Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Adirondack Mountain Biking: A Survey

All_Mountain_Mountain_BikeA month ago I published a little survey on mountain bikingOne of the focal points of recent efforts revise the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (SLMP) has been where and how to allow mountain biking, specifically in the Essex Chain of Lakes. This has generated a lot of discussion about the appropriateness of mountain biking in the Forest Preserve.

New York State is clearly promoting it: the Adirondack Park Agency has signaled an interest in allowing mountain biking in the Essex Chain (which would require new policy, as currently mountain biking is prohibited in Wilderness and Primitive areas) and DEC is opening the Moose River Plains Wild Forest Unit Management Plan to amendments that would support their conceptual mountain bike plan for a 100-mile single track trail system.

It seems, therefore, that the issue of mountain biking in the Forest Preserve has positioned itself onto the leading edge of the classic debate about wilderness and recreation: what kinds of recreation are appropriate? What damage and/or disruption do they do? How are they appropriate or inappropriate aesthetically and historically? What is the appropriate “balance” between wilderness recreation and protection of Wilderness and Wilderness character? What counts as mechanization?

Obviously mountain bikes are different than hiking boots or even skis, but they are also different than motorcycles, snowmobiles and ATVs. There is a great deal of variety in perceptions of mountain biking and its effects on wild areas. It should be noted that there is relatively little science to confirm or challenge conventional or anecdotal wisdom.

Because of all this, I find that many people have trouble sorting through the mountain biking issue. So I decided to dig into it a little bit. I spoke confidentially with friends and acquaintances who mountain bike at various levels and put together a little draft survey for them to take and critique. I got great suggestions and feedback and the resulting survey is now ready for the responses of Almanack readers.

You can take the survey here: Adirondack Mountain Biking Survey.

It is very short and simple, less than a minute to complete.

The last time I offered a survey the results led to a lot of fun. So don’t hesitate, give me some numbers! I’ll be writing an analysis and follow-up article soon.

Photo: A typical mountain bike (courtesy wikimedia user Cornishfactor).

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Pete Nelson is a teacher, writer, essayist and activist whose work has appeared in a variety of Adirondack publications, and regularly in the Adirondack Almanack since 2005. Pete is also a founder and current Coordinator of the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council, which is working to make the Park more welcoming and inclusive.When not writing or teaching mathematics at North Country Community College, Pete can be found in the back country, making music or even walking on stilts, which he and his wife Amy have done professionally throughout the United States for nearly two decades.Pete is a proud resident of Keene, and along with Amy and his dog Henderson owns Lost Brook Tract, a forty-acre inholding deep in the High Peaks Wilderness.

56 Responses

  1. Josh Wilson says:

    Thank you for doing this Pete. I will share a link to your survey with mountain bike groups across the North Country and NYS, and hopefully you’ll get a good response.

    Re: your comment – “There is a great deal of variety in perceptions of mountain biking and its effects on wild areas. It should be noted that there is relatively little science to confirm or challenge conventional or anecdotal wisdom.”

    You can find links to several studies addressing the impact of mountain bikes in natural areas by visiting these sites:

    While there may indeed be “relatively little science” about the impacts of mountain bikes on wild lands…the research we do have does not support the claim that mountain bikes cause more damage than other user groups.

    I couldn’t agree more that there are a variety of perceptions about the impacts of mountain bikes…but would add that often the people with the strongest opposition to allowing mountain bike use on public lands (ie. the Forest Preserve) have relatively little understanding of the activity and the motivations of the people who practice it.

    Effective management of trail erosion and other user impacts starts with assuring that the trail itself is designed to sustain the use it will receive, regardless of what that use may be.

    Thank you again for contributing to a productive dialogue on the issue of mountain biking in the Adirondack Park by putting together this survey.

    Josh Wilson
    Executive Director, NY Bicycling Coalition
    Board Member, Adirondack Ski Touring Council – Barkeater Trails Alliance

  2. Josh Wilson says:

    Just a thought Pete – it would have been nice to add another question to your survey that asked:

    How often do you mountain bike in the Adirondack Park?

  3. Jan Hansen says:

    Opening the roads in the Essex Chain to mountain biking would be a great thing in my opinion. The roads are there, why not use them? Bikes cause a lot less damage than cars,trucks and ATVs.

    The more opportunities for folks to get out in the woods, the better.

  4. Charlie S says:

    “the research we do have does not support the claim that mountain bikes cause more damage than other user groups.”

    >> I’d be willing to wager a weeks salary that mountain bikes do more damage than footing it through the woods. Of course we’d have to get beyond our superficial view of things and go micro to become aware of this.Even a macro view would reveal the crippling effect of wheels in woods. Even if it’s a flattened mushroom that sprouted up on this proposed 100-mile single track trail system,or a salamander that just happened to be on the trail as those fat wheels rolled by.

    “Bikes cause a lot less damage than cars,trucks and ATVs.”

    >> Yes but…they cause much more damage than traveling by foot.

    I’m not here to stir things up just to be an antagonist I speak from firsthand experience the damage I saw from mountain bikes in Florida. Of course that’s a whole different terrain down there but my point is there’s damage from mountain bikes…lots of it. Maybe the Adirondacks would fare better because of its ruggedness but for how long? I’d be willing to wager a months salary that if suddenly mountain biking was allowed on Adirondack trails you’d see damage eventually,especially so if more mountain bikers than anyone expects suddenly take up the sport and utilize the Adirondacks for their sport.

