Cycling Claremont: The Wilderness Park Dilemma

Last night was the first in a series of community meetings intended to compile input concerning the future direction of the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park. If you have ever read of community meetings concerning bike access on streets, you know they can become quite heated. Perhaps this is a different situation, but in the end, and unless something happened after my departure, there were no angry words cast about, no mud was slung from one side of the room to the other, let alone from front to back.

I was pleasantly surprised to see how effective the various mobilization efforts turned out to be. All the local bike shops, cycling clubs, and many individuals, posted announcements on Facebook and websites. Word of mouth probably played a roll as well. A look around the parking lot revealed many cars and trucks with mountain bikes on racks; at least that many again were leaned against the walls of Taylor Hall. I got the impression most of the two wheeled crowd were there for muscle in case things got ugly, but others rose from their seats to use a portion of their allotted three minute speaking time. Included were both Cory of Coates Cyclery, and Jonathan of Jax Claremont - they both spoke of the investment of local small business owners as stakeholders in whatever happens with the Wilderness Park. They were correct, it is an aspect that is often overlooked, and not just for bike shops. Consider the Euro Cafe, and other restaurants, whose numbers are bolstered by cyclists on a daily basis following their rides across the hills. As is finally being recognized the economics of cycling are substantial and far-reaching.

No one began a sentence with the words "those damned mountain bikers", though one self-professed equestrian did lodge a complaint of speeding cyclists, spooked steeds, fallen riders, and horses running wild through the streets of north Claremont. In all my years of riding the canyon trails, I have never had an unpleasant encounter with an equestrian, so she may have very well been a lone grumpy aberration. Most remarks that did concern mountain bikers revolved around courtesy, a need to share the existing fire road "trails." There was a balance in the remarks though, for each one about a need for more courtesy from the mtb crowd, there was one about pedestrians walking six abreast, dog owners irresponsibly using extend-leashes, runners not paying attention, or hikers throwing garbage to the trailside.

If such a thing as consensus concerning user conflicts could be gleaned from the meeting, I would have to say it was that education is key. 

The greatest number of remarks had to do with sheer numbers - the 300,000 visitors per annum (2011) noted by the consulting firm has likely increased over the past three years. Straight mathematics says that is 822 visitors per day. Of course that number is actually much greater on the weekends, and  somewhat less mid-week. That is a staggering number to me, and represents a severe overburden on a park the size of the CHWP, not to mention the infrastructure of a city the size of Claremont. Speeding, impatient drivers on adjacent access streets are direct results. More than one person mentioned a need to limit access across the board, for all users.

I used to ride the Wilderness Park up to four days a week. After work I would head up there for a lap or two. There might be a couple handfuls of people up there, but no more than that. It has been a few years since last I did that, it is just not a pleasant place to ride anymore. Too crowded. I was not really surprised to hear that other long-time users no longer visit either.

Last night, was just a first meeting in the planning process. Two more community meetings are scheduled - July 21 and October 20. In addition Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) meetings are also open. Information about the Master plan, about meetings, etc will be posted via the City of Claremont website.