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.

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5 Comments

  1. says: Alan

    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

  2. says: Bob

    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.

  3. says: Thibault

    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.

  4. says: Tobin

    I’m a little late to this comment party, but as a Vermont native turned Colorado almost native (lived in CO longer than VT), I can tell you that gross promotion of events is doing-in many areas in the West as in the East. I left Vermont in the late ’90s just after college, to move to a then open and uncrowded Colorado. In a little over 20 years I’ve witnessed the utter mutilation of Moab, the pummeling of Crested Butte and Durango, the ridiculous trail traffic jams of the Front Range, the irreparable erosion and so on. From huge events like the Moab HoDown, to Crested Butte Bike Week and NEMBAfest, the massive promotion of events, is leading to the ruination and eventual closing of trails, and ultimately entire trail systems (think Kingdom Trails` 2030). All these events promote is the wallets of the organizers and sponsors. They’ll prove to be bad for the sport in the long run.
    I can tell you from first hand experience, that private land versus public land (BLM largely in Colorado), ultimately makes little difference in the disrespect, trash, etc that huge crowds of people bring to areas. Private land will, I suppose, be closed and limited faster to the masses than will public land. This is of course bad for the sport, the region’s finances – bad for everyone but the land itself.
    How to manage crowds/events and slow the inevitable loss of riding areas due to those crowds/events? In my humble and frustrated opinion, you could start by limiting the number of attendees, vendors, bands, yoga classes, etc – not promote the “biggest ever” of everything – not keep adding more and more and more and more and more and more. No more “vendors with tents larger than 20×20” like is part of NEMBAfest. Vendor tents larger than 400 square feet? Really?! That’s not a vendor tent, that’s a bike shop!
    Lets get back to basics, back to our sport’s roots, while we still can.
    How about limiting events, make them exclusive and personalized.
    Think TransCascadia – 2 sponsors, 4 days, 100 racers, end of story. Not 113 sponsors (yes 113 – I counted them on the NEMBAfest site) and 4000+ attendees (really?!, that’s more than a 10th of Caledonia County’s entire population, and more than three times that of Lyndonville!). How about limiting it to 10 vendors and 500 people? Then ten different vendors the following year, and 500 people, and so-on.
    Promote trail stewardship and etiquette, not “goat yoga” classes, “ride-outs”, and blah blah blah. These are MTB events in the woods, not f’ing Santa Monica, CA. Get a grip!
    Lets promote etiquette and manors and good riding skills – not how many more gadgets you need to buy to make your riding kit complete, even though you still can’t pedal up a hill.
    I’m constantly surprised by trail systems I visit all over the country that don’t even have signs about not littering, about not riding up “Down” trails, about not bombing down “up” trails; about not blazing by elderly hikers, about not acting like a-holes, but they have signs promoting the local shop, and the local brewery. If a region, whether it be the NE Kingdom, Stowe, Vail, or Moab is going to allow organizers to come in and set up shop for a week, drive their #vanlife Sprinters all over the land and disrespect and irritate the land owners and neighbors, they need to be held accountable in their wallets, as that’s where they seem to do their thinking.
    Local Chambers, MTB clubs, bike manufacturers, and others need to know when to say when, before there is nothing left.

    Just my two cents. Now I’m going to drink an ice cold Heady Topper and cool off.

    1. says: Thibault

      Thanks Tobin, not late to the party at all! This issue is even more relevant today given the spike in activity that Covid has stimulated. The good news is that, with people like you on the watch, our riding community has a conscience strong enough to self diagnose and evaluate what we want and how we are going to do it. I appreciate your opinion. Small, sustainable and educated. Keep preaching the gospel!

      I do like to watch goat yoga though. And Heady Toppers.

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