    • Leroy says:

      One only has to look at the excessive erosion on ADK hiking trails to see the damage foot traffic causes. The popular hiking trail on Mount Baker in Saranac Lake has hiker induced erosion that, over the years, has removed all the topsoil over large areas. One formerly vegetated section now consists of only bare rock (probably 60 feet long and 30 feet wide). I urge anyone who hikes to observe just how much erosion is occurring on ADK hiking trails. In many places you simply have to observe exposed undermined, or dead tree roots on and adjacent to the trail. Many of the hiking trails on moderate pitches or greater In the High Peaks are now shallow to deep troughs – the original grade was at the elevation found on either side of the trail – or bare bedrock. However, these problems aren’t the hiker’s fault – they are result of poor trail layout and construction and definitely poor maintenance. I think it is important to point out that the vast majority of the mountain biking community would never tolerate the trail conditions hikers are willing to accept.

    • Paul says:

      This is all true and it is all relative. The best way to fully protect the environment is to allow no activity. The question here is what level of “damage” are we willing to allow to happen? Hiking, as we can see, causes damage but we are willing to manage that and allow the activity. The question here is do we want to do the same for bikes? Time for someone to make the “slippery slope” comment!

      • Chris says:


        I think you are right on point. While there are plenty of questions to be answered still in terms of who would be performing the maintenance (my answer would be a mix of the existing maintenance crew and a whole new fresh supply of volunteers), there is no question that the existing ‘allowed’ activities cause damage, and we find that acceptable (so long as it’s monitored and mitigated when necessary). I don’t see why that has to be any different with mountain bikes.

        In terms of the slippery slope argument, I just don’t know how strong it is in this situation. Perhaps I’m unaware of other significant non-motorized trail user groups, but if they exist, then I guess I would argue that they too should have an opportunity to make a case for having some use of the land. If we’re talking motorized vehicles, then I don’t think the slippery slope argument applies because neither hikers nor mountain bikers have any significant environmentally-harmful effects (i.e. emissions).

    • ScottyJack says:

      I’ll take those bets!

  5. John Vant Erve says:

    I really do not believe mountain biking causes any more damage than foot trails and would say mountain biking causes less. I’ve seen the excessive damage done via foot trails throughout the Adirondacks where most the the trails have huge boulders and the main trail is a foot or more lower than the surrounding area. People will walk around damaged or muddy area thereby increasing the width of most hiking trails.

  6. Curt Austin says:

    I am a 46er (twice). I’ve paddled the Fulton Chain. I live here. I’ve also ridden a mountain bike in Moab, Colorado, Michigan, and Ohio, usually with a group of young semi-gonzo types and old farts like myself who pretend to be young semi-gonzo types. I ought to have a clear mind about the situation. But I don’t.

    I’ve mostly quit mountain biking since moving here, to the … mountains. My old biking buddies visited me a few years ago – I told them to bring their road bikes, too, since they might not like the mountain biking. They didn’t. Rocks, mud, roots, severe ups and downs – it was difficult and unpleasant. This includes most of the Flume Trails. Unfortunately, I didn’t know enough about Adirondack MTB opportunities to lead them to saner trails, which I’m told do exist.

    You should be picking up on one complexity to the issue. We were not looking to cycle into the Santanoni Great Camp on a gravel road. To some, that’s mountain biking, but not to us.Truth be told, we were not looking for a quiet ride in the woods at all, though we enjoy a special destination. To us, MTB is about the skill of maneuvering quickly through twists, turns and over obstacles (within reason). We can be loud, our brakes may squeal, we may be wearing jerseys made of colors not found in nature. We might leave behind some very unnatural tire ruts behind on soft turf. That is, our presence may be highly inappropriate.

    I tried to explain to my friends that there was a special ethos to the Adirondacks to which I hoped they would conform. Of course, that wasn’t going to happen, not quickly, anyway. But perhaps this is the crux of the matter: MTB with respect towards the Adirondack ethos can be fine, can be wonderful, taking people quietly to special places that busy people otherwise don’t have time to go.

    Still, my head spins when I think of MTB in the Adirondacks. In many ways, it can be very good or very bad – depending. I can say, for sure, that the *road* biking is sublime, so that’s what I do. In my area, I’ve been promoting the Three Lakes Ride (Google it).

    I’m with the Warren County Safe and Quality Biking Organization – We have some interesting MTB plans, reasonable trails that are possible in our “foothills” location, straddling the Park boundary.

    Sorry for the rambling. I couldn’t think of a more cogent way to depict my “thinking”.

  7. Mike says:


    Thanks for writing this piece – it’s nice to see some discussion of mountain biking. As an avid mountain biker, I sense that this is a new topic for you. I can tell where in your survey your bike riding friends had some influence on the choices offered, especially the question about trail damage. There have been impact studies completed, and of course proper trail selection, construction, and maintenance is the answer.

    Details aside, the good news is this: if New York State and the various factions controlling the Adirondack Park want to promote mountain biking, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. There are many successful models throughout the United States where mountain biking has been integrated to varying degrees into a region’s outdoor recreational offerings. There is certainly enough land of the correct designation in the Adirondacks to promote mountain biking while minimizing impact on the land and other users.

    There are many established resources available to plan, build, and maintain trails… that much is already clear. What can’t be ignored is the value of mountain biking as another tool to get people outside and get them exercising. In an age where more and more don’t do enough of either, we need to do a better job of using our resources to offer those opportunities – especially to younger generations. To do otherwise would be selfish, since we don’t have any excuses.

    Thanks again for the article and I hope you’ll revisit the issue from time to time and keep all of us up to date.

  8. Hawthorn says:

    The problem I see is that sharing trails between hikers and mountain bikers is a no go. Hikers would be second-class citizens on these routes, particularly if single track, simply due to speed and size. It’s why bicycles aren’t allowed on sidewalks despite the fact they would make perfect bike paths–bikes and pedestrians can’t occupy the same space safely or happily. So, we’re looking at special trail networks and these will inevitably attract mountain bikers if they are well done, so I suspect trail damage will be great in those locations. Do 50 mountain bikes do more damage than 50 hikers? I don’t know, but I strongly suspect those 50 bikes will be going round and round the network, over and over, leading to damage. If the 50 hikers kept running around and around the same network over and over would there be more damage? Who knows? I do know it would take the hikers a lot longer to cover the distance so the damage would get spread out over time. It is very hard to compare apples to apples on the damage issue. I do know that some hiking trails near here that used to be very natural and narrow have been transformed by mountain bikers who systematically have removed every falled limb and rock, created berms on the corners, widened the trails significantly, and created numerous new interconnecting trails in a spider web through the forest in order to get to interesting jumps and tricky spots. I’ve been hiking this area (not in the Adk Park) for more than 50 years and I have seen its transformation up close and personal. Again, it may just be that the bikes have done the damage because someone built it and they came, but there is always damage in concentrated use no matter how that use arrives.

  9. Chris says:

    Thank you for this survey and continuing the latest push to get some level of MTB access, however small it may be, in the ADK Wilderness. Hopefully we have the opportunity to show that given access, our overall effect on the ADK Wilderness would be a positive one (through trail maintenance, donations, etc).

    In some ways, I find trail access discussions to be more frustrating than those of mainstream politics. To me, we have a select group of users benefiting from a biased and outdated current system; obviously, their instinct is to preserve their unfair advantage (and I can’t really say that I blame them). Fortunately for them, they have so far managed to isolate us, make us out to be the bad guys, and introduce extreme ideas into the debate – imagine large groups of bikers hurtling themselves off the tops of the high peaks, crushing children and wildlife on the way down all in an effort to quench their insatiable appetite for speed and adrenaline. In reality, most bikers are like many others out in the wilderness – a little out of shape and not capable of reaching high speeds (for lack of lungs or technical skills), and just in search of getting away from it all by way of their favorite outdoor activity.

    We need to ensure the discussion stays productive. For example, we do not want to bike on every trail in the ADK region – as some people in this thread have mentioned, it would be quite unpleasant in many cases given the terrain. However, are there some trails that can be safely (and enjoyably) ridden on a bike? Absolutely. If need be, could we even build new purpose-specific trails to minimize encounters with hikers and ensure that drainage, etc. is properly addressed for bikes? Yes, if that’s what the existing trail users want. But these are public lands, and clearly we need to do a better job at making sure the decision makers on this issue know that catastrophic damage will not occur if bikes are allowed on some of the trails. I would even go so far as to say that the trails I currently bike on in Wilmington are far narrower, less rutted, and much better maintained than some of the High Peaks I’ve hiked.

    One last thought – if we are successful in getting access, we need to do everything we can to leave excellent impressions. Get the word out to fellow bikers to practice proper trail etiquette, have trail maintenance days with solid turnouts, watch our public image. In the meanwhile, if there’s anything more we can do before the decision is made, let’s try and use some well-known channels (i.e. Pinkbike) to increase awareness of our cause.

  10. Bruce says:

    My primary concern is who will be responsible for maintaining trails, repairing damage, etc. I’ve seen plenty of trails (not necessarily in the Adirondacks) where mountain biking has exacerbated sensitive trail portions, especially where water flow from springs (permanent or wet-weather) crosses or follows trails and bikers have plowed on through creating deep ruts and/or rode around these areas damaging off trail areas.

    All trails are potentially multi-use, that is hikers in addition to bikers, horseback riders etc. With this in mind, those who use conveyances other than their own feet should be mindful of slower users. Wilderness and Primitive areas where no wheeled vehicles are currently allowed should remain so. There seems to be plenty of other space available that could be opened up and trails constructed for bikers. As distasteful as this may be, those who agree to handle maintenance (bike clubs for example) should be followed up on to make sure it’s actually being done, and in an acceptable manner or trail closing could result until the damage repairs itself. Speaking from personal experience, it’s easy to say yes we’ll do it, but far more difficult to keep the ball rolling.

    With our own Mountain to Sea trail in NC, there sometimes seems to be an attitude that bikers rule when they are using the trail, and hikers just have to take second fiddle. One guy even did a significant portion of the trail on a skateboard. Some places where water collects can be real quagmires because of wheeled traffic, especially in a wet year. It’s a wonder there haven’t been a number of accidents with mountain bikers careening downhill into hikers (at least none I could find).

  11. David J Staszak says:

    I have a basic point: The less mechanical transportation in the back country the better. Why, because the faster you move the smaller the park is and the more space you than need for your toys. It takes me 9-11 days to do the NP Trail and I could take longer if i stopped to “smell the flowers”. The trail is what 120 miles? A friend of mine went out snowmobiling yesterday and did 115 miles. Let’s set up very low speed limits for mechanical transportation on land and water. The slower you go the more you will see and the larger the park becomes. Mountain bikes belong in designated mountain bike parks. Like Dewey Mt in the summer for instance.

    • Chris says:

      Hi David,

      I think the reason that this discussion is happening is that there aren’t enough designated places where you can ride a mountain bike (like Dewey Mt), and yet we are talking about a user group growing quickly in numbers (and influence). The ADK Wilderness area is the size of Vermont – even opening up a small portion of it to mountain bikes would go a long way. We’re now in 2015, and this issue is yet another example of the times changing – mountain bikes were not even in existence when the rules in question were created. I understand that those who benefit from the current rules don’t want any change, but people seem to overlook the fact that we are talking about public lands here; we’re just asking to allow a greater percentage of the public to be able to appreciate and enjoy it.

      Also, I think the point you make about the speed of travel is an interesting one (albeit unfair by comparing a mountain bike to a snowmobile). I think you would be surprised at the distance that a typical mountain biker travels over the course of the ride. Perhaps you’ve spent some time riding on hilly terrain, in which case you are aware of the exertion that is required. You might be able to manage 2-3 mph on a technical, sustained uphill if you’re in excellent condition. On a typical 1-2 hour bike ride, I only cover about 10-15 miles on the terrain in Wilmington (about the same that I would hike in a day), and I’m spent after that. So I’m sorry, but I just don’t think the more space for toys argument is a strong one.

    • troutstalker says:


  12. ADK46er says:

    I’m not fond of the idea of sharing *existing* High Peaks foot-trails with cyclists. Frankly, many of the trails above 3000′ elevation are narrow, eroded, and rugged. I can’t imagine hikers and cyclists co-existing comfortably on these trails. However, I am open to the idea of a network of dedicated cycling trails that occasionally intersect with foot-trails *where practical*. By “practical” I mean a stretch of foot-trail wide enough to allow all parties to safely pass one another without anyone having to jump into the woods to avoid a collision. Old tote roads fit this constraint; existing foot-trails to the High Peaks do not.

    I do believe the main hurdle is that Wilderness and Primitive areas disallow mechanized vehicles.

    • Paul says:

      I don’t think anyone is suggesting opening up high-peaks foot trails (or any parts of the HP Wilderness) to mountain bikes! I agree that would be nuts!

      • ADK46er says:

        Pete Nelson’s article above includes a link to this one by Phil Brown:

        “However, (Fred) Monroe (executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board) has more than the Essex Chain in mind. He wants the State Land Master Plan changed to allow bikes on old roads in Primitive Areas and Wilderness Areas throughout the Park where appropriate – that is, if natural resources would not be damaged.”

        “The Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK), however, favors an amendment to allow some biking in Wilderness and Primitive Areas. In fact, that has been the club’s policy since the early 1990s, according to Executive Director Neil Woodworth.

        “We’re not arguing to put them on trails,” Woodworth stressed. Rather, ADK wants to open designated roads to bikes, providing such use will not damage natural resources or lead to conflicts with hikers or other recreationists.”

        So, yes, suggestions are being made to open roads in Wilderness areas to bikes. Start from Meadows Lane and bike to Marcy Dam along the truck-road; it’s a possible future.

        • Paul says:

          Sure. Anything is possible. But I don’t think that anyone has suggested allowing bikes on any foot trails? And I also don’t see anywhere (even in what you have here) that anyone has suggested opening any of the HP Wilderness to biking specifically. My guess is that even Fred Monroe would find mountain biking on foot trails in the HP Wilderness as not “appropriate”. Maybe not?

          • Paul says:

            Even on the Marcy Dam truck trail given where it is.

          • ADK46er says:

            The final survey question asks if one believes Wilderness areas should allow mountain bikes. The linked article quotes people hoping to amend the SLMP to permit bikes in Wilderness areas. The discussion is about opening Wilderness areas to bikes (in general).

            Since this is a conversation, and a survey, about the hypothetical scenario of allowing bikes in Wilderness areas, I felt it was apropos to express how I felt about one specific Wilderness area, out of the many, namely the High Peaks.

            Whatever allowances are made for bikes in Wilderness areas, will impact all Wilderness areas including the High Peaks. Framing the new rules with only one or two Wilderness areas in mind (say the Mckenzie Wilderness) may have unintended repercussions in other Wilderness areas.

    • Paul says:

      It is funny they allow wagons in Wilderness areas.

  13. dave says:


    I’ll never understand it in relation to recreational use of wilderness. Just shows you how strong the urge is to group up and view an issue in terms of us vs them. Mountain Bikers vs Hikers. So misguided in my opinion.

    But I suppose this is inevitable when people’s main priorities are either making money off of the lands, or the actual acts of “hiking” or “mountain biking,” as opposed to enjoying and protecting wilderness lands and experiences.

    • Chris says:

      Hi Dave,

      I might be reading your post wrong, but you seem to be saying that the activities of hiking and mountain biking are mutually exclusive from enjoying and protecting wilderness lands and experiences? I guess I don’t see it that way; my interest in protecting the wilderness land and experiences is exponentially greater when I am allowed to enjoy them by way of said activities. Don’t you think the wilderness will be best protected by having lots of people personally invested in preserving it (by way of allowing them to partake in their hiking/biking activities)? To me, the alternative is that the government primarily protects it through law (until someone with political or monetary incentives changes the law for their benefit).

      I do agree wholeheartedly with your point about the misguided nature of the “us vs them” mentality that inevitably develops in these discussions. In regards to my point above, I think we should all be banding together to ensure that the land stays protected from the far more serious threats of real estate development, etc. Unfortunately, it seems that the new user group (the mountain bikers) have to defend themselves against what they perceive to be unfair accusations from the existing user groups. Perhaps we get so involved in pointing fingers that we fail to see the advantages of working together?

      • dave says:

        “Don’t you think the wilderness will be best protected by having lots of people personally invested in preserving it (by way of allowing them to partake in their hiking/biking activities)?”

        That approach, getting buy in from a recreational user segment as a way to protect land, can be very effective. Just look at how hunting was leveraged in the early conservation movement by the likes of Teddy Roosevelt.

        The downside to this approach is that we inevitably end up managing the land for the good of the recreational activities, instead of protecting it for the good of the wilderness. The early conservation movement, for example, as wonderful as it was in terms of saving lands that would have otherwise not been preserved, left us with an unnatural system of “wildlife management” that caters specifically to that original user group. And this is still true today, even though the vast majority of people no longer participate in that activity, because once you start managing land for a user group, once those bureaucratic systems are in place, it is very very hard to reverse course.

        We could easily make the same argument about the high peaks and how they are being managed to accommodate hiking, with protection of the wilderness sometimes (many would argue often) taking a back seat.

        So I suppose to answer your question, I would say that leveraging recreational groups to protect wilderness is preferable to not protecting it at all.

        But the BEST way to protect wilderness? Is to have a whole bunch of people invested in doing so because they value wilderness… whether they happen to be able to do their specific, favorite activity in it or not.

        • Chris says:

          Thank you for the reply Dave,

          I believe I understand the position you are making a little more clearly now. I guess I am taking it for granted that people should have access to this wilderness, and I should have considered the possibility that maybe humans don’t need to be in there at all.

          To me, the answer starts with revisiting the rules/laws of the park and just making sure they are doing what we (collectively) want them to do. For example, if we decide the best use of the land is to have true “wilderness”, why are we allowing any human activity at all? Maybe to that you would say we shouldn’t. I guess I’d like to think we can have a slightly modified form of “wilderness” with a human presence in there, and if we (collectively) agree that is the case, then I just think the current rules are unfairly biased towards a particular user group.

          • dave says:

            “I guess I am taking it for granted that people should have access to this wilderness”

            People should have access to wilderness. I agree with you, completely, and would never state otherwise.

            However, in these conversations I find that we often confuse the ability to do a particular activity with access. They are not the same.

            Access does not always imply that people always get to do their favored activity in that wilderness… or that the wilderness should be managed specifically for those activities.

            A silly example: If you are not allowed to ride your mountain bike through a restaurant, would you say that the restaurant is denying you access? Of course not. You can still go to that restaurant, sit down, and enjoy a meal. You still have access to it.

            And a personal example: Climber’s are often asked to avoid climbing on certain cliffs because of nesting grounds. I am a climber, and I would never say that my access to those cliffs was denied, I can still go to them, see them, experience them, and enjoy them, I just can’t climb up them.

            This all ties back to the original point I was trying to make, which is that these types of user group vs user group discussions only seem to occur when we get stuck caring more about the activities we want to do, or with making money off of the people who do those activities, than the wilderness itself.

            • Chris says:

              Just following your lead here…

              “Access does not always imply that people always get to do their favorite activity in that wilderness…or that the wilderness should be managed specifically for those activities.”

              This statement seems to imply that mountain bikers are seeking access to all of the wilderness land, which is not the case. I am, however, making the point that it is inconsistent to allow one group to do their favored activity, when there is another activity currently outlawed (which appears to have at least a comparable impact on the wilderness). Also, nowhere have I seen that bikers are asking that the wilderness management be fundamentally changed; we said sure, we’d like to volunteer our time and donation money. I can’t imagine why a helping hand would be a problem?

              “Climbers are often asked to avoid climbing on certain cliffs because of nesting grounds.”

              Agreed; and so you prudently avoid those certain cliffs and perhaps climb a nearby one instead. So why do we need to deny bikers access to an entire park area, when parts of it are almost certainly suited for the activity? We are talking about a 1+ million acre area…

              “If you are not allowed to ride your mountain bike through a restaurant, would you say that the restaurant is denying you access?”

              No I would not – the restaurant’s intended purpose is for eating; I think everyone can reasonably agree on this. However, everyone does not come to the same agreement when it comes to the intended purpose of the wilderness. I think everyone (hikers, bikers, other user groups too) believe its purpose is to be preserved, no doubt about that. But I think there are very strong arguments in favor of mountain bikers being able to preserve the wilderness just as well as hikers.

              I think you have some valid points here Dave, and I know you keep mentioning it would be ideal to escape the discussion from the perspective of user groups. But I can’t help but feel the user group discussion will have to continue as long as there is a level of protectionism built into the system for a particular user group (namely hikers). In my opinion, trail access issues are as bad as a grade school playground sometimes – a group of people ‘got there first’, and are just bullying the other kids when we just want to play too.

      • Joe Hansen says:

        You’ve gotten right to the heart of the matter. I could not agree with you more. Mountain bikers in general are advocates for publicly protected land as are hikers,canoeists,snowmobiles,climbers,skiers,etc. The issues of damage to the environment is not the type of recreational activity,but the way in which individuals engage in them. Responsible persons don’t hike sensitive trails in mud season or ride their bikes when trails are wet. As for multiple activities on a trail which is suitable for multi use courtesy,common sense and respect should dictate the behavior of users. In forty years of cross country skiing I’ve

      • Paul says:

        This is why conservation organization involved in hunting have protected so many acres of land and continue to do so today. To name a few:

        Ducks Unlimited
        Trout Unlimited
        Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
        Pheasants Forever
        The Ruffed Grouse Society

        Money from duck stamps alone has been used to purchase 5 million acres (close to the size of the Adirondack Park public and private) of land that has been added to Federal Wildlife refuges.

        These are groups (and individuals with the case of duck stamps) that put their money where their mouths go.

        It is nice to think of the concept of saving wilderness for the sake of wilderness but in the end we all have to live in the real world.

        If Mountain Bikers can help preserve the Adirondacks it seems like we should figure out how to facilitate that.

        • dave says:

          Conservation quid pro quos to specific recreational groups are no longer the only “reality” when it comes to saving wilderness. Yes, that was the best/only tactic in the early days of the conservation movement, but (thankfully) public attitudes about land protection are improving.

          Sure, we should absolutely recruit as many people and user groups as possible to help protect lands, no question. But the overriding principle should remain the protection of that land… not their personal desires to use the land in specific ways. When those two things can coexist? Great! When they don’t, the former should trump the latter.

  14. Pete Nelson says:

    Here’s an update as of Thursday afternoon. The survey tool has recorded nearly 400 responses so far. That’s great! If you haven’t taken the survey yet, please take a moment to do so. We’ll bust 500, I’m certain.

    Also, we have a healthy debate going in these comments. Good. To me this issue is, as I said in the article, a focal point and leading edge in a much larger debate.

    Thanks to all.


    • Hawthorn says:

      Need to point out the obvious that I believe those 400 responses will be heavily biased to mountain bikers. That’s the problem with every online poll: the passionate special interests can bring in numbers making the results meaningless.

      • Pete Nelson says:


        You’re right to raise the issue. That’s why it is incumbent upon me when I report the results I do so without claiming the poll is scientific or unbiased. But the nature of the questions will allow some analysis, so it won’t be meaningless. Not only that, the poll is not a popularity contest, so the majority won’t “win” anything.


  15. Matt says:

    Piloting a bike along a ribbon of single track trail in a wild and beautiful place is nothing short of sublime. I love wildlands and deeply believe in protected public spaces for many reasons. The joy of mountain biking happens to be one of them. Surely there is a place for this in the Adirondacks.

    • JR says:

      Sadly Matt there is not.
      And oddly enough, it’s the crowd who preaches “diversity is our greatest strength” but is only applied in ‘certain’ methodical ways.
      The way ‘they’ want it.
      It is not a broad brush.
      Good luck with the fight though, it is more than warranted and past due.
      We all pay ridiculous amounts of money in taxes, especially for the new lands
      purchased, wouldn’t it be nice if they would allow us to use a bicycle on them?

      • Chris says:


        It sounds like you’ve given up the good fight! Just think, there are a whole lot of bright young men and women out there with law degrees, professional certifications, and the like. Some will eventually hold influential positions on the boards that have influence over the very parks we are discussing. These young men and women have a far greater perspective on what diversity means across all spectrums. As with all generations, this current generation is much more open-minded and willing to try new things than the one that preceded it. At 31, I feel optimistic about the future of our sport, and I think it’s only a matter of time before the tide starts to turn.

        • Matt says:

          Cimbing, bushwhacking, and mountain biking are the activites that provide the kind of challenge, excitement and connection to the natural world that define who I am and inspire me to advocate for the protection of wildlands. If someone else prefers a different activity, who am I to judge if it causes no real harm? Live and let live.

  16. Charlie S says:

    Joe Hansen says “Mountain bikers in general are advocates for publicly protected land as are hikers,canoeists,snowmobiles,climbers,skiers,etc.”

    This is not wholly true Joe.I would guess that some (maybe lots of) mountain bikers and snowmobiler’s are in it for the joy of their sport more than they are into preserving the places that allow their sport. I would bet on this.

    • Joe Hansen says:

      I wonder if you are not being objective in regards to sports other than the ones you participate in? I have never owned a snowmobile(and probably never will) yet I have only observed courteous behavior from those I’ve encountered xc skiing. While hiking and camping there is plenty of trash others engaged in the same activities have left behind. I could go on, but my point is don’t blame the sport for the failing of some individuals bad behavior.

    • Matt says:

      Hey Charlie, know how to find one of those pesky mountain bikers in a Wilderness Area? Easy. You’ll find them on the trail crew diligently fixing the mess that hikers created. Cheers.

