Tahoe unauthorized trail-building: The real story

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Lake Tahoe Forest Service officials are warning against unauthorized trail building, but they still don’t get it. They suspect “ongoing illegal trail-building has risen significantly with the increased popularity of mountain biking and newer, better equipment.”

While those are factors, the real reason trail building is increasing is because the Forest Service and other official bodies will not approve new trails. Any new trails. They don’t have budget, they don’t have builders, they don’t have a process. They do bone-headed things like spend $29,000 to “decommission” (block) rogue trails — money that should be going to building new trails.

So you get kids with time on their hands who see reality for what it is: They’re not going to be able to ride unless they build their own clandestine, off-radar trails.

(I don’t like to call any trails “illegal,” since legality is often applied subjectively and virtually never tested in court. It also is unclear what illegality applies to: The trail or the rider, or both. “Unauthorized” or “uncommissioned” seem more germane terms to me.)

It’s that simple. The solution is for agencies to get with the program and start opening up access. The first thing they can do is watch the film, “Freedom Riders,” which explores a cooperative approach between authorities and mountain bikers to expand trail access in Wyoming. Then they can work with IMBA and local MTB organizations to map out plans for additional access that involve the entire community. They’re doing this already in some places, notably Canada; let’s hope the ethic spreads quickly. For all their serendipity, rogue trails can be dangerous, poorly constructed and hard to get to in an emergency. There’s a better way, it just needs publicizing, funding and nurturing.

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