As we continue the process of improving the White Park trail system, differences of opinion have come up regarding how best to do this. These differences generally fall into two overlapping categories:
• Social/Ethical Differences (e.g. the extent to which pedestrians and cyclists do or don't get along and how each group perceives the other)
• Environmental Impact Differences (e.g. disagreement over the relative impacts of walking and cycling on the natural surroundings and concern over any impact whatsoever)
White Park has been used by both pedestrians and cyclists for many years. A dense network of trails has appeared over time outside the primary gravel walking paths. Many (if not all) of these trails were created by cyclists, then used by pedestrians.
With regard to social/ethical differences, we all live here together. And it goes without saying that respect for other trail users (whether walking or riding) is the right thing. Both pedestrians and cyclists value the park equally. Some pedestrians have had unpleasant experiences with cyclists and vice-versa. But it's obvious these incidents are the exception, not the rule. Most interactions between pedestrians and cyclists are polite.
With regard to environmental issues, a BOPARC committee is discussing several steps to minimize the impact of trails on the natural surroundings—and also to minimize negative impact on the trails themselves.
CLOSING UNNECESSARY TRAILS
There is a consensus among many cyclists who ride in White Park that some trails are excessive and should not have been created in the first place (e.g. shortcuts between more established trails, corner cutoffs, etc.) The BOPARC committee for White Park is considering the possibility of permanently closing some of these unnecessary trails.
It's worth noting that the seemingly random nature and number of White Park trails (created by cyclists) may be due in part to the lack of any official trail designation. In other words, when you don't tell riders where to go and where not to go, they'll go anywhere they want. This is an issue the BOPARC committee plans to address.
With regard to environmental impact, studies have shown three things:
1. The negative impact of a trail on its surroundings decreases from the moment the trail is created—regardless of how many people use the trail. In other words, it is not true that the more use a trail gets, the greater the impact on natural surroundings (assuming users remain on the trail).
2. Studies have shown there is little difference (if any at all) in the negative impacts to a trail surface (and its surroundings) between cycling and walking.
3. Damage from trail use is almost always greater when trails are wet. (Some well-established mountain bike trail systems, for example, prohibit all cycling when trails are wet.) Both pedestrians and cyclists can damage a trail equally right after a hard rain or snowmelt.
(For more on the above, see "Environmental Impacts of Mountain Biking" at https://www.imba.com/resources/research/trail-science/environmental-impacts-mountain-biking-science-review-and-best-practices - though this summary was written by mountain bikers, it is a well-balanced look at available studies.)
UNAVOIDABLE AND AVOIDABLE IMPACTS
Finally, environmental impacts fall into 2 categories:
Unavoidable impacts are those that result from establishing a trail in the first place: the initial clearing of vegetation and compaction of soil along the trail surface.
Avoidable impacts are those that can be controlled and mitigated, such as trail widening, erosion, and muddiness. Informal "social trails" (such as the shortcuts and cutoffs mentioned above) are also avoidable impacts.
The BOPARC committee suggests continuing work to lessen avoidable impacts on trails. In addition to closing unnecessary trails, a priority is controlling erosion and eliminating muddy/wet areas along trails by improving drainage and armoring short sections of trail with large, flat (natural) rocks. This benefits both pedestrians and cyclists.
FORMAL TRAIL DESIGNATION AND MARKING
Another goal of the BOPARC committee is to formally designate primary trails for cycling and mark these trails in a noticeable yet unobtrusive way. As mentioned above, this should help reduce avoidable impacts by keeping pedestrian and cycling traffic where it should be.
One possibility that has been implemented with success on many other trail systems is to establish multiple trail loops of varying difficulty, and mark them as beginner, intermediate, and advanced (similar to the way ski slopes are marked).
Most social/ethical friction between trail users comes from stereotyping users. For example, some pedestrians may believe that mountain bikers are all inconsiderate daredevil speed freaks with no regard for other trail users or the environment. In fact, many mountain bikers are avid environmentalists who are just as concerned about protecting the environment as anyone else.
Similarly, some mountain bikers may believe that pedestrians hate all cyclists and want to ban cycling in the park completely. In fact, a recent, informal poll on Facebook suggests that most residents of First Ward have no issue with mountain bikers at all.
Sure, there have a been a few incidents—but these incidents do not reflect a majority opinion, and are isolated cases of grumpy individuals on both sides.
YOUR OPINION MATTERS
As we continue to improve the trail system in White Park, we'd appreciate hearing what you think. Our goal is nothing less than a sustainable, multi-use trail system that accommodates all users and preserves the natural qualities of White Park that we all value. Feel free to leave your comments below.