Washington Rider wrote:What is so special about this section of trail that they need access to it? Is it geographical in that it allows them to get from a special point A to a special point B? Or is they have not maintained the trails they have and are just looking for a ready made trail? Has anyone seen the trails they do have? What condition they are in?
Insight on this would help us better frame our arguements for limiting future access if/when they do cause damage to this section.
I think the best answer is that they simply want to explore different trails. If there is a trail, and someone is a trail user (horse/foot/bike), they generally like to explore. Equestrians have never been allowed to go on the Waterloo trails west of Mt. Hope Rd. to Big Portage Lake, or, east of the Horseman's Campground off of Loveland Road. However, they have the run of the majority of the Waterloo trails system in the center of the unit. Historically, the big barrier coming East has been the Nature (Discovery) Center trails and the sensitive nature of the Waterloo-Pinckney Hiking Trail east of the Nature Center (big fall line hills). It has always been designated hiking only. As for the trails the equestrians have access to in Waterloo -- well, there is a reason they control them and why you never hear of mountain bikers poaching them. They are totally trashed. Scenic as they are, they are so gullied out and beachy, they are mostly unusable by foot and bike traffic. That is to say, they no longer provide for a desirable experience. All you need to know is that the fellow who organizes the Trail Marathon/Half Marathon and Dances with Dirt which run at Pinckney Rec each year used to host the DwD race run through the heart of Waterloo on the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail. He stopped holding the event there earlier last decade because the trail was so torn up, it was undesirable for running on. Interesting, when you consider the DwD runs through freak'in swamps and mud bogs. Apparently, those provide a more desirable running experience than equestrian trails. He also cited the fact the the equestrians made it *beep* for him to get the event permitted. They are on record as making it hard for other user groups to have events out there. I know another promoter of triathlons who was hassled, despite the fact that the event would utilized only multi-use (horse-hike) sections of Waterloo trails.
When I was MMBA President way back in the day, I had lunch with the former President of the WHA. It was supposed to be about finding common ground so that bikers and horses could share trails. He basically ended up telling me that they would fight to prohibit any bike access to any trails at Waterloo, that they wanted more access to trails they couldn't currently ride at Pinckney and at Waterloo, that he had lunch with the State Representative for our District every Tuesday and that they would be introducting legislation in the future that would bury us and advance their access. So far, it looks like he is a man of his word. This was back in the day when we were inviting equestrians to have horse petting pens at our Annual Expo, putting hiker/biker/equestrian kumbaya pictures on the cover of the BRB and talking about sharing as caring. In the meantime, they were starting to ride the trails we built at Fort Custer, reveling in their victory at Pontiac Lake and plotting their Right-to-Ride legislation that passed last year.
What we need to do going forward:
1. Firmly establish with the DNR at a policy level that, at least, in Southern Michigan, nonmotorized trails open up to equine use are NOT compatible with bikers and hikers and cannot be shared. We should not try to open up bike access to bridle trails and they shouldn't be permitted to open up access to existing hike/bike trails.
2. Push back when equine users try to co-opt use of nonmotorized trails that they didn't build and have no history on, WHETHER THEY ARE CURRENTLY OPEN TO BIKING OR NOT (encroachment precedent cannot be established).
3. Invest in lobbying legislature to introduce a "Right-to-Ride Trail" bill for cyclists.
4. Start drawing out the fact with the DNR, other users, legislature, etc. that on a percentage basis of Park and Rec Day Users, the equestrian user group is far smaller than foot and bike users. (DNR has data to support this) So, if the group is so small, why are they allowed to command such a presence at Park and Rec Areas (i.e. the amount of proportionate trail they can access, the amount of infrastructure the DNR invests in to support them, etc.)
5. Start playing hardball. We have the numbers. They play hardball and, as Charlie Sheen would say, they are "winning". Collectively, we still don't get it. We think that the key to the DNR's heart is to ask them nicely and they will accomodate us. On the whole, the equestrian advocates have a very testing relationship with the DNR, esp. since the Right-to-Ride legislation passed and -- guess what -- they are "winning". They just played the Unit Manager of Waterloo like a fiddle and guess who look like the "bad guys" -- a bunch of mountain bikers meddling in an event where we don't even have a permanent riding stake in the trail. We care about the trail impact, the equestrians don't, they get what they want, and we get rolled.
Time to step back and ponder some things other than training times and carbon fiber upgrades for the rigs, people!