  17. AdkGuy says:

    No Wilderness.

  18. Hawthorn says:

    Interesting website with regard to mountain bike problems on trails.

  19. Charlie S says:

    Just my thoughts on the matter Joe.I am aware that not everyone is thoughtful and courteous including hikers and campers as i have witnessed all too often. Re-reading your note I have become aware that you said “in general” which fits in with my words “not wholly.” I overlooked the first time when i responded.
    I still stand by what I said though….that not all partakers in mountain biking,snowmobiling,etc are concerned about the land they are partaking their sport in. Where I used to walk in Tampa they tore up those woods when the county allowed mountain biking. I mean TORE UP. If those bikers were that concerned about that environment they would have resisted their temptations to go in there and ride their bikes. Quite simple.

    • Leroy says:

      “I mean TORE UP. If those bikers were that concerned about that environment they would have resisted their temptations to go in there and ride their bikes.”

      The key comment there is: “If those bikers were that concerned about that environment they would have resisted their temptations to go…”

      How about: “If those INSERT ACTIVITY HERE were that concerned about that environment they would have resisted their temptations to go…”

      Then you could insert: hikers, rock climbers, backcountry skiers, downhill skiers, paddlers, power boaters, atv-ers , or any other activity you see fit and come away with an equally valid statement.

    • Joe Hansen says:

      Dear Charly S. Sorry to hear about the trail in Tampa. Good stewardship of the land should always take precedent over fun. I would like to see mt. bikes only allowed where appropriate on wild forest lands and roads built for motor vehicles. Wet trails and most snowmobile routes are not suitable for biking.

  20. I took a look at your survey, but did not complete it. It is too simplistic. For instance, one of the questions is something like “ should mtn biking be allowed on wilderness trails” What does that mean? On all wilderness trails? On some trails? What am I suggesting when I answer the question?

    I wrote a mountain bike guide for the Adirondacks; it was published and sold out. I now offer it free on my website, It has 38 rides in it. I am sure I have ridden more trails in the Adirondacks than anybody. I have ridden virtually all the trails in the Daniels Road State Forest (once called SMBA or Skidmore) in Saratoga Springs, at 909 (Taconic Hereford Multiple Use Area) off the Taconic Parkway, at Stewart State Forest near Newburgh, at Jockey Hill (Bluestone State Forest) near Kingston, Shaupeneak Ridge Cooperative Area near Esopus, Grafton Lakes State Park, Cherry Plain (Capital District Wildlife Management Area), Moreau Lakes State Park and Pine Hills in Rutland VT. I have also ridden just about every trail on the Taconic Crest. There are trail maps for all these areas on my site. I have also built trails at Grafton, Cherry Plain, and Moreau Lakes. Based on my experience I would like to offer comments on some of the aspects of riding.

    Do mtn bikes cause erosion? Well yes, of course they do. As others have pointed out, most users do. The real question is whether it can be managed so that the amount of erosion is less than the recreational benefits provided. I think it can.

    Do mtn bikes cause more erosion than hikers? Who cares and what difference does it make. The important thing is what I said in the preceding paragraph.

    Are the trails in the Wild Forest Areas (where riding is currently allowed) good for riding? No in general they are not. They are snowmobile trails and generally wet and poorly drained in the summer. The exception are the trails in the Lake George Wild Forest, on Tongue Mountain and the Knapp Estate. There is good riding there.

    Should riding be allowed in Wilderness Areas? There are some Wilderness trails that would make good riding trails, it would be nice if they could be opened. Of course riding on ALL Wilderness trails should not be allowed. But the current system, where riding is allowed on virtually all Wild Forest trails and no Wilderness trails makes no sense at all. It is geographical uneven and makes no consideration of whether the trail is good for riding anyway.

    Do mtn bikes belong on gravel and old woods roads? No, they do not; mtn bikes belong on singletrack or tough rocky trails. There is a completely different type of bike that has been developed for gravel roads called, in fact, a gravel road bike. It is a bike much like a cyclocross bike which it turn is more or less a road bike with wider (30 to 35 mm) tires. Mtn bikers get very bored on gravel roads, it is not what a mtn bike is designed for.

    Can mtn bikes and hikers coexist on the same trails? Oh boy, here we go. First, on a properly designed trail mtn bikes rarely go above 4 or 5 miles per hour. So hikers and riders go about the same speed. The exception of course is a downhill where bikes go faster. Conversely, on a climb riders may have to get off and push their bikes and go slower than hikers. My experience has been that on singletrack there is no conflict; both users are going so slow there is ample opportunity to avoid each other. Also see one of the later paragraphs.

    Should mtn bike trails have long sightlines? No, they should not. Long sightlines can lead to high speeds and resultant conflicts with other users. Short sightlines and speed bumps (rocks, logs etc) keeps speeds down and things safer, not to mention more fun for the riders.

    Before considering what trails might be built for riders, I am going to bring up one other thing. Is mtn biking in the Adirondacks to be for real riders or for the general tourist. These are two different groups. The general tourist might enjoy riding around on gravel roads. She might even use a mountain bike while doing it. However, she would not be a mountain biker. Real mtn bikers, whether they live nearby or travel here, are going to want tough trails.

