Submitted to Comments @ Oregonian, Thursday, Jan 7, 2016. The O published it January 12: [LINK]

It generated 658 comments. Bike Portland did a scathing criticism of it -- 'poisoning the dialog around Mounting Biking'. LOL.

Will Mountain Bikers Overwhelm Protected Natural Areas?

Droves of Mountain Bikers (MTBs) may be coming soon to a natural area near you, if their lobbyists prevail.

In response to aggressive politicking by MTB groups and their powerful corporate sponsors, Portland is undertaking a $300,000 Off Road Cycling Master Plan (ORCMP). A consulting firm will develop a citywide plan for a system of off-road cycling facilities — such as sustainable trail networks, skill parks and pump tracks — for a variety of users, including adults, children and whole families. The ORCMP will also identify where new trails might be built. This is where it gets controversial. Normal hiking trails are no fun for MTBs. Mountain bikers need elevation drop for speed, and more land for longer runs. They seem to thrive on bumps, jumps, sharp turns and downhill speed.

Will the ORCMP authority trump existing land use, including protected natural areas that are currently managed for minimum human impact? MTBs want access to natural areas where higher impact (active) recreation has not been allowed. They argue that mountain biking is passive recreation, like nature observation, bird watching, and hiking. The Northwest Trails Alliance (NWTA) correctly portrays MTB as a healthy sporting activity, but they ignore the impact of a large number of fast moving vehicles in a small natural area, and other aspects of the sport.

Preserving the Integrity of Natural Areas

Case in point: The newly-forming River View Natural Area is a small 147-acre parcel occupying steep slopes with two perennial and five seasonal streams that flow into the Willamette River. Before 2011, this land was owned by River View Cemetery, which regarded off-road cyclists as trespassers on private property.

Picture a commercial operator shuttling bikers back to the top via Taylor's Ferry Road for continuous downhill runs. Consider a professional mountain biker giving lessons and holding workshops in a protected natural area. How many MTBs per day traversing the slopes would disturb this relatively small natural area?

An MTB parts supplier has offered to bankroll building and maintaining all trails in RVNA. Will we allow a commercial sponsor to freely use this public space? Organized groups of MTBs are standing by, eager to build new trails, free of charge. What will City Council do when banned MTBs storm City Hall en masse on January 14th demanding access on the day of the Hearing for the RVNA Management Plan? Will Portland let MTBs and their commercial interests dig up our natural areas?

We all should support a network of off-road cycling trails that inter-connects towns and communities. And, of course, we'd favor facilities that provide a range of fun activities and experiences ... but we must think critically about where to draw the line between protecting nature and developing new recreation. What kinds of natural areas can support active recreation?

What will 2016 bring?

There is a global invasion of nature underway. Will MTBs gain access to the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail and Wilderness Areas? Failing to get into the Bandon State Natural Area, will a golfer baron gain land between Camps Meriwether and Clark to build a golf course? Will international bottlers be allowed to take pristine water from a sacred spring near Cascade Locks? Locally, Portland has been a global leader in protecting and restoring urban wilderness. Will Portland's protected Natural Areas be called into service by the Off-Road Cycling Master Plan? Let's hope common sense prevails and we continue to be good stewards of the land.

John Miller is a retired computer scientist and independent iOS developer living in Southwest Portland about 2km from the River View Natural Area.