Sierra Club Joins Lawsuit Against Mountain Bike Park


mountain_bike_trail_470There appears to be no easy path to a planned mountain bike park at Timberline on Mt. Hood. This past week the Sierra Club joined a lawsuit brought by local environmental groups in Oregon against the planned construction of a 17-mile network of singletrack and downhill trails on the lower slopes of the mountain. The lawsuit against the Forest Service says the trails would increase erosion into the sensitive headwaters of Still Creek and the West Fork of the Salmon River and disturb summer recreation such as hiking, and possibly disturb wildlife, including elk, that rely on high alpine meadows during calving season.

Timberline says the suit’s claims are identical to ones the environmental groups brought during the formal appeal process — an appeal that was dismissed because the USFS found the park would cause “no significant impact.” Perhaps the most compelling statement in all of this is simply this: “Our plan to build a world-class bike park is consistent with the Mt. Hood Forest Plan and is consistent with Timberline’s original and essential purpose,” which was envisioned by President Franklin Roosevelt as “active and egalitarian recreational use.” Or, to read between the lines, this isn’t a national park. There are ski lifts that already provide access to hikers, and ski resorts nationwide are seeing an opportunity in a growing mountain biking demographic — hiking, by contrast, isn’t in the midst of a youth movement. The Sierra Club likely joined the suit because they fear Hood as a bellwether for ski resorts. But unreliable snowpack means environmentalists are going to be up against such plans at an increasing clip. And a common complaint by mountain bikers is just this: Shouldn’t the Sierra Club be fighting oil pipelines and coal mines, not people who would otherwise be their allies?

Via Bike Portland, Oregon Live.

Photo via Gravity Logic

{ 31 comments…read them below or write one }

  • S.L.

    I am ashamed that I was once a member of the Sierra Club. This lawsuit is just another of the long list of the Sierra Club’s absurd actions in allying themselves against other environmentally conscious outdoor user groups.

    Like many readers of AJ, I participate in many types of outdoor recreation. Unfortunately the Sierra Club believes that the outdoors can (and should) only be enjoyed at a walking pace. Bad news if you like anything besides hiking with your walking stick.

    Rather than working at unifying outdoor user groups toward a common goal of sustainable outdoor recreation and preservation, the Sierra Club has chosen to treat skiers, mountain bikers, and many other outdoor athletes as the anti-christ.

    The Sierra Club should be excited about this project and supporting sustainably built trails to satisfy a growing user group. The #1 factor in erosion is proper trail design and construction. Bike parks in ski resorts can be built to high environmental standards and have the benefit of maintenance staff. Most mountain bikers are also hikers, runners, backpackers, skiers, etc. Alienate them and you lose millions of supporters and tens of millions in financial support.

    If you like to do anything but hike (with a walking stick), DO NOT GIVE MONEY TO THE SIERRA CLUB. Your outdoor activity may be the next in the crosshairs of the Sierra Club.

    (Incidentally, I’m an outdoor lover who probably logs more miles on foot than 98% of the Sierra Clubbers. Some days I put on running shoes, some days hiking boots, some days bike shoes, and some days skis The notion that I’m evil because I ride a mountain bike is absurd. I ride bikes for the same reasons I hike or run.)

    • Trey C.

      Agreed on every level! I will never again join the Sierra Club either. They want to entire forest to themselves. Their lame excuses have no merit. Bikes already are not allowed anywhere in the designated Wilderness areas which amounts to approximately 110 Million Acres.

    • Bob

      I was a trail runner before I was a mountain biker. It was clear to me that hikers disliked trail runners too. Ideally, they want a trail with no one on it but themselves, NOT EVEN OTHER HIKERS.

    • Ralph Bloemers

      Dear Folks,

      I write to explain that the issues involved in this suit are not about whether downhill mountain biking is a legit use of our national forest lands. The suit is not anti-mountain bike, quite to the contrary the central issues in this suit stem from three words: location, location and location.