    So what kind of trails might be built? The areas where a lot of trails are packed into a small parcel of land seem to have been very successful. Daniels Road, 909, Jockey Hill and Pine Hills are examples. The trail map looks like a bowl of spaghetti! Because the trails are on a small parcel they are easier to maintain and watch for erosion. They also keep riders off to themselves. Because the trails twist and turn so much they don’t seem to be attractive to hikers. They also make poor ski trails, the turns are too sharp. It is possible that this kind of trail development is occurring in the Moose River Plains area.

    Long distance trails, like from city to city, are also nice. But this is much more complicated. Are they going to be multiuser, with hikers also on them? Are they for real riders or for the general tourist? How are they to be used in the winter? Are they to be groomed for skiing or fat bikes (another new bike type). Long distance trails require some planning.

    The first final thing I am going to say is that we should not think about mtn biking in the Adirondacks, but about riding in the Adirondacks. Although I have only mentioned them briefly, there are now at least five types of bikes; road, mountain, cyclocross, gravel and fat tire.

    The second final thing is that in my experience poor drainage and occasional heavy rains causes more trail damage that any user.

    • Hawthorn says:

      Gary makes some good points based on a lot of knowledge, but you can see part of the problem in his tone when he writes, “Are they for real riders or the general tourist?” In other words, “real” riders are more important than general tourists? I imagine the tourist class outnumbers the real-rider class by many multiples–say 100 to 1 at least. Shouldn’t the vast majority of mountain bike trails suit the vast majority of tourist riders, who I would guess would be more happy on logging roads and gravel paths? I’d also like to know on what singletrack do you see hikers in any numbers? Maybe the lack of conflict is because it is so unpleasant to hike on singletrack bike paths that hikers just stay away. I would certainly never even consider hiking the Daniels Road trails.

  21. Charlie S says:

    Some outdoor activities are much less damaging than others Leroy.I’m all for a nice serene hike through the woods more than I am going through the woods with an obnoxious atv or snowmobile. I’d rather sit on the shore of a lake and take-in the tranquility of it more than I would want to be on a powerboat making waves on its surface.I’m a simple man living in a complicated society and why it is that many people wish to put on a burst of speed in every thing they do is beyond me. I like Joe’s idea of mountain biking only on roads built for motor vehicles….not on the trails in the Adirondacks.
    Nonchalant me is always looking to get away from the agitations that are everywhere you turn in this anxious society,is one of the many reason I go to the Adirondacks.

  22. Charlie S says:

    In the end we get what we deserve I suppose Joe.Too often we jump the gun on things before we put foresight into them.I have nothing against mountain biking and I give mountain bikers credit for having the vigor in them to do it,as in any sport where physical exertion (not mechanical) is utilized. But there’s a place for everything and sometimes we need to just step outside of ourselves and look at the whole picture for a change.

  23. Mike Vandeman says:

    There is a lot of nonsense being posted here by mountain bikers.

    Bicycles should not be allowed in any natural area. They are inanimate objects and have no rights. There is also no right to mountain bike. That was settled in federal court in 1996: . It’s dishonest of mountain bikers to say that they don’t have access to trails closed to bikes. They have EXACTLY the same access as everyone else — ON FOOT! Why isn’t that good enough for mountain bikers? They are all capable of walking….

    A favorite myth of mountain bikers is that mountain biking is no more harmful to wildlife, people, and the environment than hiking, and that science supports that view. Of course, it’s not true. To settle the matter once and for all, I read all of the research they cited, and wrote a review of the research on mountain biking impacts (see ). I found that of the seven studies they cited, (1) all were written by mountain bikers, and (2) in every case, the authors misinterpreted their own data, in order to come to the conclusion that they favored. They also studiously avoided mentioning another scientific study (Wisdom et al) which did not favor mountain biking, and came to the opposite conclusions.

    Those were all experimental studies. Two other studies (by White et al and by Jeff Marion) used a survey design, which is inherently incapable of answering that question (comparing hiking with mountain biking). I only mention them because mountain bikers often cite them, but scientifically, they are worthless.

    Mountain biking accelerates erosion, creates V-shaped ruts, kills small animals and plants on and next to the trail, drives wildlife and other trail users out of the area, and, worst of all, teaches kids that the rough treatment of nature is okay (it’s NOT!). What’s good about THAT?

    To see exactly what harm mountain biking does to the land, watch this 5-minute video:

    In addition to all of this, it is extremely dangerous: .

    For more information: .

    The common thread among those who want more recreation in our parks is total ignorance about and disinterest in the wildlife whose homes these parks are. Yes, if humans are the only beings that matter, it is simply a conflict among humans (but even then, allowing bikes on trails harms the MAJORITY of park users — hikers and equestrians — who can no longer safely and peacefully enjoy their parks).

    The parks aren’t gymnasiums or racetracks or even human playgrounds. They are WILDLIFE HABITAT, which is precisely why they are attractive to humans. Activities such as mountain biking, that destroy habitat, violate the charter of the parks.

    Even kayaking and rafting, which give humans access to the entirety of a water body, prevent the wildlife that live there from making full use of their habitat, and should not be allowed. Of course those who think that only humans matter won’t understand what I am talking about — an indication of the sad state of our culture and educational system.

  24. Bill Miner says:

    I have encountered areas in the Adirondacks that were taken over by bike enthusiasts. They turned forest land into something akin to an amusement park. I am dead set against bicycles in the forest preserve.