This comes up a lot. Usually when talking with friends about which very broad and generic group is ruining the outdoors. Lately we’ve been following the question of whether or not to allow mountain biking at Big Bend National Park. I think an important point is missing in the overall discussion. The real problem is not any one group of people but rather individuals (and groups of individuals) who make bad decisions.
I spend a lot of time on the trials (615 miles of trails so far this year to be exact) and I rarely have a bad encounter with another human being. It doesn’t matter if I’m on a bike or walking. Nor does it matter if the other people are on a bike, walking, or horseback riding. Everyone is always incredibly polite to each other in the classic “you go first, no you go first” kind of way.
There are problems to be sure. Mountain bikers are easy to target, they move a lot faster than hikers and can easily spook horses. I’ve seen mountain bike tracks on trails that are clearly marked for hikers only. In a lot of ways mountain bikers are their own worst enemy because they don’t realize (or just don’t care) how other people can get a little bit nervous when they approach.
But there are plenty of hikers out there who should climb down off their pedestal. Every time I pass plastic water bottles, trail mix bags and my personal favorite, bags of dog poop left on the side of the trail I think wow, this person has the same selfish, short term mindset of a mountain biker who won’t slow down for 5 seconds to safely get around a group of hikers.
I love mountain biking and I love hiking and I believe that there is enough room in the outdoors for everyone’s preferred type of recreation. Also from what I’ve seen the vast majority of people manage to co-recreate with little to no conflict.
Too address the problems, real long term solutions are going to come from changing peoples minds on how they behave in the woods, something that is very hard to do. It is just much easier to skirt the real problems by blaming one entire group of people who happen to be different.