Monday, May 19, 2008

how I learned to stop cycling and hate ATV's

As a cyclist, a runner and a member of East Hampton Trails Preservation Society, I represent Team HOPS (yes, will MTB for beer) and East End trail runners, some 200 EH town residents, many of whom, if not most, are registered voters.

I live in thewoods, just outside the village, and my partner and I have cut trails from our front door, into the woods to join the myriad trails in the area. Dennis and I recently donated a section of our property to East Hampton town to facilitate the growth of the trail system, and make it possible to hike uninterrupted from the Merchant’s path / Barcelona neck area to Division Street in Sag Harbor. We regularly ride and run these trails, three to four or more times weekly, sometimes together time permitting, often I run and ride alone. Frequently we note the new damage to the trails from dirt bikes, and mentally make notes of any trails leading into nearby driveways. Occasionally, we photograph these trails, sending the photos of the damage to town hall, indignantly recording our experiences. I have never gotten a follow up call with reference to the damage, the photos or the solutions needed. When we encounter dirt bikes on the trails, we try to intercept them, advise them of their legality, or lack thereof, infrequently getting the message across. Always, we call the police to report the presence of the bikes, indicating their direction of travel, entry point etc.

This winter / late spring, Dennis being particularly busy at work, I had been more often riding alone, around Buckskill loop, up Millers ground, when as on more than one occasion, I heard dirt bikes.
This time, I cut my loop short after Toyland and the S+M trail, turned west onto Townline road and approached the group. A white crew cab Chevy pick up truck was parked on the side of the dirt road, ¼ mile or so east of the intersection with the power lines, and a group of teenagers (old enough to drive by the way) were hanging out:3 of them tearing up the trailside, riding up and down the berm and embankments, and 3 or so others hanging by the truck. I rode my bike up to the 2 males, one female by the truck, and asked them in my most adult, calm voice, if they knew that it was not permitted to ride on the trails. I got little in return so I offered that if they felt they needed somewhere legal to ride, they should be lobbying town hall for a space, getting their parents involved and trying to come up with a place other than the local trails, which are neither suitable for dirtbikes nor legal. One of the bikers began circling closer, yelling at me and spraying “rooster tails” of sand and dirt as he made aggressively sharp turns within 1-2 feet from where I was standing. When he stopped for a moment, I invited him and his friends to a EHTPS (East Hampton Trails Preservation Society) meeting, to present their case for searching out a suitable piece of land for dirt bikes to use: “maybe” I offered, “the EHTPS group might support you if you are seen to be active in repairing trails and communicating with the town in a co-ordinated manner”. He continued to yell, this time, obscenities, and his friends began to counter with comments like “shut-up dude, she’s trying to be nice”.. to no avail. He continued to verbalize louder, more coarse comments, calling me an F****** lesbian, a F******* dyke, and ordering me to “go home and get some more p****” and the like.

Having grown up in an Irish household with two brothers several years older, and their punk friends, I have heard more than my fair share of coarse language. Never did I expect to have it hurled at me from a teenager, and certainly not while I was alone, cycling in the woods. I cautiously turned to go home, passing through the group as I made my way back to the trail, and fully expected something to come through the air at me, glad I was wearing my bike helmet, but annoyed that I didn’t have my phone. When I got home 5 minutes later, I called the police, and returned to the area with a furious Dennis, glad for their sake, that they had left the area. No follow up from the police after a report of verbal assault, nothing..
I know who these kids are; at least, I will recognize them if and when I see them again, in the woods or on the street. Will I to be certain to have my cell phone and camera as I go for a run or ride in the woods in future? Absolutely. Am I to have the EH and SH town police on speed dial? Absolutely. Should this be a normal activity for a single woman to have while running in broad daylight on town property? Absolutely not.

From my perspective, this ugly incident aside, it is a health and safety issue at hand. The use of trails by dirt bikes and cyclists is not mutually compatible. Motorized users cannot hear, see or react in a safe fashion to other, legal, users: this increases the likelihood of injuries, even fatalities. Since these are town owned (and managed) lands that are in question, the town is responsible for provision of safe passage to its residents. Anything less is a failing of the town to adequately safeguard against known dangers. There is a legal as well as a moral obligation to protect EH town citizens against the verbal and possibly, in the future, physical injury resultant from the continued illegal use of local trails by ATV / Dirt bike users.

I am presenting this letter, this post, as a part of an EHTPS committee presentation to the East Hampton town board, to challenge the town regarding the lack of police patrol, lack of accountability for those idiot scofflaws, lack of impounding a single ATV or dirtbike in 2007, and to publicize the growing concern amongst hikers and bikers regarding the total destruction of our habitat. Oh yes, and did I mention that as solo female runners and bikers, we may now be concerned for our safety??

I may have forgotten to mention that Dennis bought me a Marlin rifle for my birthday this month..with the objective of training to compete in winter biathlon in the 2009 season (skate skiing+marksmanship at anaerobic pace): however,if recent developments on the woods are left unmanaged, I may be forced into spring training on a local route..(Reed, are you up to doing a loop after work tomorrow?? :) )

No comments: