The Politics of Wilderness Trail Use

A nice MTB trail in New Mexico, from

Today I’d like to continue with the trail use and cycling theme a bit and discuss the sensitive politics of wilderness trail use. Again, this issue is dear at heart to me – I’m a racing mountain biker – but hopefully the following points will meet with your sense of logic, not just be blindly advocating for mountain bike legal trails.

Urban Wilderness Areas are precious. Two that I use most frequently – Tilden Park in Berkeley, California, and Griffith Park in Los Angeles, California, were set aside as park land almost 100 years ago and continue to be preserved. Both of these areas have extensive trail systems, and winding back country roads. These features provide great opportunities for transportation and recreation in the form of cycling, hiking, or equestrian uses. Both Tilden and Griffith see a large number of cyclists on their roads, but a fundamental difference between these two parks is that bikes are illegal on all off-road trails in Griffith Park, whereas they are legal on most trails in Tilden.

Like most logical fallacies in public policy, this difference is easily explained by the interests of an unusually powerful minority, in this case equestrian riders. Griffith Park, by no coincidence, is the closest major open space to Hollywood, and the largest equestrian center anywhere near Central Los Angeles. Thus, horse use is substantial on the park’s trails, and many of those equestrian riders are wealthy and politically connected. The interests of this group are served rather than the interests of the public at large.

Mountain biking is a great activity for everyone. From the SoCal High School Cycling League to recreational riders, mountain biking increases awareness of wilderness areas, promotes cycling as a means of transportation and is great exercise. Other places in the Los Angeles area have multi-use trails, even skinny single track that is available to cyclists, hikers and equestrians (Altadena comes to mind). Normal arguments against allowing cyclists on trails, namely worries about crashes and erosion, are not major factors if cyclists behave in an appropriate manner. In addition, equestrian traffic damages trails far more than cyclists, especially when trails are wet.

The extensive network of trails in La Canada Flintridge shows how an ideal mix of hikers, equestrians and riders can best use wilderness areas – with low volumes of users and polite trail etiquette – can function effectively. To scale up this sort of operation on a Griffith Park scale, LA City Park Rangers on mountain bikes could patrol trails and eliminate crimes (especially drug dealing) that occur on the trails and ensure all users of the trail are riding or walking in a safe manner.

So, LA City Council, what are you waiting for? Let’s get the ball rolling on trail use in Griffith Park and start to promote wilderness appreciation among the young of this city. Hell, most of them have never even seen the San Gabriels or gone to the beach. By opening up mountain biking opportunities, the City of LA can do what government is supposed to do: treat everyone in a fair manner. Let’s get those mountain bikes rolling!


About Karl Tingwald

Civil engineering student at the University of Southern California with a severe transportation compulsion.

Posted on January 21, 2011, in Cycling, Los Angeles, Policy and Politics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Almost anything that will “promote wilderness appreciation” is a good idea, as long as it is respectful of the land and wildlife habitats, and so I support your thesis. Not being local, I do wonder about the political will and economic feasibility of your valid suggestion that city rangers patrol the trails. Will that happen? It would be pretty near impossible in Milwaukee, where I live, given the parks budgets.

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