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City destroys legacy bike trails

Several popular unsanctioned trails were decommissioned, but mountain bikers remain optimistic

Over winter break, teams of city-directed California Conservation Corps (CCC) work crews destroyed three popular unsanctioned bike trails in Arcata city forests. They were the lifeblood of the community forest for generations of bike riders. Then, in a day, they were gone.

BEFORE: The lines of the illegal trails were sculpted from hours of shovel work into functional works of art for bikes to flow over. | Photo by Jett Williams

The crews were thorough, ensuring that the lines would not be easily rebuilt. They dug up and flattened berms and jumps, laid logs and planted ferns in the trails. The idea was to let the forest reclaim what had been there, leaving no trace of trail behind.

Darius Damonte is the natural resources crew leader for Arcata’s environmental services. He also rides mountain bikes. Damonte said that the trails had been slated for destruction for years, but the recent government shutdown allowed the city to execute their plans.

“With the government shutdown, some of the federal contracts that the CCC had fell through,” Damonte said. “We’ve got a pretty good reputation with [them], so they sent us a bunch of free crew time.”

The three trails each had their own distinct personality. ‘Sam’s trail’ was the oldest, built before the city owned it. ‘Sam’s’ had hosted several HSU collegiate cycling downhill races, during which it supported upwards of 600 runs over a few days time.

‘Loam’s Palace’ had been around for many years as a fast bomb line. The trail was a local favorite, in addition to hosting many bike races and rides over the years.

‘Road Dome,’ ‘Joey’s Trail’ or ‘Nino’s Favorite’ was a line running parallel to Fickle Hill road, and saw huge strides in development the month before its destruction from a group of student trailbuilders. The team constructed sweeping berms and jumps, leading many bikers to call this trail, at the time, the best in the forest.

AFTER.jpg AFTER: The trails are almost unrecognizable, with the berms destroyed and branches laid across the line. Local rider Lucas Perez surveys the damage. | Photo by Jett Williams

One of the builders is forestry minor Ian Wilson. Wilson said that the motivation for building came from wanting more out of a trail than what the community forest provided.

“We wanted to build our own trail, or trails, that we could have fun on,” Wilson said. “There are fun trails, but it’s not the kind of riding that we’re into.”

The riding that Wilson’s into includes faster speeds and more intense, bike-specific features. Not for everyone, but the demand is there. Over 100 different riders had put runs in on ‘Road Dome’ before it was decommissioned.

“Essentially we’re only moving stuff if it’s in the way or prevents a hazard. It doesn’t seem right to go and f-ck up someone’s private property.”

Ian Wilson

Wilson said when him and his friends build, they ensure that their work isn’t hurting the ecosystem.

“Essentially we’re only moving stuff if it’s in the way or prevents a hazard,” Wilson said. “It doesn’t seem right to go and f-ck up someone’s private property.”

Wilson and many other local riders want to see more bike-specific trails in the community forest. As it stands, there are no bike-specific lines, although several of the multi-use trails have mountain-bike friendly corners and flow.

Damonte knows how unenthusiastic the city can be towards the interests of mountain bikers, oftentimes dragging its feet for no reason.

“I’ve seen it the whole time I’ve been with the city. Mountain bikers try to get stuff done, and want to build what we want to ride, but the city’s been unable to accommodate them,” Damonte said. “I don’t understand why the system is so lethargic.”

Steven Pearl is an HSU cycling alumni and a member of the Redwood Coast Mountain Bike Association (RCMBA), the local mountain bike advocacy group. He thinks the solution to the current issue is cooperation between motivated trailbuilders and the city, but doesn’t advocate for illegal trailbuilding.

“It doesn’t help the broader mission of the mountain bike club, which is to bring mountain bike trails into the community forest,” Pearl said. “When the ACF associates mountain biking with something that’s illegal and not well-thought-out, it creates more work for us and we become guilty by association.”

At the end of the day, all riders share a common goal of seeing more trails. Despite the disheartening destruction of legacy trails that have been around for years, all of these riders remained optimistic about the future of Arcata’s mountain bike scene.

“I think that mountain biking is here to stay, and it can create a destination-type situation for the city,” Damonte said. “We’re always going to have illegal trailbuilders, until we build what the community wants to ride.”

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