      The Forest Service has failed to consider the impacts of Timberline’s development plans within the Timberline ski permit area, which is in a location high on Mt. Hood with highly erosive, volcanic soils, sensitive species, and chronically degraded watersheds. The groups challenging the Forest Service’s decision to allow further development at Timberline are fighting to ensure that the Forest Service, not only complies with the law, but that its decisions are open and transparent.

      http://crag.org/2013/05/18/case-will-decide-future-of-hoods-alpine-flanks-at-timberline/

      As the complaint explains in detail, first, in addition to the bike park, Timberline has plans for a new day lodge, an 800-car parking lot, and a tubing hill within the ski area. These projects are all listed as part of Timberline’s Master Development Plan. Many people are not aware of Timberline’s master plan, much less the fact that the Forest Service accepted the plan without any environmental review or input from the public. Timberline proposes the new lodge and the parking lot within the same subalpine location and watersheds as the bike park. In addition to the impacts of the other projects in the master plan, the 17 miles of bike routes will convert a total of 12 acres of vegetated meadows and forest into bare mineral soils and the bike routes will double the number of stream crossings in this subalpine location.

      Second, the Mt. Hood Forest Plan protects Sensitive Species within the Sandy Basin Watershed, which includes the headwaters of Still Creek and the West Fork of the Salmon River where Timberline wants to build the bike park, the new day lodge, and new parking lot. The Forest Plan imposes specific Aquatic Conservation Strategy objectives for these lands and within these subwatersheds. The location here is currently in a chronically degraded condition because of past construction and existing ski operations. The fine sediment levels in Still Creek and the West Fork of the Salmon are far in excess of the levels allowed under the Forest Plan. The complaint alleges that Timberline has failed to achieve success with past restoration and mitigation and that past construction and operations have contributed to the degradation of these watersheds beyond what the Forest Plan allows.

      People are right that the public lands within the Timberline ski area is not designated Wilderness, but these lands are governed by the Mt. Hood Forest Plan and the Northwest Forest Plan, which have specific protections for fish and other aquatic species. Timberline wants to develop in an area that contains the only known habitat for a Sensitive Species called the Scott’s Apatanian caddisfly. Timberline’s development plans also negatively impact critical habitat for threatened Lower Columbia River winter steelhead.

      Third, in a scientifically controversial move, the Forest Service used studies from low elevation areas (e.g. one from the Piedmont of Virginia) to support its key assumptions regarding the effectiveness of plans to try to reduce the input of fine sediment in the headwater streams within Timberline’s ski permit area. This high elevation, subalpine area has volcanic soils and conditions that are far different from Virginia.

      Even taking into consideration trail designs like those on Sandy Ridge, the Forest Service determined that the bike park would deliver a significant pulse of fine sediment into Still Creek and the West Fork Salmon. It all comes down to location: the conditions and soils at the ski area are different than Sandy Ridge and any other location where Gravity Logic has previously built a bike park. And the sub-alpine location here has proved very challenging to restore – Timberline faces significant challenges in its future efforts to restore degraded areas in the sub-alpine of Mt. Hood.

      The problems at this location led the Forest Service to devise a plan to couple authorization for the new bike routes and skills park on restoration projects for 6 acres of disturbed and degraded land. The bike routes and skills park will itself expose 12 acres of erosive soil. The restoration of 6-acres includes projects to obliterate old roads, and an attempt to restore areas affected by past construction where previous restoration attempts failed.

      The Forest Service’s assumptions about how quickly the restoration will be effective and how effective they will be are scientifically controversial. More importantly, as the complaint alleges, the NW Forest Plan prohibits the Forest Service from substituting restoration projects for additional degradation in wetland areas known as Riparian Reserves. Going forward the key questions are whether the restoration work can be accomplished at this location, whether the restoration will be ecologically effective, and when the benefits of the work will occur.

      Now as to expanding opportunities for mountain biking, there are opportunities to add hundreds of miles to the system in the Mt. Hood National Forest alone, both for lift-assisted users and for those who wish to earn their downhill turns. There is an adventure park already at Ski Bowl just 10 minutes away with 40 miles of downhill bike trails, which serves all levels of riders and has plenty of room for expansion. Sandy Ridge has a fairly extensive free to use system. Mt. Bachelor is building a bike park on its existing area. Within Forest Service Region 6, there are over 18,858 miles of trails on public lands managed by the Forest Service where bicycles are allowed and over 1,158 miles of trails that are specifically managed for mountain biking.

