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Mountains Board Joins the Ban on Trail Bikes

August 06, 1987|JUDY PASTERNAK | Times Staff Writer

Following the lead of the National Park Service and the state Department of Parks and Recreation, the board of the state Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy has narrowly decided to ban mountain bikes from trails on its property in the hills from Griffith Park to Point Mugu.

Bikers, however, said they were encouraged by Tuesday's close 3-2 vote and by the conservancy's willingness to review each trail and reopen those where bicycles can be ridden safely without environmental damage.

"It would be nice to use the conservancy as a testing ground" for cooperation between bikers and park officials, said Mark Langton, a Newbury Park cycling enthusiast. "It's a start."

Still, Ron Webster, the conservancy's trails specialist, warned that "when we consider which trails are appropriate, I think we'll come up empty."

Until the review is complete, bikes will be restricted to fire roads--wide, level paths that many riders view as unchallenging and less than scenic.

During the five years that mountain bikes have been mass-produced, they have become more and more popular, particularly in the West. The bikes have fat, sturdy tires that can grip rough terrain and 18 to 20 gears for going up and down steep slopes.

At the same time, in the Santa Monicas, territory for riding the bikes legally has become more and more limited. Rangers say the restrictions are necessary because bikers speeding downhill at up to 40 miles per hour have injured themselves, collided with hikers and scared horses. They also say the bikes can cause erosion.

Bikers acknowledge that some have been inconsiderate on the trails, but they say the speed demons are a minority. They see the new rules as discrimination against one group of sports lovers who have as much right as hikers and equestrians to use public land.

Over the past year, trails have been placed off-limits on the 40,000 acres in the Santa Monica Mountains District owned by the state parks department and the 12,000 acres owned by the National Park Service. The conservancy owns 6,500 acres intended for eventual sale either to the state parks department or the federal park service.

Jo Kitz, a member of the conservancy's citizens advisory board, asked for the restrictions, partly to be consistent with the other agencies.

Kitz said she has had problems with mountain bikers. On a hike at Point Mugu State Park in Sycamore Canyon, "which used to be a very relaxed, laid-back Sunday afternoon, we find that we're being passed by bikers. It's just frightening," she said. "After walking less than two miles I felt like I was exhausted. I felt like I was playing bike dodge."

And when she recently led a hike on the conservancy's Fryman Canyon property in Studio City, Kitz said, "I was walking a trail less than a year-old and I was afraid to take people on it" because the path was rutted and eroded by bicycle tires.

Another advisory board member, David Brown, added, "We are an interim management agency. Errors on the side of conservation are easier to repair than errors on the side of development or overuse."

About 30 bikers, some on cycles, traveled to the conservancy meeting at remote Red Rock Canyon Park west of Topanga. They asked the board to delay the restrictions until trails are reviewed.

Conservancy board member Peter Ireland was impressed by the turnout. "I think it's healthy to look at this as the beginning of a dialogue," he said. "This is clearly a legitimate activity." He voted against the restrictions, calling them "premature."

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