Mountain biking in Loch Raven


A RECENT LETTER in The Sun responded to an earlier article about the riding of mountain bikes in the Loch Raven watershed area.

The headline had been "Bikers fight for their turf," and the letter writer, Jo Owen, objected to the implication that Loch Raven is mountain bikers' turf in the first place. "This environmentally sensitive area," she wrote, must be protected from two-wheeled hell-raisers.

It seems to me that the attack on mountain bikers has itself been based on erroneous assumptions. First is that Loch Raven is an environmentally sensitive area. As Ms. Owens points out in her letter, Loch Raven is "designated for the protection of drinking water."

Now, mountain bikers across the country have made concessions in their use of public trails. In many national parks, designated wilderness areas and back-country areas, riders have agreed to refrain from using certain trails and to restrain their enthusiasm on others where usage is shared with hikers, birders and others.

However, there is a large and critical difference between a park and a watershed. The sole purpose of setting aside the thousands of acres that constitute Loch Raven was to create a reservoir of water that could be purified for the citizens of Baltimore and its surroundings. A beautiful area of trails and green trees and diverse animal life was created, but this was a secondary benefit.

Since the watershed area was created to protect the quality of water in the reservoir, the only legitimate reason for banning mountain biking would be if it degraded the water quality. The anti-biking contingent has made this charge, but what they disapprove of is tire tracks and muddy bogs that bikers create along the soggy sections of trails.

While some may find a tracked and muddy stream crossing unsightly, calling it degrading to the water quality is specious and ecologically indefensible. Even if traces of silt were to find their way to the reservoir -- and the most cursory inspection will reveal that they do not -- silt does not degrade water. Thus the attack on mountain bikers is based not on ecological, but on aesthetic, concerns. And aesthetic preferences are subjective and debatable, and certainly no basis for law.

If people want truly to protect Loch Raven, they should look beyond the knobby tires of mountain bikes to the zoning that has allowed private houses to be built ever closer to the reservoir. They should wonder about the environmental impact of the logging that goes on constantly in close proximity to the shoreline: What purpose does it serve and who benefits from it?

The horse-hoof effect

They should worry about horses, which have been ridden along the trails of Loch Raven for years and which cause infinitely greater trail wear than bikes. They should call the law down on the riders of off-road motorcycles and four-wheelers, which are illegally ridden on the trails almost daily, mostly by residents of houses bordering the watershed. They should criticize the fishermen who litter the shoreline with discarded bait containers and beer cans.

I have enjoyed the watershed for more than 25 years: hiking, running, cross-country skiing, fishing, and -- yes -- mountain biking. Scarcely a day passes that I don't pass through Loch Raven on my road bicycle. I have spent countless hours on the trails and waterside making photographs.

I've seen a hawk stoop on a snake, an owl fly off with a small squirrel in its talons. I've even spent a night or two camping on a grassy little point north of the Dulaney Valley Road bridge. I also, by the way, belong to several national environmental-protection groups. If I don't qualify as a Friend of the Watershed, then no one does.

If people want to hike trails that are free of mountain bikers, they should go to one of the many nearby state and national park areas where mountain biking has been (arbitrarily) banned. Loch Raven is not a wildlife refuge or a bird sanctuary, not a state park or national wilderness area. It is only a watershed, administered by the city of Baltimore. To impose by decree the strictures of other types of parks on Loch Raven would be wrong.

Fred Hasson is a free-lance photographer and writer.

Pub Date: 12/09/96

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