      The singular focus on the Sierra Club is misplaced and simple stereotypes about the opposition may provide a convenient way to dismiss the concerns, but I urge you all to scratch the surface and learn more. There are four conservation groups that filed the suit and in all likelihood this case would have proceeded without the Sierra Club. All of these groups have a long history in the conservation of Mt. Hood. The future of development and access to Mt. Hood is very important to the Sierra Club and to many other local conservation organizations. The Sierra Club was also involved in the coalition of groups in the master plan expansion issues at Mt. Hood Meadows in the 1990s. For more than two decades the Sierra Club has been involved with Friends of Mt. Hood, Mazamas, Oregon Nordic Club, Oregon Wild, Bark, Friends of Tilly Jane and others in efforts to ensure the conservation of the North Side of Mt. Hood at Cooper Spur. The Sierra Club was a leader in recent Wilderness and Wild & Scenic River conservation efforts that President Obama signed into law in 2009.

      In my experience, the Sierra Club has demonstrated that it is one of the most democratic non-profit organizations out there. Every leader is elected by its membership. The group has paid staff but it is really run by thousands of volunteers nationwide. The organization has people young and old, seasoned and fresh, inspiring and thoughtful. The organization’s recent decision to change its policy in the face of climate change and the proposal to build a tar sands pipeline called Keystone XL is downright inspiring. The Sierra Club went from just lending moral support to those who engage in civil disobedience to actually permitting it outright. David Brower did amazing work in the early days to draw attention to the stakes for our natural world and here in the Pacific Northwest the Sierra Club has been a strong advocate for the protections for old growth forests and wild areas.

      In my experience, the Sierra Club is very mindful and carefully weighs and considers the pros and cons of each case it takes on. From what I have seen and heard, the relationships the Sierra Club has with the biking community are very important to it, have been productive, and have borne fruit both locally and nationwide – and more success is likely on the way. http://www.sierraclub.org/policy/conservation/mtnbike.aspx

      As to this suit, the leadership in the Oregon Chapter voted to enter into this litigation after lengthy deliberation and approval from its national leadership. Without conducting a poll, I know the Oregon Executive Committee includes at least 3 mountain bikers. I understand that locally in Oregon and nationwide Sierra Club leaders are involved with joint efforts with the biking community to expand conservation protections on public lands in a mutual gains fashion. While there is not universal agreement with the biking community, there is a fair measure of agreement and I expect that the reasonable people in both communities will continue to work with each other despite this specific legal action.

      I hope this note helps to inform those that wish to be so. Stay tuned!

      Ralph Bloemers
      Staff Attorney, Crag Law Center
      http://www.crag.org

      • Justin

        Interesting that many of the commenters here have seen a very different side to the SC than what you’re describing. I’m inclined to believe that they’re not all delusional and that you have a vested interest in authenticating the claims in the suit.

        At surface level it does seem pretty strange for SC to pick this fight– alienating outdoor enthusiasts to stop a recreational area from being built on what is… already a recreational area.

  • Mark

    I am also ashamed I was once a member of the Sierra Club. They are slowly becoming irrelevant as their average age continues to climb and they continue to alienate their allies.

  • Glenn

    I have to agree with the previous comments. I had once been a member and regular contributor to the Utah chapter of Sierra Club. Unfortunately their increasing stance against almost any sport in wild areas has made me sever ties. Participation in mtb, skiing, and climbing were what originally peaked my interest in protection of the wild places. They allowed me to enjoy the flora and fauna of the American West from a different perspective, and as such I felt a certain obligation to help protect those places. Fencing off the wild places of the world, and keeping the public from enjoying it was not John Muir’s vision.

    Back to their original claim of increasing erosion. Any good trail builder can easily mitigate erosion. Plus we are talking about the base of a ski resort, not a pristine stretch of the sierras.

