For years, as the debate over mountain bikers' access to miles of unsanctioned trails in the city-owned forest buffer around Loch Raven Reservoir has raged on, biking groups have largely focused their criticisms on city officials, calling them stubborn and unreasonable.
They have also repeatedly said the city is targeting them unfairly, while allowing other recreational users of Loch Raven to move about freely.
The surrounding jurisdictions that also receive water from the city's reservoirs — including Baltimore County, where Loch Raven's watershed is mostly located — have largely stayed out of the public fray.
But they haven't remained silent. Namely, through a group called the Reservoir Technical Group, officials from five counties — Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard — have all chimed in.
By and large, they agree with the city's stance.
On Oct. 19, the Reservoir Technical Group — a collective of watershed experts from governments around the Baltimore region — met in the Locust Park offices of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council to catch up on business.
The group, charged with coordinating a multi-jurisdictional effort to safeguard the Loch Raven, Liberty and Prettyboy reservoirs, and the water they supply to about 1.8 million people in the region, is meant to meet every two months. But its members, who represent five counties and various state agencies, came together for the first time in more than a year, following the long illness and death this past summer of the group's former administrator.
Because of the hiatus, there were a lot of matters to attend to and updates to share.
One of those updates, given by Clark Howells, a member and acting watershed manager of Baltimore City's Department of Public Works, concerned the controversy over the city's decision to restrict mountain bikers' access to miles of unsanctioned biking trails in the forest buffer around Loch Raven Reservoir.
The week prior, Howells had taken a series of heated questions about trail restrictions from angry bikers during a tour that included politicians and journalists. He now faced a collective of experts in watershed maintenance who say they are unafraid to challenge their counterparts on reservoir issues in order to protect their jurisdictional interests.
"There's no one in the room that's a pushover," said Jim Slater, the metropolitan council's new water resources program manager, who oversees the group after the death of Gould Charshee on June 11.
"There are times when people have to say, 'Well, from our perspective, we agree or don't agree,' " said Don Outen, a Baltimore County natural resource manager and another member of the group.
But, when Howells finished his briefing on city actions to limit biking, the experts made no objections and raised no eyebrows, members said.
For the group, biking restrictions aren't controversial. They are a point of consensus.
"Without a doubt, my recollection is I don't think anyone took issue," Outen said.
Celeste Amato, a city DPW spokeswoman, said the city's jurisdictional partners are all in agreement on the trail restrictions.
"Our jurisdictional partners are not in favor of increasing recreational activity around the reservoir," Amato said.
According to Lindsay DeMarzo, an environmental planner for Howard County and a group member, Charshee sent a letter with the group's approval to the city on Dec. 16, 2010, that outlined the group's stance on mountain biking at Loch Raven.
The letter to DPW Director Alfred Foxx, which DeMarzo provided a copy of, calls mountain bikers noncompliant with a 1998 agreement on trails, saying bikers routinely cut new trails in sensitive areas without approval, only to turn around and argue with the city that those trails should be considered official and permanent.