Preface from Adam Coppola, IMBA Northeast Region Director:
One of the biggest access issues that has challenged the Northeast Region since I joined IMBA in January, is the "single-use" request of the Finger Lakes Trail Conference (FLTC) on a section of the North Country Trail (NCT) that is valued by both hikers and mountain bikers. The North Country Trail is a National Scenic Trail that stretches from North Dakota to Eastern, NY. The Western NY Mountain Bicycling Association (WNYBA) has been legally maintaining and riding the Ellicottville section of this trail for almost 20 years.
Jon Sundquist, a representative from WNYMBA and former NY State IMBA rep, has written the following about this challenging situation.
While I was riding in Ellicottville, NY, a week ago, I struck up a conversation with a man hiking the Big Merlin trail, an appealing route in the 6,000+ acres of state forests here. Seems he had just retired, and decided to up and move from Cleveland to Ellicottville. He said that he moved here because it he said it had some of the best hiking around. I told him about the Western New York Mountain Bike Association (WNYMBA) and he thanked us for all the work we have done on the trails.
Most hikers share this perspective. They believe in shared use trails, and enjoy what can be achieved when different user groups work together. To most hikers, the shared use trail network in Ellicottville is wonderful.
However, there is a minority of the hiking community that doesn’t believe in shared use trails. They believe in single use, segregated trails. This minority includes some, but not all, of the leadership of the Finger Lakes Trail Conference. The Finger Lakes Trail, also known as the White Trail in Ellicottville, is also part of the North Country Trail, a national scenic trail. This minority wants a single use trail through the state forests in Ellicottville.
The North Country Trail, being a National Scenic Trail, was envisioned to be shared use. Bicycling is one of the uses spelled out in the National Scenic Trails Act as an envisioned use of these trails. For this reason, many sections of the trail are shared use, including large segments through National Forests in Ohio and Michigan (note, where it traverses private land, permission is typically granted only for hiking).
The White Trail in Ellicottville has always been shared use. The land manager, the DEC, had agreed that so long as the trail remained in great shape, then it could be shared use. The trail is now in the best shape it has ever been thanks to a concerted effort over the years by WNYMBA. This is undisputed by FLTC.
However, recently, the DEC has had a change of heart and has now agreed to a single use corridor through the state forests in Ellicottville. We objected to this strenuously, outlining our position in this letter.
The DEC recognizes all the good work that WNYMBA has done in these state forests. Therefore, they have not simply said that “cyclists have to go.” Rather, they have recommended the option of separate but equal trails. These trails would not be perfectly parallel, but they would allow for cyclists to have essentially the same opportunities and options for loop rides as before. In fact, some of the current White Trail would remain shared use — the FLTC would build their single use parallel section there. Other sections of the current trail would become single use, and WNYMBA would build new trail parallel to those.
We don’t think this is the best solution. However, the only alternative is to just plain give up access to the White Trail and get no mitigation whatsoever. Therefore, WNYMBA has agreed to the separate but equal alternative. Conceptually the parties agree that the White Trail north of Little Rock City would remain shared use, allowing connection to the Tornado Reroute and Billygoat and South Pale Ale; the hikers’ reroute would parallel this and reconstruct the section through the tornado blowdown. In contrast, the rocky section south of the communication tower will become single use, with WNYMBA building a new alternate singletrack.
We have asked cyclists not to call up the DEC and complain about this. Remember, they could have easily just said this section is off limits to bikes, tough luck. But they didn’t — and we appreciate that. We want to continue working with DEC, including expanding the trail network at places like Golden Hill and other state forests, so we want to keep working with them, even though we disagree with their decision on the White Trail.
The White Trail remains open until the new trails have been built. And no, that does not mean we can drag our feet indefinitely. All parties envision the planning for the alternate trails to be completed by the end of 2013 and trail construction to be performed during 2014. The trails will be shared until then.
Check out the updated Ellicottville Epic ride on MTBProject.com