Mountain biking may have been born in the hills above Fairfax, but due to a vocal and powerful group that restricts mountain bike access, that’s all it can claim.
Photo by Mtbr user kingshredd.
There could be no greater case of irony in mountain biking than the recent announcement that the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame will open inside the Marin Museum of Bicycling near the sport’s birthplace in Fairfax, Calif. this spring. For those who’ve lived in Marin County, or ever tried riding mountain bikes there, you fully understand the irony. But for those who don’t, let me explain.
Marin County has among the worst access for mountain biking in the entire United States. That’s right, the hallowed birthplace of our sport has virtually zero narrow trail access in places like Point Reyes National Seashore, Mt. Tamalpais State Park, Olompali State Historic Park and on the vast Marin Municipal Water District watershed lands. No singletrack access at all.
Of course there is the very popular China Camp, but it requires a paid pass to ride. Though Camp Tamarancho on the flanks of Mt. Tam has some really fun singletrack–as well as an awesome flow trail built with hundreds of hours of volunteer labor–it’s on private land owned by the Boy Scouts of America and requires either a $45 annual pass or a $5 day pass each time you want to ride it.
Photo by Mtbr user tburger.
The Marin County Open Space District (MCOSD) is the area’s only land manager that doesn’t outright ban mountain bikes, however they only begrudgingly allow it on a few token narrow trails. How nice of them. I mean, it’s not like mountain bikers pay the same taxes that equestrians and hikers do to fund the salaries of MCOSD employees and their draconian anti-mountain bike policies.
As this column is being written, there is the biggest revision in the district’s history happening called the Road and Trail Management Plan (RTMP). This RTMP revision will update trail access standards for decades to come, and it has already determined that mountain bikers are the second largest user group behind hikers.
Photo by Mtbr user Turd Ferguson.
So then if mountain bikers are the second largest user group according to the MCOSD, then why is it that out of 346 miles of “narrow trail” in Marin County, only 23 miles—or a pathetic 6 percent—is open to mountain bikes? Equestrians account for 0.4 percent of users, yet they have access to 91 percent of open space trails.
If that isn’t frustrating enough, the most recent development is the hotly contested case of the Scott Valley Jumps. Built on an old homeless encampment with dirt and tailings from a train tunnel dug long ago, these jumps in Mill Valley have been in existence for more than 15 years. The jumps are a secret to nobody, and actually a staple of the local bike community.
MCOSD has known about the jumps for a long time, and conveniently, just as the RTMP process is in full swing they suddenly “discover” these illegally made jumps, making patently false public claims in this totally biased Marin Independent Journal article about how mountain bikers just recently built them, creating noise, hazards and environmental damage.
It’s a perfectly planned public slap in the face to the mountain bike community right at a time when crucial decisions are being made about trail access in Marin County for the next couple of decades. But since the MCOSD is in the back pocket of a select group of hikers, equestrians and biased local media, future matters look rather bleak for mountain bikers in Marin unless a sea change of activism and involvement starts happening right now.
Adding insult to injury, an open space maintenance tax called Measure A was passed in 2012 by Marin voters. It was sold to the mountain bike community as a way to generate revenue for trail building, but is turning out to be a revenue source for the MCOSD to hire more rangers to patrol trails and issue citations for those caught riding illegal trails.
Mountain bike advocacy group Access4Bikes claims they are at an “unprecedented crossroads” for improving trail access in Marin County, and are doing everything they can to influence future plans. They’ve raised nearly $10,000 for the cause, much of which came from raffling-off a bike—a Rocky Ridge 7.6 generously donated by Marin Bikes.
Photo by Mtbr user mechagouki.
But given the pathetic condition of trail access, is this really the place where we want to put the epicenter of celebrating mountain bike culture, its history and paying homage to the sport’s pioneers? With all due respect and great appreciation to all the pioneers of our beloved sport who live in Marin County—at least in the current political state and paltry access to trails—the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame simply does not deserve to be in Fairfax.
Mountain biking may have been born on the hallowed slopes of Mount Tam, but there’s a whole lot more history that’s happened elsewhere. Due to vocal and ignorant eco-zealots, biased local media and manipulative open space district employees, it is one of the most anti-mountain bike locales in the country. It’s a shame too, because if even half the singletrack in Marin County was open to bikes, it could be one of the greatest places to ride in the country.
Until MCOSD employees, the local media and residents wake up and realize mountain bikers are a huge asset and not a liability, and unless more mountain bikers in Marin take up the fight for the access they rightfully deserve, the situation will only get worse.
Photo by Mtbr user repack_rider.
As for those who say having the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame in Marin will help in organizing a bigger voice for pro-bike advocacy, I call bullshit of the highest order. Most mountain bikers in Marin County don’t get involved in local advocacy, let alone even knowing a Mountain Bike Hall of Fame exists. So you’re telling me that once they discover it’s in Fairfax, they’re suddenly going to get jingoistic, rise up and fight for trail access? Please.
The Mountain Bike Hall of Fame should be in a town where the mountain bike is embraced, loved and an integral part of the town’s culture. Before its move to Fairfax, the HOF was in Crested Butte, but the town’s isolation attracted barely enough visitors to keep the lights on. It’s too bad the HOF had to leave Crested Butte, because that town captured the essence of the mountain bike and our culture perfectly. In any case, a better home would be a place like Durango, where the entire town eats, breathes and sleeps mountain bikes.
Pedal in any direction, and within a mile you’re on ribbon singletrack for as long as the heart desires. Entire families in Durango head out on mountain bike rides daily. Kindergartners, high schoolers and even students at Fort Lewis College participate in mountain bike development programs. Numerous mountain bike luminaries like Tomac, Overend and Roll call the area their home.
Durango is where the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame belongs, not in a place where people spit on mountain bikers as vandals, law-breakers and second-class citizens.
So if you live in Marin County, ride a mountain bike, or have kids who like to ride and you’ve never gotten involved in local advocacy, start today by contacting Access4Bikes and fighting to save the Scott Valley Jumps. It’s not too late to do your part in helping make Marin live up to its iconic mountain biking roots.
Editor’s Note: The Angry Singlespeeder is a collection of mercurial musings from contributing editor Kurt Gensheimer. In no way do his maniacal diatribes about all things bike oriented represent the opinions of Mtbr, RoadBikeReview, or any of their employees, contractors, janitorial staff, family members, household pets, or any other creature, living or dead. You can submit questions or comments to Kurt at [email protected]. And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.