  • GB

    This is not an uncommon position among “environmental” organizations. Sad. Mountain bikers should be embraced as the good land stewards that they are. In my local area, the most active group when it comes to trail preservation, trail building and trail maintenance is the mountain bikers, not the hikers.

  • Shidan Towfiq

    The previous three comments are great to see and I sincerely hope that the tide is turning against the Sierra Club. I proudly display a “Sierra Club – Kiss My Ass!” bumper sticker on my truck as a tool to help start the conversation with people about the Sierra Club and why I oppose them. They are an exclusionary group who will never stop pushing for places without other forms of recreation, except foot traffic. As a mountain biker, snowmobiler, snowboarder, motorcycle rider, hiker, backpacker (in that order) the Sierra Club continues to push to eliminate areas where I can enjoy my favorite sports.

    The general public donate to groups like the Sierra Club, funding their lawsuits and driving their exclusionary agenda and I bet most of them don’t know what they’re doing to forest-loving people who actually visit the forest on a regular basis. The first three to post undoubtedly contributed money to the cause for some time before realizing what the impact of their participation in this club would be. After learning, I’m glad to see they are evangelizing against the Sierra Club, as I am, and I hope more people tell their friends not to donate to the Sierra Club and other exclusionary groups that do not support multi-use recreation on public lands.

  • Stiv Wilson

    Has anyone actually done a real environmental impact assessment to see whether there is an actual environmental impact that threatens the ecosystem? Estimates on usage? (humans bring trash, dogs, and all sorts of impact- even mountain bikers who as demographic, I wouldn’t consider ‘pro environment’ as a whole). Here’s a more in depth article on this if anyone is interested–

    http://bikeportland.org/2013/05/17/sierra-club-signs-onto-lawsuit-to-stop-timberline-mtb-park-86966

    • Trey C.

      The USFS mission is focused on Timber Sales, Mining, and Gas/Oil exploration. They allow clear-cutting of huge tracts of forest on a regular basis. Do you believe that this practice has no environmental impact? What about erosion? You blindly generalize the mountain bike community as anti-environment! Wow!

  • Mo

    Sierra Club called me on Monday asking for donations (I’m a member), and I obliged with $35. I’m emailing them today to ask for my money back, and am promptly turning around and giving it to IMBA (www.imba.com). If you want to support mountain biking, put your money where your mouth is.

  • Graham Williams

    Like Stiv, I live in Portland, and am a bit active in my community. I’d recommend folks checking out this position statement from Crag Law, which is our local leading non-profit, environmental law firm. They are all active skiers, climbers and bikers. But Mt Hood is a wilderness area, and a watershed and personally, I think we’re screwed environmentally and we should try to protect the most fragile areas that we have left.

    I’ve seen Crag protecting access to places for us. I have to give them the benefit of the doubt over the operators of a ski area that’s desperate for year round revenue.

    I don’t know all the facts, I’m not an expert, but I think it’s worth at least checking out Crag’s position before everybody gets their panties in a twist.

    • Ed

      There is a ski area on Mt. Hood. It most certainly is NOT a wilderness area. If it were, mountain bikes would be completely banned. Nor would there be ski lifts. It may be national forest land or have parts that are wilderness, but the ski area where these trails would be built is not wilderness.

    • Ted

      The southern face of Mt. Hood is no more a Wilderness area than is Mt. Tabor in east Portland. If it were a Wilderness area, neither the road up to Timberline Lodge nor the lodge itself could exist.

      By the way, there is no law passed by Congress that bars mountain bikes from areas that are officially designated Wilderness. The agencies themselves came up with that as administrative rules in the 1970s and 1980s, perhaps because they were sweet-talked into it by the Sierra Club, Wilderness Society, and similarly one-dimensional groups. At times between 1977 and 1984 and at all times before 1977, mountain bikers were riding in Wilderness areas and it was legal even under the agency rules.

  • Duncan Parks

    To Graham: There are wilderness areas on Mt. Hood (quite a few, actually), but Timberline does not fall in one of those (it couldn’t, of course). By law, you can’t put a mountain bike trail in a Wilderness area, and the Timberline trails would fall outside Wilderness.

