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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.”

6 Comments

  1. Rusty Rusty Tuesday, February 12, 2019

    Sorry guys but, here is the perfect opportunity to use your brains and the web to start a go fund me page, go national and buy your own private property, get your own private insurance, get your own E.I.R. and build you own Legacy Bike Park. Make it world renowned, make it a destination Bike Park. It took over thirty years to get that Community skatepark built in Arcata, think what you could do with GoFundMe money from bike enthusiasts all over the world. Time’s wasting, get to it before you get too old to give a shit anymore.

  2. GonzoKat GonzoKat Tuesday, February 12, 2019

    Isn’t there some kind of grandfather law that could help protect the trails, if they are that old and established? I have heard that, if the public has been using the land for a given purpose for a long time, that purpose and access to that land may be eligible for new legal status.
    Not stating any facts here. Posing a question, as I have heard of this scenario in other places.

  3. John Paul Nelson John Paul Nelson Tuesday, February 12, 2019

    Everyone come to vegas… we have awesome trails out here….

  4. Roger Roger Tuesday, February 12, 2019

    So sad. Biking is such a great activity. Inclusive, healthy, non-polluting, quiet, fun, low impact…why not support all types of biking?

  5. Trailjunkie Trailjunkie Wednesday, February 13, 2019

    Maybe the bikers should save up their allowances and buy their own land. Then they can build as many trails as they want. You cant just build something on government land because it’s not your land. That would be like me building a house in the state park then getting mad when the gov’t tells me to leave. People who are really dedicated to riding buy their own land. Good for the CCC, they did the right thing by removing illegal trails.

  6. Jason Kassis Jason Kassis Wednesday, February 13, 2019

    We ARE part of the ecosystem. As long as the trails were design and built to IMBA standards it makes no sense to destroy these trails. The locals should get organized and come up with a game plan to get them reopened. As a long time mountain biker and trail builder there is a right way to design a sustainable trail sytem. In a society where we have more and more kids having issues with being overweight and with sedentary lifestyles spent on electronic devices we need more outdoor recreational opportunities not less.

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