Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Conflict and Management Tactics on the Trail

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Conflict and Management Tactics on the Trail

Article excerpt

In recent years, the technological advances in mountain-bike construction have increased the ability of the biker to travel farther into remote areas (Chavez, Winter & Baas, 1993). This has raised some interesting questions and concerns by both the managers of wildlands (Tilmant, 1991; Chavez, 1996b) and other user groups of the outdoors such as hikers and equestrians (Watson & Daigle, 1991). The main concerns of these groups focus on how the mountain biker will impact the trails (Hain 1986; Keller, 1990; Seney 1990), the safety of all groups on the trails (Pettit & Pontes, 1987; Jacoby, 1990), and the satisfaction of their outdoor experience (Ramthun, 1995). To date, there are no federal or state guidelines for managers of these lands to consult when conflicts between user groups arise, though research shows some techniques that managers can use (Chavez, 1996a, 1997b). This article will outline the sources of conflict between user groups as well as offer some management tactics.


Popular lore holds that mountain bikes were first constructed in 1974 by Gary Fisher in Marin County, California. Fisher, a bicycle mechanic-outdoor enthusiast-amateur road racer, desired to connect all of his interests. By brazing a five-speed derailleur to a heavyweight "fat-tire" 1940s Schwinn, he was able to construct a bicycle that could maneuver over the rough terrain of the area (Jacoby, 1990). Fisher produced these custom-made bikes for more than 81,000, but found he could not keep up with production. In 1982, the Specialized Bicycle Company released the first commercially available mountain bike (Jacoby, 1990). Today, mountain-bike production has skyrocketed, while traditional road-bike sales have dropped to a paltry seven percent of the bicycle market (Drake, 1997).

The first areas visited by these new bikes were in the hills of the Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD), located just outside of San Francisco. Bordering the MMWD is Mt. Tamalpais State Park, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and Matin County Open Space land. These areas are filled with diverse topography that afforded these new recreationists a testing ground for a soon-to-be multibillion-dollar industry. Little did these recreation pioneers know that mountain bikes would become the primary mode of transportation and recreation for many people in college towns, cities, and forests across the United States. In 1990, there were 15 million mountainbike owners (Keller, 1990). The majority of these owners, however, will never venture off-road; but for those who do, the market is filled with new technology to allow easy access to even the most remote locations (Brown, 1988). Backcountry areas that were previously only accessible by toot are now reachable by bike. Suspension systems to cushion the hardest rides, specialized gearing to tackle the steepest hills, and pedals that actually clip to the rider's shoe to ensure the most efficient use of energy are all part of creating access to the land for the mountain biker.

Recreationists can use mountain bikes to aid in their pursuit of other activities. For example, a trout fisherman can use his mountain bike to access a lake that usually would require an MI-day hike. Now, instead of having to take a three-day weekend to achieve a goal, only one long day may be needed. This new ability does not come without a cost; increased numbers of mountain bikers in areas previously not available have caused a conflict between bikers and other users. This conflict among user groups has created a need for either a change in the current management strategies or implementation of a management plan by forest planners and managers.


Conflict among recreationists in the outdoors is nothing new. Many studies have been conducted pitting snowmobiling vs. cross-country skiing or canoeing vs. motor boating (Watson, Williams & Daigle, 1991). In both instances the conflict centered around mechanization. …

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