Mountain bikers and those fighting to keep them from riding the trails in the Milwaukee River Greenway Corridor will share a forum on Monday night.
The session hosted by the Riverwest Neighborhood Association, from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the Gordon Park Pavilion, will allow trail users to make their case for the types of recreation that should be allowed on the paths between North Avenue and Silver Spring Dr.
The Coalition has created a master plan for improving the trails, and includes biking, hiking, dog-walking and snowshoeing among the permitted uses in that blueprint. The Milwaukee River Advocates, a group that formed in September 2012, has staked out its position against mountain biking along the river.
It’s a potential conflict that has simmered for decades on the wild paths on the east and west banks of the river.
Mountain bikers have rolled along the greenway improved the trails in some areas, but in doing so they have crossed both public and private land, often without permission.
But as with other not-quite-legal activities, such as walking dogs off leash, or overnight camping, mountain biking has continued under an informal “so long as nobody gets hurt” justification. Not wanting to spend too much time on the wrong side of the law, however, members of the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin and the Metro Mountain Bikers have been working to hammer out a shared use concept that includes room for mountain biking.
“We did not feel comfortable kicking out existing users” said Ann Brummitt, director of the MRGC. “The trails as they are have worked okay, but we understand they can be improved,”
The MRGC started as a grassroots group in 2007, and has worked to establish a master plan – what makes sense for the area. Members of the group include The Urban Ecology Center, The Milwaukee RiverKeeper, the River Revitalization Foundation, and neighborhood associations such as the Village of Shorewood, Cambridge Woods Neighborhood Association, and Friends of Estabrook Park.
“It’s been a very involved public process when coming to these conclusions,” Brummitt said.
In 2007 there were three public meetings on how the trails should be used. In 2008 they solidified the shared use philosophy. In 2009 they began to look at connections and trails and in 2010 400 trail users responded to a survey. “These ideas haven’t come out of isolation.”
In that survey, 57% of the respondents said they biked in the corridor.
Sura Faraj, a founder of the Milwaukee River Advocates, argues that mountain biking along the river banks accelerates erosion, damages animal habitat and threatens the wetlands.
The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission identified over 18,000 acres of high-quality natural communities and critical species habitats within the basin, according to Faraj.
There are 16 endangered, 26 threatened and 65 special concern plant and animal species, and 30 rare aquatic and terrestrial communities documented within the basin. Some of the trail ‘repairs’ have done damage to sole communities of native plants, he said.
The controversial repairs to which Faraj refers were re-routes that were meant to address eroding and seeping issues.
Adding to the problem is narrowness of the corridor, which could lead to conflicts between hikers and bikers meeting, or colliding, on the trail.
On the Milwaukee River Advocates Facebook page, Faraj asks, “Remember when you could walk the trails and it was like an undiscovered gem? Remember meeting other walkers, maybe passing by silently because you were both in mild meditative or euphoric states? It was easier to see wildlife, because they weren’t as scared. It was so quiet, some people didn’t feel safe down there. But in actuality, it’s one of the safest places in the city to be.”
Mountain bikers, though, want to keep what they have and the trails they have worked to improve. If cycling were completely removed in the greenway, the closest mountain bike trail would be more than 10 miles from the city’s east side .
“They are trails that the local community can use without having to drive to get to them.” says one rider, Carolyn Weber. “However, to keep the balance between bikes and nature we must work to maintain those trails to not destroy the nature that is there.”
Another rider, Avery Ed, agrees, “I love riding the trails too. I stay on the path, pick up trash when I find it, and try to be respectful and careful around hikers and animals. Of course we want to respect and protect nature. I feel like I’m a part of that effort when I ride the trails respectfully.”
Aytan Luck of Riverwest’s Truly Spoken Cycles agrees, “I was unaware of an effort to remove mountain biking from the trails. That’s too bad. Those were the first trails I ever rode on. I know that trail usage can do damage, but there is trail etiquette that is not common sense. Could we try post some agreed upon etiquette at trail entrances to curb damaging behavior?”
“Trail education, interpretive signs, and positive stewardship messages should be implemented to help trail users understand where they are,” Brummitt said.
“Just to be clear, Milwaukee River Advocates isn’t against mountain biking,” said Faraj. “We have many mountain bikers who agree with us. They have signed our petition and they are opposed to designation. It’s just not appropriate in a primary environmental corridor or wetland.”
If you want to know more about the Milwaukee River Greenway Corridor, preservation efforts, or the general state of mountain biking in the city the public forum will take place on Monday, October 15 at the Gordon Park Pavilion in Riverwest, from 6:30-9:00pm.
Jason McDowell is an occasional blogger and full-time graphic designer for OnMilwaukee.com, and is responsible for many of the advertisements as well as website layouts. He is also a bike mechanic for Truly Spoken Cycles and keyholder for the non-profit Milwaukee Bicycle Collective.