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Mountain Bike Access Debated at Oak Mountain

by Ken McCoy
Environmental problems promise to be the hot political topic of the 19905, and with the increase in pUblic appreciation of nature, new issues seem to crop up as quickly as others are laid to rest. In Birmingham, as well as in other parts of the country, a new problem that threatens to pit nature-lover against naturalist is becoming an issue. On the surface it seems to be a simple question of whether a new breed of outdoor activity, mountain biking, should be allowed on the tIails of our state parks. But upon closer inspection, one finds that this question is rooted in the much

Chattanooga Choo Choo?

With- a gush of steam and a spout of black smoke, the age of steam trains will return to Birmingham this month. On Saturday, March 31, and again on Sunday, April I, locomotive No. 611 will chug its way to Chattanooga from Birmingham with a load of excited passengers. The annual excursion, sponsored by the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum in cooperation with the Norfolk-Southern Railroad, will depart from the site of the old Birmingham Terminal Station at 2nd Avenue and 26th Street North. Upon reaching Chattanooga, the train will lay over for three hours while passengers explore the historic Chattanooga Choo Choo, the Freight Depot and the many interesting shops. The J-type locomotive was built in the early 19405, and the first of its kind travelled over a million miles. It weighs over 900,000 pounds and consumes six and a half tons of coal per hour. The train will leave Birmingham at 7 am. will return around 8:30 p.m. All profits of the trip will be used to build and maintain the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum in Calera, Alabama. Tickets are S55 per person, and if purchased in groups of 25 or more, will cost $50 per person. To order, call 252-2716 or send check or money order and SASE to Steam Excursion, P.O. Box 254, Birmingham, AL 35201.

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Cyclist on unauthorized Trail at Oak Mountain.


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Southern Danceworks will hu the road to "The Big Easy" this spring. The Southern Danceworks Professional Company has been invited to perform at the ..National DanceAssociarion Conference in New Orleans. To kick off this toUT,the company will be presenting a "Favoriles" repertory concert on March 23rd and 24th al Southern Danceworks SrudUJrrheatre. Some of the pieces to beperformed are "The Ball Dance, " "Not Built for Comfort" and "Echo." Dancers will include Sylvia Toffe~ Melanie Sokol, Anthony Longobardi, Suzanne Tichel~ Mary Foshee, Ginger ~an and Lyn Buchanan. Performances will begin al 8 p.m TU:kelsare $8 general admission and $6 for students and senior citizens. For reservations and information, call 322-6483.

Fun & Stuff 2 -BIkes- from Pg. 1

larger issue of how state and national, public lands should be used and maintained. Mountain biking is a relatively new sport, an offshoot of the endurance or triathalon competitions that are so popular, particu1arly in the western states. The bike is designed for rigorous going, with large knobby tires, straight handlebars and a rugged frame. The appeal of the sport seems to be that one can enjoy the wonders of nature while pitting one's denerity and strength against anything from relatively easy to tortuous terrain. The conflict arises when mountain bikers begin competing with hikers and backpackers for use of trails on public lands. At Oak Mountain State Park, officials were caught somewhat unprepared for the surge of interest in the spon. After complaints about the mountain bikes from hikers, park officials designated the park's Red :rrail as the only authorized trail for bicycles, leaving ~e park's other trails for use by hikers. This has proven difficult to enforce, and hikers now complain $it cyclists are using unauthorized trails. '"We are currently in the process of trying to promulgate a regulation through the State Conservation Department to make it a finable offense to ride (bicycles) on unauthorized trails," said Park Ranger Bob Gallahar, "but it's a pretty long process. Right now we are only able to give verbal warnings (to violators)." . Carl Scardina, natural resource supervisor for Alabama's state parks, said that lime is needed to decide on a proper policy. "We don't have enensive experience with mountain bikes," he said. "We want to assess the situation from personal experience rather than from hearsay." Allowing the cyclists access to the Red Trail is a way to study the effects of bikes on the trails, he said. "Once we've done that, we can create a. policy." But uncooperative cyclists could cause the problem to be dealt with more abruptly. "People who abuse the privilege could very well ruin it for everyone. They're cutting their own throats," Scardina said. "We are real concerned about fads. Is the mountain bike here to stay, or is it just another hula-hOOp? We have to do what will benefit the most people for the longest period oftime," he said. "With the increased metropolitan sprawl, in the fu. ture Oak Mountain may be the only place in the area that you can go to see a forest We need to protect the resources," Scardina said. Bill Harrington, spokesperson for the Southern OffRoad Bicycle Association (SORBA), said, "We think it's a usage problem rather than a mountain bike problem. What we have is a lot of people competing for a limited resource." . Mountain bikers are dissatisfied with being restricted to the Red Trail. "The Red Trail presents the least amount of challenges to a mountain biker," Harrington said. But hikers are angry at what they see as an intrusion by fast-moving vehicles on trails that were meant to be travelled by fool. "They are such a hazard that I don't think they should be allowed in the park," said Les Miller, of the Vulcan Trail Association. Hikers' complaints include being

Left: Damage to Red Trail by mountain

i bikes.

is authorized for use by cyclists. Top: Group of cyclists takes a break at junction of Orange and Blue Trails, both unauthoriud trails. forced off the narrow trails by fast-moVing cyclists, damage to trails such as ruts and crumblingswitcJibacks and the disruption of the natural setting by vehicu1aI> (although non-motorized) traffic. The latter com~' plaint may be the true heart of the matter. Until recently, exclusion of motorized vehicles from hiking and wilderness areas in state and national parks was sufficient to keep these areas clear of most evidence of modern society. But with the enhanced design of mountain bikes, even the most remote and rugged areas can be reached by cyclists, and the rules don't cover human powered vehicles. The question of how much damage the bikes cause to trails is also a subject of debate. Harrington feels that just as much damage is done to the trails by foot traffic as by bicycles. Miller feels otherwise. "rm out there leading hikes two to four daYS,.a week and I can see the damage. They are a destruCtive force ou the trails," he said. "We haven't done a formal study, but we have looked informally at the problem," said Park Naturalist Bryan Phillips. "We know that bikes have more impact on a trail with a grade because if it is rutted it will erode. We are allowing them to use the Red Trail because it is best suited for bikes. It's an old road bed," he said. Although Harrington agrees that bikes are "not appropriate for all trails," he doesn't think they should be excluded entirely from the park. "I would rather see (enforced fines) than no bicycles period," he said. SORBA plans to provide a brochure to be handed out at the park entrance which would inform cyclists of the rules and proper courtesy 'practices for riding in the park, he said. But he admits that there will always be some people who are discourteous and unconscientious. Public 'land use policy has been a problem throughout the history of the United States and prontises to become more problematic in the future. "The answer is for all interested parties to work together," said Harrington. "rd be happy to meet with interested parties at the park," said Scardina. Anyone interested should write to: 0Ul Scardina, Natural Resources Supervisor, AJab<!ma State Parks,64 North Union si., MontgOmery,AL36130 '



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