How many of us are too much?

In the Adirondacks and in Vermont, people who care about trail systems have been noting recently that in many places the number of users of whatever persuasion have been increasing to the point that trails are being damaged and trail heads are overflowing.

Part of the problem seems to be trails built to standards cemented in the earlier part of the 20th century, but the number of users seems to have been rising exponentially.

I have for years been attending NEMBAfest at Kingdom Trails, and recently have been going up early to help set up. Circumstances in my life this year prevented my helping; I managed to get up to the festival, but though food and entertainment was over the top, with, what, 4,000 or so attendees, riding was virtually impossible – that number of riders on roughly 100 miles of trail is forty per mile!

Fast forward to the recent announcement that three KT landowners had decided that they had had it with mountain bike riders…

We should, as a community, have seen it coming.

Going forward, how are we to address the question of capacity, recognizing that any trail system has an effective limit to the number of users that it can support? How do we plan and inform accordingly? How do we secure the cooperation of the riding community?

We need these answers.

3 Comments

  • Alan says:

    John, I agree with your statement that we should have seen this coming. KTA has does an amazing job but just as with anything: too many people in too small of an area changes the culture. Changes in culture can leave to divide. We have such great riding all over the state that it would be nice if the population and economic benefit was spread out a bit more. VMBA has done a commendable job but it is a uphill battle for sure. Let’s ride some of the other areas ( Chandler ridge?) while educating other riders how to be respectful and spread the love.
    Cheers and gearz

  • Bob says:

    I agree with your general sentiment that “some” areas of the Northeast (due to large metro population densities within easy driving distance) are suffering from overuse.

    But, the situations in the Adirondacks and northern Vermont are the result of very different circumstances. The population issues in the high peaks are hikers using trails built on public (state) lands. As such, the DEC can control numbers and try to drive usage to lesser used trail heads. Drive by the Giant Mountain trailhead on any Saturday. Yes, there are way too many hikers there.

    Overuse by mountain bikers doesn’t occur in the Adirondacks due to the continued resistance by hiking organizations. Sure, pockets of decent trails are starting to form (thanks Bark Eaters), but this was after years of those networks being a secret “locals only” stash. New York is a long way from fully utilizing the vast swaths of land it already owns, it’s just that hikers only want “the best hikes”. And there is resistance to improve trails to make other areas appetizing. (i.e. Cedar River bridge and improvement proposal)

    This leads me to the situation at KT. People flock here in droves because it has everything a rider could want in a weekend. The problem here is that the land is private, and at the discretion of landowners. KTA has been marketing the hell out of this experience for years, which always places the emphasis on “the most”, or proudly posting steadily increasing visitor stats. NEMBA Fest should have never been brought here as there was already overcrowding by the time it first appeared. The addition of events like Wintebike only serve to extend the local’s misery deep into winter…

    “Mountain Bike Vermont and Kingdom Trails have done it again! 2019 brought the largest Winterbike yet with over 500 people in attendance, let’s see what 2020 brings! ”

    Gee…great. How about we give it a break for winter?

    I’d expect any answers to the questions you pose at the end of your article to be very different when addressing overcrowding in New York vs.Vermont. New York has the land, we just aren’t allowed to use it. Vermont has marketing tourism, they just don’t have the land, or the state is simply willing to collect tax revenues by hosting bike tourism on the backs of private landowners. Win/win for the state.

  • Thibault says:

    You make good points Bob. Note that John’s opinions are his own, not MTBVT’s opinions. Personally, I agree with you both. I think as a community, industry and a culture we have a lot of growing up to do. That said, in regard to Winterbike, I think it is a welcome spike in commerce in what is otherwise a much slower time of year. But point taken on always promoting the stats regarding “more people” on the front end of these promotions. The respectful thing to do would be to cap events at a wholesome and sustainable number.

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