    As to the impact of mountain biking, it’s kind of hard to plausibly believe it would outweigh what is already there. First off the clearcuts (ski runs) are already there; trail construction pales in comparison. Second, professional mountain bike trail crews are *really* good at preventing erosion; look at a place like Sandy Ridge, which sheds water really well, and puts the rutted, water-barred tracks typical of a national park trail to shame.

    What’s going on here is opposition to adding singletrack trail construction to an existing ski area (complete with lodge, huge parking lots, gravel service roads, and lots of ski lifts). It’s hardly pristine land. The impact of building the trails is probably smaller than that of the gravel ODOT dumps on the road in a single ski season. The payoff, of couse, is getting much more recreational use out of what amounts to a big scar on the mountain in the summer. Does opposing this make any sense?

  • Scott Fennell

    Please; Give Me a Break.
    This is ridiculous. There can never be anything wrong with bringing people closer to nature.

  • Darrell Finlayson

    A: It IS possible to build sustainable mt bike trails. Trail building techniques that will not contribute to erosion and excess siltation of the watershed are very well known and established.
    The user group that has done the most to advance sustainable trail building techniques in the last 20 years has been mt bikers. If the IMBA freeride guidlines are followed, the trails will be sustainable.

    B: There is already lift served mt biking in the region at Mt Hood Ski bowl.

    C: There is already mt biking on the slopes of Mt Hood from Timberline down the Skiway trail. IMHO, this is not really that sustainable as a mt bike trail as it’s very fall-line in nature and was not engineered or designed as a bike trail. It is a xc ski trail that has been co-opted by bikes. Actually designing sustainable trails will give riders a place go and contain the use to areas that are manageable.

    D: If Timberline Ski area is not seeking to expand the lift served ski terrain, and only establish lift served mt bike trails within their permit area, and the USFS has already said “OK”, then the Sierra Club should, respectfully, back off and spend their time and money elsewhere.

    E: Mt bikers could be a very valuable ally in many of the Sierra Club’s efforts, if they are not alienated.

    F: I work in the ski resort industry and build and maintain trail for a living. I know first hand that a bike park in the area in question can be built sustainable. It will be time consuming and expensive, (especially for the pumice and sandy types of soil in the region) but if the USFS demands “best practices” and the Timberline resort is patient, it could happen.

    G: As for user group and wildlife conflict: In Park City Utah, I’m outside all day long at a lift served mt. bike park and I see moose, mule deer, fox, rabbits, badgers, marmot, hawks, ground squirrels, various chipmunks and tree squirrels, all kinds of butterflies, ravens and other birds. There are occasionally bears and mt lions sighted in the region also, which is criss crossed by about 400 miles of singletrack mt bike trails. The only local fauna I don’t see close to bike trails or operating ski lifts are elk. So… lots of animals have been able to adapt and co-exist with the lift served and xc mt biking in the Park City region.
    In terms of user group conflict: if there are hiker only trails that are signed and available as hiker only, that solves the problem of hikers and bikers meeting. If the trail network master plan is laid out properly, hiker only zones will be well away from biker zones. Any point where downhill bike trails may cross a hiker only trail, you can engineer the trail to provide a reverse grade and good sight lines and signage to slow the speeds down and give the bikers the heads up that they need to yield to hikers. Additionally, it is increasingly common to design and manage trail systems so that certain trails are up hill only, thus preventing conflict with up hill vs. down hill traffic.

    Summary: From the little bit that I know, the Sierra Club effort is obstructionist, based on misinformation, and ill advised. For the record, I am a staunch supporter of limiting ski area expansion in my home region, even though I work in the resort industry. Mt biking can be an acceptable sustainable recreational use of USFS lands as long as “best practices” are used in the trail construction.

  • John F

    We have this same kind of dialog going on in Sedona. I personally went to the local Game and Fish and asked them if there were any studies that show there is a significant siltation issue in Oak Creek. The Game Warden said there is no such study that indicates the hundered’s of miles of mountain bike trails in Sedona are causing significant siltation to the pristine Oak Creek.He said, “any claim that mountain bike trails cause a significant impact to the creek is anecdotal.”

    So here is my question “is there any study in the whole world that that proves mountain bike trails create significant siltation to a pristine lake or river?” If so I sure would like to see a legitimate study, so I can feel there is some truth to what someone like the Sierra Club claims. Does anyone know what additional percentage increase in slitation by a seventeen mile mountain bike trail system constitutes a significant siltation increase? Or would the answer by the Sierra Club be any percentage increase is considered to be significant.

    Total amount of siltation (supported by a legitimate study) divided by the total amount of siltation by all other sources (natural and man made) equals no greater than what percentage?????????

  • Tim Green

    As an avid outdoorsmen, OHV user and property owner it is almost awe inspiring to see another user groups eyes awaken to the money hungry farce that is the Sierra Club. We as a group have been and will continue to fight this fight for many, many years. The original message of the Sierra Club was a noble one but has turned into nothing more than an elitist money hungry sue factory. The money garnered from their incessant, trivial law suits is staggering. I have in recent years had to work closely with several different agencies, USFS, Fish and Game and SMUD and I will say even the forest service is becoming tired of this group along with the many other groups it supports. Keep the pressure on, the tide is turning and people want their “Public Lands” back.

  • J Woodhew

    The incredible lack of logic that is driving the anti mountain biking fervor has added me to the long list of former wilderness supporters. Not to mention that this project does not lie within a wilderness area or WSA. These people and groups left their sensibilities behind long ago, and have firmly cast themselves as exclusive extremists. I ask the Sierra Club etc. to reconsider their ideas of what compromises responsible recreation, engage in pro-active egalitarian decision making, and make me a wilderness supporter once again.

    • Ted

      “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”

      ― Eric Hoffer, The Temper of Our Time

  • epo pusher

    well as a mtbr i am torn on the subject. i personaly have seen pro corporate money grubbers and big corporations dominate the landscape not only in parks.but in.the political arena. first they make it offlimits then they abuse and pollute. or local state governments sell it off to UN control.

    on the other hand i have seen synthetic chemicals get leeched from bikes into the soil. chain and suspension oils.

    if you want to preserve something it has to stay off limits to everyone.

    that means no group, gov, corporation, hiker, biker, skier every kind of people.

    so you either preserve it from.everyone or give.access to.everyone. there is no middle.ground long.term.

  • T

    Epo pusher, how have you seen “synthetic chemicals get leeched from bikes into the soil. chain and suspension oils”? Just curious. Thanks =)

  • donut

    If the Sierra Club would like to make an impact in the Mt Hood National Forest how about they go after Daimler Trucks NA who routinely use highways 26, 35, and hwy 84 as a testing ground for HUNDREDS of large tractor trailer trucks on a daily basis. Go pick that fight and make a positive impact for this wonderland that we live in instead of just stalling a process and pissing people off.

  • Tim Moon at Adventure Strong

    I understand not wanting to impact wildlife and all that. But considering all the activity that already goes on around Mount Hood, I don’t think a bike park will create a disruption big enough to justify the lawsuit.

    Also, as a mountain biker, I’d love to have a nice bike park close by.

  • Max

    I definitely have always found it disappointing and ironic that whenever there is an opportunity for trail maintenance around my area, the majority of the people helping out are mountain bikers, despite the fact that most of trails that require maintenance do not allow cyclists. That’s dedication.

    SC needs to learn to pick their battles.

  • Tim Cardoza

    The Sierra Club is making a mistake in being adversaries to mountain biking in general and to this project in particular. The location is already a DEVELOPED outdoor recreation area, not pristine wilderness.

    I consider myself an avid conservationist and outdoor recreation enthusiast. I support preservation of wilderness and roadless areas, but not draconian restrictions against a particular user group in an area already designated for developed recreation.

    Wake up Sierra Club — If you want young people to care about the woods, you have to help get them out side and off their computers and video games in the first place. Going for a nice nature hike probably isn’t what is going to be the first thing to make that happen.

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