Members of the newly formed mountain bike advocacy group, MTB Eugene, and the Disciples of Dirt (DoD) mountain bike social and trail maintenance club attended the Eugene City Council meeting on Monday, April 26th to protest the recent closing of the Ribbon Trail to cyclists. Over 50 people met in front of the city council chambers before the meeting to plan and make pro-mountain bike trail-use signs. The goal of the gathering was to show the city council that mountain bikers are a large constituency, and to explain to them that mountain bikers and hikers can live together in harmony on Eugene’s trails. Even though the signs were not allowed inside the chambers, the sheer number of attendees and convincing testimony from several MTB Eugene and DoD members definitely got the attention of the city council.
The meeting began with a public comment session during which attendees who had signed up in advance could give a three minute testimony before the city council. Following a series of comments from Looking Glass, Food for Lane County, and Network Charter Schools, it was MTB Eugene’s turn. Their presenters were Dave Hallock – founder of the DoD, Tyler Barett – a 17-year-old South Eugene High School student, Steve Strickland, Benjamin Beamer – president of the Greater Oakridge Area Trail Stewards (GOATS), and Steve Mertz – founder of MTB Eugene and owner of local restaurant Laughing Planet.
“I learned quickly that in the world of mountain biking it’s more than just going fast and looking cool. The way you earn true respect is showing up for trail work.” — from the testimony of Tyler Barret
Their testimony was thorough, and included topics such as the need for local mountain biking access for people who can’t drive to far away trails, the DoD’s history of trail stewardship, the need for a community to share its resources, and how Eugene – like Portland – is being left behind by the rest of the country when it comes to being “bike friendly” due to a lack of mountain bike facilities. They also touched on the need for a connector trail to the top of 30th Ave as well as the desire to connect the Ridgeline trail system to the River Path trail system. The testimony wrapped up with an explanation of the current lack of accessibility of off-road riding for children, and the positive economic impact that would come from increased mountain biking in Eugene.
It was hard to tell how much the speeches affected the city councilors, who were all wearing their well practiced “concerned listening faces.” I was unable to get any sort of “read” on any of them throughout the public comment period. However, while I couldn’t tell if they were in support or against reopening the Ribbon Trail to cyclists, it was apparent that they were closely listening.
After the public comment period, the city councilors went around the table and gave their responses. The general theme of their responses was the same, and Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy summed it up best in her opening remarks:
“I also wanted to say that you did a really good job of presenting the mountain bike issue … Thank you for coming, and I know we’ll all be kinda looking into that and taking your concerns seriously, don’t know where it’s going to lead to, but you certainly have raised the issue. So that’s what your supposed to do when you come in and talk to the city council. So you just did a great job with that.”
City counselors Mike Clark and Alan Zelenka echoed Piercy’s sentiment, and Clark, George Poling, and George Brown requested that they receive more information from city staffers regarding why the Ribbon Trail was closed. Most likely they will receive a copy of Neil BjÃ¶rklund’s memo that was sent out to stakeholders a few weeks ago, which WeBikeEugene has already analyzed. The only city counselor who did not acknowledge the testimony of the mountain bikers was council vice-president Betty Taylor, who seemed more concerned with the other testimony heard that night. City counselors Jennifer Solomon, Andrea Ortiz, and Chris Pryor were not present at the meeting.
“The idea of conflict in our area [Oakridge] has been unfounded, because everybody has access, and nobody gets squeezed out of a piece of the pie. … Mountain bikers have been stewards of the land, and they have respect for others.” — from the testimony of Benjamin Beamer of Oakridge
It remains to be seen what the results of MTB Eugene’s polite show of force will be. Several city counselors were not at the meeting, and those who were will soon be reading BjÃ¶rklund’s arguments for closing the trail. They’ll also no doubt be considering the wishes of groups like The Obsidians and Friends of Hendricks Park, whose boards both voted to close the Ribbon Trail to cyclists.
It is unfortunate that there is such a misconception of mountain bikers in Eugene, who are not dangerous trail destroyers, but are instead hard working conservationists who do just as much work to maintain the trails as groups like The Obsidians. We hope the hiker advocacy can learn to embrace mountain bikers as fellow trail users and get past their prejudices. Evidence has shown that mountain bikers and hikers have a similar impact on trails, and they both work to maintain them.
One of the first steps toward working together is for both groups to realize that we are not separate, but are the same. I myself am a mountain unicyclist and backpacker, and one would be hard pressed to find a mountain biker who never goes hiking.
Transforming the opinions of groups like The Obsidians is especially important now that the Ridgeline Extension is being planned. There is no reason for conservation-minded groups like The Obsidians, Friends of Hendricks Park, and The DoD to be in conflict over issues like these, and hopefully groups in opposition of mountain biking will soon learn that mountain bikers are not their enemy.
Below we have included video of MTB Eugene’s testimony, the city counselors’ responses, and a slideshow of the event.
MTB Eugene’s Testimony:
The Eugene City Counsel Response: