Recent Press about Brightwood Park
links and comments by JPL
In a letter to the editor of the Westfield Leader dated July 23, 2020, we hear:
Studies have shown that with proper trail design and build offroad biking is no less impactful on the environment than hiking, here is one article supporting these facts,
[I tried to enter the quote exactly as it appears, which may or may not be what the writer originally submitted. I'm not crticizingthe writer! Bless him for writing a letter to the editor. I never would have attempted that when I was in eighth grade (and dinosaurs roamed the Earth).]
Does the article support the claim that offroad biking and hiking are equally impactful? Here's a snippet from the site referenced:
Fortunately, dozens of independent studies on mountain biking and the environment, many of which are published on the International Mountain Bicycling Association's (IMBA) Web site, refute these claims. A June 2003 report posted on Wildlands CPR.com cited several different studies that found no difference between hiking and biking in terms of environmental impact [source: Lathrop]. A March 2007 study posted on the National Trails Training Partnership Web site concludes that "mountain biking is no more damaging than other forms of recreation, including hiking." This same study reported that mountain biking has far less of an impact than equestrian activities [source: Sprung].
I probably wouldn't go to the International Mountain Bicycling Association for an objective study of mountain bicycle trail damage. Unfortunately, the reference above doesn't help much, because the Lathrop and Sprung links are broken. But google to the rescue! With a bit of poking around, we can find a study that reviews (and demolishes) both. It's a readable study with numerous citations. [Lathrop is broken here, too]. The summary:
Mountain bikers have turned to scientific research to try to make mountain biking seem less harmful, and in particular, to studies comparing it with hiking. Although they have interpreted this data as indicating that mountain biking impacts are no greater than those of hiking, a more careful look at these studies leads to the conclusion that mountain biking impacts are actually several times greater than those of hikers.
Some of the important characteristics of mountain biking that have been ignored are: speed; distance traveled; the increase in number of visitors that bikes allow; increased trail-building, with its attendant habitat destruction; the displacement of soil (other than downhill); the killing of roots and soil organisms and ecosystems; most effects on wildlife; manner of riding (skidding, braking, acceleration, turning, and representativeness); tire tread; and noise (bikes are relatively quiet, but a rattling chain may be perceived as "alien" to natural surroundings).
In addition, measuring techniques need to be described in more detail, "blind" measurements should be considered (where the measurers don't know what treatment they are measuring), controls need to be added, and "intangibles" (e.g. loss of feelings of safety and loss of the primitive feel of natural settings) need to be taken more seriously. The direct killing of small animals deserves attention.
On the other hand, why do we need research to prove what is obvious? We don't need any research to know that we shouldn't step in front of a speeding truck. Or mountain bike.
Just as I wouldn't trust everything I read at the International Mountain Bicycling Association, you should do your own research for a reliable source. Watch out for advocacy groups (like this one, and JORBA). Favor university sites, where publishing nonsense can end a career. Avoid social media sites, which try (with amazing accuracy) to direct you to sources you'd like to believe. Ask, "what do the authors have to gain if I accept what they claim?" Apply the "smell test": does this conflict with something that is obvious? If I want to drain a puddle, would I cut a channel from the downhill side, or make staggered impressions? I'll talk more about the science elsewhere. But don't blindly accept anything you read.