Hikers and mountain bikers have long battled over access at Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, but the fight is reaching new heights with a plan to open up about a half mile portion of the Easy Grade trail to mountain bikers.
Hiking activists say they’re concerned that state park rangers already have a hard time enforcing the rules of the trails. “The speed is what is so dangerous,” said Marin County hiker Linda. She asked not to use her last name out of concern from a hit and run two years ago. She said a mountain biker ran her down on the Old Railroad Grade fire road and took off. “A bicycle came speeding down a hill around a curve and hit me, knocked me down. I got all bruised and scraped.”
On some Mount Tam trails, mountain bikers have reported going as fast as 21 mph on strava.com, a website and app that uses GPS to track speed. The speed limit on Mount Tam trails is 15 mph.
Records show from January 2014 through March 2016, park rangers issued 26 bike citations. Violations ranged from biking where prohibited to biking after hours, but no tickets were issued for speeding.
“There are the renegades out there that cause problems,” said Danita Rodriguez, state park district superintendent for the greater Bay Area. She oversees Mount Tam and the rangers responsible for enforcing laws and issuing citations. Rodriguez acknowledges that she’d like to see more enforcement. “I think we need more of course but we don't have those resources at this time,” Rodriguez said, acknowledging it’s near impossible to catch a rogue biker in the act. “I can see where there are very few citations written partly because of the time to get wherever that violation is.”
“Change of Use” for Easy Grade Trail
Right now, mountain bikers can access only two single-track trails, Dias Ridge and Coast View on Mount Tamalpais state park property. Ironic, some say, since mountain biking took root here in Marin County back in the late 1970s. “What we think as the mountain bike was developed here in Marin County,” said Tom Boss, Marin County Bicycle Coalition’s off -road director. “It is frustrating that it is not embraced. It should be. It’s a significant and historical accomplishment.”
With so many mountain bikers using Mount Tam the Marin County Bicycle Coalition wants access to the “Easy Grade Trail,” a 0.6 mile stretch of trail and petitioned the State Parks for a “change of use.” The group says mountain bikers need a way to get to the popular “Mountain Theater” without having to compete with cars on narrow, windy roads. “We’re not asking for some grandiose access for trails here on Mount Tam. We’re just asking for something that addresses safety and connectivity,” Boss said.
The change of use proposal has cleared its first speed bump and is now in the design and planning phase. There’s no timeline though for whether it will be built and the state parks department says it welcomes public comment.
“This is not a park that was set out to have anything like mountain biking,” said Jordan Hermann, a hiking activist on an uphill climb trying to keep mountain bikes off the Easy Grade trail. He’s led hundreds of group hikes on Mt. Tam and worries about the environmental damage. “When we cut down the trees that are going to have to be cut down on the mountain bike trail, and we totally disrupt the water flow,” said Hermann. “These are many threatened and endangered wildflowers not found anywhere else.”
For Linda, her concern is safety. She says there’s little accountability for bikers who break the law. “We went to the ranger and reported it but there’s nothing that can be done. We didn’t know who he was,” said Linda. She believes enforcement would be more effective if mountain bikers had to register and display license plates, allowing authorities to track them just like cars.
Mountain bikers feel their safety is put at risk when riding on the road. CHP data shows officers were called out to twenty bicycle accidents on roads surrounding Mount Tam from January 2014 to April of 2016. “We’re very concerned,” Boss said. “A lot of people don’t realize that some choose mountain biking specifically because they’re not comfortable biking out on the roads.”
The Marin County Bicycle Coalition has partnered with other groups and put together the safe trails campaign.
In a place where both hikers and bikers are most comfortable out on the trails, the road towards a compromise is still full of bumps.