Friday, September 27

Too Little, Too Late...Or Is It?

This should not be...

I want to use lots of bad language in this post, but I will refrain.  I came to this party…well, let me back up.

When the party was going strong I was lurking in the bushes outside not even aware that what was going on inside was a fun time.  Then I wandered off down the street.  When I came back five years later I realized there had been an altercation, and the portion of the party that I would have enjoyed immensely had been shut down.

Please feel free to scratch your head.  After you read the rest of my post you might want to go back and re-read the previous paragraph.

A few years ago when I was just a budding mountain biker I took my lovely wife to Cave Run Lake near Morehead, Kentucky for her first true mountain biking experience.  I’d only mountain biked on actual trails a handful of times myself; once on the Buckskin Trail at Cave Run.  I’d enjoyed that experience despite a 3 mile hike-a-bike after getting a flat.  Mandy and I rode the very popular Caney Loop Trail and were hugely disappointed because of the high degree of damage to the trail caused by equestrian use.  Even at that time user conflicts were on the increase, and as is stated in the decision document those conflicts had less to do with face to face confrontations and more with mountain bikers and hikers being unhappy with the destruction of the trails by equestrians.

While we lived in Colorado this project was undertaken by the USFS and stakeholder groups, namely mountain bikers and equestrian, and after a long and apparently painful process a decision has been made by the Forest Service.  I can’t say that I’m pleased about the outcome, but it was kind of my own fault for not being at the table when the discussions were going on.  But it seems the mountain biking community dropped the ball on this one and didn’t organize or complain loudly enough.   

I will say that the decision is preferable to a “do nothing” solution or a decision by the FS to throw up their hands and kick everyone out, but one seemingly insignificant component of the changes leaves me feeling a bit despondent.  And here’s why…

I have this big scheme I’ve been cooking for some time.  Big. Scheme.  I’ve been quiet about it on my blog (though have mentioned it in passing) because I didn’t want to give this idea away and have someone beat me to the punch.  I’ve decided it doesn’t matter at this point.  I’m spilling my guts.  I would have shared eventually anyway.  While I wanted this for myself, I also wanted it for the mountain biking community as a whole.  This seemed like a great opportunity to bring recognition and focus on the Daniel Boone National Forest as a mountain biking destination.  

My biggest scheme was to thru-bike the Sheltowee Trace from end to end and establish a record time.  When I’ve mentioned it to people the same issue comes up: some sections are closed to mountain bikes.  The most notable (and admittedly saddening) sections are the Red River Gorge and Natural Bridge State Park.  And after the State Park destroyed the Big Bend section another section, while not closed, became unaccessible to thru-bikers.

The decision makers in the USFS have decided to close 19 miles of the Sheltowee to mountain bikers.  
 
Facing the physical challenge of getting fit, planning gear and logistics, and negotiating time away from work, family, and other obligations is a many headed monster of effort to overcome.  For me, this decision that I had no say in and occurred when I was away chasing butterflies might be the nail in the coffin of my Grand Scheme. It seems my state is going to get farther and farther away from having a magnificent thru-biking resource like the Sheltowee Trace that is open for mountain biking.  Farther and farther away.

I have to admit fault in this.  I had a dream and I wasn’t a part of the process.  But from what I’ve heard from those that were a part of the process it sounds as if my presence would have changed little.  The process itself was frustrating to all the stakeholders.  Maybe the outcome will please the greater number of people, but it is disappointing that the USFS would effectively dismember the Sheltowee Trace as a mountain biking trail instead of doing all they can to find effective solutions so that more users can use this unique pathway in our state.

Some people would say: “What’s the big deal?”  Those 19 miles tie directly in with the long section of the Trace that’s already closed through Natural Bridge and the Red River Gorge.  What this means is a single 47 mile detour on pavement to get back on dirt.  That’s nearly 1/6 of the entire 300 mile trail, and that doesn't take into consideration the other portions of the trail that already utilize paved roads.

Between the narrow-minded people who made the decision to destroy Pot Hollow, Big Bend, and Sterling Road south of Natural Bridge, and the Federal bureaucrats that won’t allow mountain biking within the Red River Gorge, and now this regression…they’re stripping the Sheltowee Trace of the spirit in which it was created.

So I give up.  

I give up on a Sheltowee Trace race idea.  That's the bad news.  There is good news.  It's harder for me to get excited about this right now, but in time I think I'll really be excited.  Cave Run isn't exactly my back yard, but it's like my neighbor's backyard.  Or something.

The good news is that this decision does designate trails for specific uses and separates bikes and horses which eliminates the biggest user conflicts.  The decision also designates Scott's Creek Ridges and Clay Lick Loops for new mountain bike trail construction.  That's huge.  And that's hugely positive.

I think the main thing that will come out of this is that the mountain biking world can go back to considering Cave Run a destination, it can look to the future there with hope and promise.  I'll try to stop whining about my lost dream.  It's not profitable and it will only drag me down when I really need to be moving up.

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