Mountain bikers vs. hikers

Mike Bleech Outdoors Columnist

One has to drive around the Hickory Creek Wilderness frequently to appreciate how much human use it gets. Folks flock to the allure of ‘Wilderness’. You are liable to find hikers and campers in it at any time of the year. Yes, including January and February.

The Allegheny Islands Wilderness may not get much use between January and March, but when float trippers find suitable weather, which does not rule out a few pesky thunderbumpers, just about every one of the wilderness islands is visited almost every day.

It would not surprise me if wilderness areas attract more forest users than boating, fishing or hunting. But this is just guessing.

Now, what does this have to do with mountain bikes?

Mountain biking also is good for the regional economy. It brings in an entirely different crowd. It would be fair to have another mountain biking trail, and maybe even a low-stress biking trail over flatter ground. Biking may eventually recruit new conservationists.

Bikers, hikers, roller-bladers and dog runners get along just fine on the wide, paved trails at Presque Isle State Park.

Not so much when mountain bikes get into the picture on steep, narrow, dirt, mud and gravel trails in wild areas. Let’s be real about this. Mountain bikers include an element that does some ‘hot dogging’.

Hold on a minute, I am not proclaiming hot dogging is a bad thing. I was young, once, after all, and I was as big a knucklehead as any young guy. The message I mean to convey is that mountain bikers should not have to ride in constant fear of striking a hiker. Worse still, not in constant fear of clobbering a hiker. They should have their own trails. Good trails not converted trails.

If someone wants multiple use trails, why not put all bikers on the ATV trails?

Now that is a truly bad idea, just like putting mountain bikers on hiking trails.

Back to Tracy Ridge. Why of all places would the powers that be want to put mountain bikes on the hiking trails on the last, largest roadless section of the Allegheny National Forest?

Perhaps to prevent it from being designated as a wilderness area?

Are the slopes leading down to the Allegheny Reservoir ever going to be timbered?

I can not imagine any situation in which the trees along those reservoir slopes would ever be allowed to be harvested. And in the unlikely case of national security, the trees still would be there. Those slopes require the protection of trees that hold the slopes in place. For proof, look at the Allegheny River slopes between Irvine and Tidioute when the leaves are off the trees. All of those small cuts running down the slopes were caused by erosion following the timbering of the slopes.

Some protections for the Tracy Ridge area already are in place. This area should be wilderness. It is not asking for much. Here more than anywhere else on the Allegheny National Forest is our best opportunity to add another small wilderness.

I do not want to be at odds with the timber industry on this issue. I am firmly a supporter of the timber industry which on their own lands practice wise forest management and harvest. As some of the timber folks are fond of saying, “Trees grow back”.

Harvesting timber is one of the greatest kindnesses we can do for the biological community on the Allegheny National Forest. Timber harvest is just doing the same job that forest fires once did.

A forest with uneven-age management, with many edges, with a variety of vegetation, will support a much better diversity of wildlife than a virtual monoculture. The timber companies of today are forest conservationists. There was a long time when timber cutters thought the forest could never end. They were terribly wrong, and the results have in many places degraded the landscape.

One of my favorite places on the Kinzua Quality Deer Cooperative, which includes a section of Allegheny National Forest and several private landowners, is on a section that includes Kane Hardwoods land and Bradford Municipal Water Supply land. In addition to being some of the most rugged lands on the Allegheny National Forest, it teems with the game and non-game animals. It is well managed.