Support Mountain Biking In The Middlesex Fells

As we reported last February, the Department of Conservation and Recreation is conducting a planning process for the Middlesex Fells Reservation. The draft plan is now available for comment until November 19, 2010. (Download draft plan)

MassBike supports the efforts of the New England Mountain Bike Association (NEMBA) to expand opportunities for mountain biking in the Fells while increasing their already substantial stewardship of the park and making the trails more sustainable for all users. NEMBA is asking interested bicyclists to submit comments on the draft plan. See NEMBA’s update on the process here.

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3 Responses to Support Mountain Biking In The Middlesex Fells

  1. Anita Brewer November 15, 2010 at 9:50 pm #

    Why are you encouraging us to support expanded mountain bike access in the Middlesex Fells Reservation? Have you ever been there there on foot? I have walked there for the past almost 30 years. At the same time, I am a founder of the Boston Area Bicycle Coalition, a past Board member of the League of American Bicyclists, a former member of the state’s first bikeways commission, and a long distance bike commuter and traveler. I’ve learned that like many things, a good idea (bicycles) in the wrong place (the Fells) can be a terrible combination.

    Mountain bike use has eroded, widened, and destroyed many lovely hiking trails in the Fells; its thin soils, steep gradients, and trail configurations make riding especially destructive. I’m sorry to tell you this, a fact that took me years to believe, but it’s true. Their speed, power, and style of riding has also angered many individuals and groups who walk in the Reservation. New research has shown the Fells to have an extraordinarily rich biodiversity far beyond a typical urban park. Bike riders go off trail and ruin adjacent habitats.

    Mass Bike is going directly against every major environmental group in Massachusetts by supporting this plan. Mass Audubon, Sierra Club, Environment Massachusetts, the Environmental League of Massachusetts are all opposed to the plan for increased access, especially before a comprehensive plan for the Fells is done. Trustees of Reservations and the Appalachian Mountain Club have alerted their members to pay attention. The Friends of the Fells is opposed to the trail plan in advance of a resource management study.

    Please do not confuse the remarkable power and economy of the bicycle with the destructive capacity of bikes in a sensitive natural area. The “stewardship” of NEMBA at the Fells is not especially “substantial”; it consists of trying to rework trails so they function better for riding. Praising NEMBA for “sharing those trails with all users” is absurd — NEMBA has no right to deny anyone the use of any trail in the Fells. For 25 years the Friends of the Fells has offered programs free of charge to thousands of users, raised tens of thousands of dollars, assisted DCR to rebuild structures, and made widespread improvements that benefit all users.

    Mass Bike, the Fells is not a sports park. You’ve been misled to think that it should become one. Please withdraw your support and join the rest of the environmental community in Massachusetts.

    I urge you to re-think your support for mountain biking in the Fells. David Watson wants “to create more opportunities for riding bikes in the Boston area.” Well, aside from the interstate highway, and the sidewalks in downtown areas, bikes pretty much have free access already, the constraint being how safe biking is for the rider. In the Middlesex Fells, biking is unsafe for the woods. However not quite everywhere.

  2. David November 16, 2010 at 3:19 pm #

    Anita: We recognize that the issue is complex, but believe that the managed approach advocated by NEMBA, rather than continued reliance on ineffective and unenforceable restrictions, is a reasonable way to move forward. Some trails in the Fells may not appropriate for mountain biking or, perhaps, any regular use – they were poorly designed in the first place and are vulnerable to erosion and damage by all trail users. It is not fair to say that mountain bikers cause trail damage and other user groups do not – all user groups have impacts and the available science indicates that the impacts of hikers and bikers are similar. See and NEMBA is not proposing that unsustainable trails be opened to mountain biking, or that vulnerable habitat should be opened to mountain biking. If people are riding where they shouldn’t in the Fells, it is only because they haven’t been given enough options for riding that is both challenging and sustainable. The approach advocated by NEMBA is working all over the state – just look at other parks and reservations (even urban parks) where there are fewer restrictions on mountain biking, more attention paid to making the trails sustainable, and far fewer conflicts between users.

    I don’t doubt that other groups have contributed a great deal of sweat-equity to the Fells, but it is unfair to dismiss the work NEMBA has done there (and all over New England). It is backbreaking physical labor that results in trails that are more sustainable for all uses, not just mountain biking.

