San Gabriel Valley Tribune

San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Article Published: Monday, September 15, 2003


- Under Siege
- Cartels growing pot in forest
- Forest at crossoads over public use
- Lake not so crystal
- Fire threat still high, officials say
- Facing Extinction
- Masses and Messes
- A foul problem: garbage
- Groups spread blame for forest damage
- Forest dwellers have created their share of problems
- 'Static' budget hinders forest
- Bad roads hinder vistor, fire vehicle access
- Adventure Pass raises funds, eyebrows
- Saving the forest a tall task


Groups spread blame for forest damage

By Lisa Faught

ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST -- Mark Gage has been accused of maintaining his section of the trail with a whisk broom and tweezers. He oversees the Sam Merrill Trail, a steep dirt path stretching from the top of Lake Avenue up into the San Gabriel Mountains.

To date, he has invested more than 1,000 hours keeping up the trail -- the very same trail he regularly mountain bikes. He knows hikers sometimes view mountain bikers with suspicion, so he goes out of his way to set a good example. He spends weekends patrolling the Angeles National Forest to remind mountain bikers to stick to the trails to prevent erosion and to be courteous to others on the trails.

"Certain people in every user group are obnoxious, no matter what you do. It's just human nature," said Gage, a Pasadena resident. "It behooves us to prove ourselves as worthy users of the trails."

Hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers share a somewhat uneasy relationship on the trails.

At times, the criticisms fly. Hikers accuse mountain bikers of eroding the trails, mountain bikers blame equestrians for the erosion and equestrians accuse mountain bikers of spooking their horses.

Most of the time they are civil, but the feud never fades completely, said Matt Mathes, spokesman for the Pacific Southwest Region of the Forest Service. "The problem is the social conflict between the three users. They do not always mix well," Mathes said.

A MOUNTAIN BIKER rides on Lower Brown Mountain Fire Road in the Angeles National Forest. (Staff photo by Bernardo Alps)
Like it or not, most of the 500 miles of trails in the Angeles National Forest are open to all three. Only the Pacific Crest Trail and trails through wilderness areas are off-limits to mountain bikers.

But along with social conflicts, hikers say mountain bikers damage trails with their tires, particularly on narrow, single-track trails.

The worst damage seems to arise when they cut across switchbacks, said David Czamanske, hike leader for the Sierra Club. The tires carve channels into the trails, which quickly erode when it rains, he said.

"My position on this kind of thing, and I think many in the Sierra Club, is that there's hundreds of miles of fire roads in the Angeles National Forest. Those are the appropriate places for mountain biking," Czamanske said. "Let's let the hikers have the trails."

In the world of recreation, mountain biking is a relatively new sport. Over the years, it has grown in popularity, as clubs continue to form and equipment continues to evolve.

But mountain bikers have also developed a reputation for speeding recklessly down hills and wreaking havoc on trails, an image perpetuated by the adrenaline junkies known as "downhillers," Gage said.

They pay to have a willing body drive them up to a mountain peak, then speed down the hill, only to drive to the top and do it again, he said.

For a time, a handful of mountain bikers were paying $5 apiece for a ride up the Brown Mountain fire road above Altadena, then barreling back down the Sam Merrill Trail, he said.

They are hardly representative of the mountain biking population, but they seem to get all the attention, he said.

"The downhillers, they go as fast as they can go, regardless of the horse around the next corner," Gage said.

A CLIMBER, right, makes her way up Williams Rock in the Angeles National Forest. (Staff photo by Bernardo Alps)
To bridge the divide between the hikers and mountain bikers, Randall Danta floated a rather bold idea. Last year, he proposed a Mountain Bike Committee for the Angeles chapter of the Sierra Club, an organization often at odds with mountain bikers. The proposal was met with quite a bit of resistance at first, he said, even though the Sierra Club had officially signed a friendly agreement with the International Mountain Biking Association in 1994.

"The only concerns I heard were emotional appeals from people. They view bikes as incompatible with certain hiking trails," said Danta, of Tustin.

Six months later, his proposal passed. The committee now leads regular rides through the Cleveland and Angeles national forests, to teach its members about proper mountain biking etiquette and conservation and hopefully draw a new base of members.

"What we try to do is go mountain biking but in a very controlled, appropriate way, not hot-dogging to the top and speeding down as fast as you can," Danta said.

-- Lisa Faught can be reached at (626) 578-6300, Ext. 4496, or by e-mail at

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