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No more singletrack trails in parks, please

  • Author: Susan Valenti
    | Opinion
  • Updated: May 2, 2017
  • Published May 2, 2017

I am disturbed by the article published in the ADN Sports & Outdoors section on Thursday, April 20: "Hillside to get more singletrack cycling trails."

While I enjoy seeing trail users have fun during our short Alaska summers, I worry that our safety and the safety of the wildlife that inhabit areas around Anchorage's expanding trail system is increasingly threatened by the growth of singletrack trails. The continued construction of singletrack trails further bisects the habitat of large and potentially dangerous animals, namely, bears and moose. And with that fragmentation more encounters are inevitable, which may lead to tragedy.

On June 25, 2014, the Alaska Dispatch News published an article "One Wild Ride" and quoted a singletrack supporter who touted the "thrilling new bike trails in Kincaid." Rose Austin was quoted as stating (the singletrack trail) "sets a standard for our trails and what we can do with our terrain." But, I wonder how much more terrain can be sacrificed this way without creating safety hazards for both people and wildlife. Unfortunately, I see no evidence that the singletrack folks are aware of or care about some of the impacts that building these trails presents.

In the 2017 article, Singletrack Advocates president Lee Bolling states that the new trails "expands the trails already there provides (sic) a more diverse trail network." This, despite a statement in the 2014 article that there are already hundreds of miles of multiuse trails to choose from. So why do we need more of these particular trails? I've heard it argued that problems between bikers and other users on multiuse trails is a good reason to create new singletrack trails, but their abundance can actually lead to wildlife-human conflicts on the nearby multiuse trails — for instance when animals agitated by close encounters on singletrack trails run off and meet people on other paths, creating more potential for injury.

I can't help but wonder why members of the Anchorage Parks and Recreation Commission would so casually give their "blessing" to this new project. Are they not aware of the number of wildlife/human encounters that turned out badly with fast-moving bikes? Remember the teenager who participated in the Tour of Anchorage and was seriously mauled on a trail in Far North Bicentennial Park?  Has our collective memory faded, perhaps because there haven't been any similar high-profile human/wildlife encounters in the last few years?

On Oct. 14, 2013, the Anchorage Daily News ran an article about a cyclist who was carrying a gun and shot a moose that he said made him feel threatened while biking a trail in Kincaid Park. Nature writer Bill Sherwonit wrote an article referring to that incident on Oct. 28, 2013. He stated that according to the police report, the cyclist's dog was off-leash and apparently the dog's barking had agitated the moose. As far as I know, there were no witnesses and I understand the moose was not immediately killed but seriously injured. Consequently, police had to find the moose and kill it. Since it is legal to carry guns in our parks, I worry that there will be further incidents of this nature and that other trail users may be injured or even killed by wounded animals.

I admit, I don't have a favorable opinion of persons I encounter riding on our trails. Several times while walking or biking on multiuse trails, I've been surprised by bikers who haven't given me the required auditory signal. Twice I have narrowly missed being hit by a speeding cyclist coming around a blind corner and once I had to fling myself off a trail to avoid being hit. Is there reason to believe that any cyclist, especially ones that are enthusiastic singletrack trail supporters, cares about my safety and the right of wildlife to have some unbroken habitat? Only one of these riders apologized for the danger they posed. None of the others seemed to even realize that I was there. Since those incidents, I have felt more fearful of other humans on the trails, especially cyclists, much less so of moose and bears. And, I have given up cycling because I don't need serious injuries. I'll take my chances with the wildlife.

Thankfully, there are others who feel the same way I do and have expressed their concerns. Kudos to Rick Sinnott's article in the April 24 Sports & Outdoors section "When bikers and bears collide," where he discusses the sometimes fatal results of riding a bike at high speed and hitting a bear.

Thus far, I have seen little evidence that these singletrack advocates are going to watch their behavior. They seem to be all about their fun and thrills. They seem to feel their recreation takes priority over wildlife needs. I hope they can prove me wrong; I would like to see all of us out there enjoying ourselves while wildlife goes about its business. We have to strike a balance and occasionally put on the brakes, because if we don't, sooner or later we're going to run into something and it may not be pleasant.

So, I say to Anchorage Parks and Recreation Commission: No more singletrack trails!

Susan Valenti is an avid birder, former volunteer with the Bird Learning and Treatment Center and a wildlife advocate.

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