain bikers. There would be no getting lost in thought on a nice walk in a natural area; you would be stepping off the trail (and possibly holding your dogs) repeatedly to let machines go by.

And what about safety? Of the main paths from Hubbard Park’s tower to the lower areas, one leads down a long straightaway across a slick wood bridge over a creek right into the picnic area where people have reunions and birthday parties; the other trail goes down a single track with roots, rocks, and a blind, sharp, left-hand corner at the bottom right before a trail intersection and another wood bridge. Not only would the rooted section and corner of the single track be susceptible to damage by braking and skidding tires, mountain bikers carrying speed would be incredibly dangerous to others coming up the hill. Can you imagine families or the elderly walking their dogs coming around those bends? MAMBA claims they would educate riders to avoid these conflicts, and I know that they are good people and would try their best, but they could not control overly exuberant members, non-members, or youngsters racing through the park. People would get hurt, there would be lawsuits, and dogs would definitely have to go on leash.

I’ve heard all the talking points surrounding this movement: it’ll be part of a larger commuter bike trail system; it will reduce pollution; it will keep kids active; it will empower kids to have better self esteem. Parts of these may be true for a select portion of the population, but what it really boils down to is athletes want a convenient place to train in the city and Onion River Sports wants to sell more bikes to those who can afford them.

As an athlete, father and fellow mountain biker, I don’t write this letter lightly. I risk alienating myself from a very small peer group in town and, potentially, from a store where I regularly shop. It is especially tough because I understand and sympathize with those who want to see mountain biking in Hubbard. I love mountain biking, but I love Hubbard Park more.

Hubbard Park is a fragile, special piece of land that has been protected for years. Allowing mountain bikers regular access to the park would change it forever. Please don’t let this happen.

The writer of this opinion piece— Brent Ehrlich— lives in Montpelier.

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