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IMBA World Summit 2010 Resources - Unauthorized Trails

Dealing With Unauthorized Trails


Tom Ward, IMBA California Policy Advisor

Session Notes:

An “unauthorized” trail is typically associated with some or all these attributes:

  • Not approved by the land manager
  • Trail does not appear on official maps
  • The trail is legitimate, but it's not open to mountain bikers
  • Cyclists don’t have permission to ride it

Why is riding unauthorized trails an important issue?

  • With over 13,000 miles of non-system and unauthorized trails in California alone, they are becoming a major problem for the legitimacy of the mountain biking movement.
  • Unauthorized trails often damage natural resources and can damage cultural and historical resources.
  • They violate trust between mountain bikers and land manages.
  • Building and riding unsanctioned trails threatens current and future trail access—land managers can refuse mountain bikers all together.
  • The practice displays mountain bikers as being lawless, arrogant, disrespectful, selfish, irresponsible and ignorant.
  • Alienates other members of the trail community.
  • They often create a safety hazard to other cyclists when not built properly, ie: no alternate routes around TTFs, no signage, etc.
  • It's against the law!

Root causes

  • As the mountain bike world expands, there is a growing demand for more trails, and more diverse and technical trail experiences.
  • Illegal builders often lack a connection to the trail community—they don’t belong to clubs or advocacy groups.
  • There is often a perception that unauthorized trails will eventually become accepted, system trails.
  • Sometimes seems like there is passive acceptance in bike community and in the bike industry

Strategies to deal with the proliferation of unauthorized trails:

  • Educate mountain bikers on the environmental ethic, sustainable design, legalities of trailbuilding, etc.
  • Improve riders’ advocacy skills, including getting organized, participating in the larger trail community, and working with industry players to improve the image of our sport.
  • Within the agency subculture, land managers need to increase efficiency of creating new trails, and create diverse and technical trail experiences.
  • Land managers also need to partner with mountain bike community to build trails, and to establish fair and logical policies.

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