    Part of MassBike’s mission is to encourage bicycling – all kinds of bicycling, and that is exactly what we are doing in this case.

    And, for the record, I have been mountain biking, hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing in the Fells for the last 16 years, and I care deeply about its condition and long-term viability. One of the reasons I use the Fells so much is that it is close to where I live and I can get there without driving – which is, I think, a very environmentally-sound decision.


  3. Joshua September 16, 2011 at 11:09 am #

    Since I now live in Minnesota I’m always mystified as to the reaction to mountain biking in many other parts of the country, including the area I grew up in.

    Currently, Minnesota is in the midst of an explosion of mountain biking opportunities, almost all of them provided by local communities that work with the local IMBA chapter, MORC (Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists, ). This season has seen just over 40 miles of new trail in the state. That is 25 miles of trail at Cuyuna (home trail shout out), 12 miles at Elm Creek, and another 6 miles at Carver Lake. Both Elm Creek and Carver Lake are located in city parks with substantial biodiversity. Cuyuna is located in an abandoned open-pit iron mine.

    So why is Minnesota building new trails hand-over-fist and many states are having these protracted and emotional debates about mountain biking access? I think a lot of it is because in Minnesota people have realized that purpose-built LEGAL mountain bike trails enhance the area they are built in and prevent the creation of poorly built, eroding, and environmentally damaging ILLEGAL mountain bike trails. Its really that simple.

    In this debate regarding the Fells, over and over again its the same thing: mountain bikers are on trails they shouldn’t be and hence, they should be banned. But there is another answer: allow the creation of trails that are fun to ride that will give mountain bikers little reason to go where they shouldn’t. The environmental issues, real and imagined, with the Fells or any other piece of a property that allows for hikers and mountain bikers are best addressed not by banning a use, but by designing trails to avoid the issues all together.

    On many counts I am sympathetic to environmental groups and their concern for the world around us. Overpopulation, the consumerist lifestyle, and lack of corporate responsibility are conspiring to create many problems that will continue to get worse. Yet, I find myself unable to stomach their attempt to make vast areas of wilderness “no go zones” for any humans. How are people to fall in love with the wilderness if they can never experience it? Yes, they should experience it safe, environmentally respectful, and sustainable manner. But they should experience it. Its fun being on a bike and in the middle of the woods and having to stop for a group of turkeys or some fawns playing in the middle of trail or catch a beaver hauling a tree to the water. These are all things I’ve experienced mountain biking. Yet, if these experiences are removed from my palette of possibilities, would I appreciate the need to fight to make sure my kids and grandkids would experience them? Probably not.

    See, in the end, mountain bikers are environmentalists too. We like nature. Its why we desire to ride out bikes through it. We want to preserve it. We just believe that nature and the mountain biker can live in harmony.

    A funny thing about the Fells debate. I have read many of the letters and emails written regarding the terrible impact mountain bike trails have on the environment. The fact of the matter is that many of letters and emails where written on a device (a computer) that in its creation has created thousands of times the environmental impact a sustainable IMBA-spec mountain bike trail at the Fells will ever cause. After that, those that oppose mountain biking go Fells meetings to voice their opposition in vehicles that spew out a gas (CO2) that will remain in our atmosphere for over a 1000 years all the while leading to a climate change that will probably send thousands of species to their extinction. And all of this to prevent the moving of a couple hundred cubic meters of soil to create a trail that will be built in a manner that will prevent further damage to the environment and give others a wonderful way to experience nature and lower health care costs by promoting a healthy lifestyle. Seems to be a great misappropriation of priorities.

    Here are some Youtube videos showing the new mountain bike trails here in Minnesota on there first season. Notice how nature is still there and still looking good.

    Carver Lake:
    Elm Creek:

    So I hope that all understand that we can both support the environment and support mountain biking. They are not mutually exclusive. If you are wondering how mountain bike trails can be built in a sustainable manner, do some research and read the IMBA’s trail building guide. If you are a mountain biker, stop riding places you shouldn’t.

    And if you are a mountain biker and your state is attempting to remove mountain bike trails, well, come to Minnesota. Tons of places to go and more every year. Plus, we can teach you to snow bike. Its fun, trust me.