Bikers protest watershed ban Proposal would prohibit their sport on trails around city's reservoirs

March 08, 1996|By Will Englund | Will Englund,SUN STAFF

Unhappy mountain bikers turned out last night to defend their sport and protest a proposal to prohibit them from using the trails surrounding Baltimore's reservoirs.

At a public hearing, they argued that city water officials are unwilling to work with them on finding ways to protect the watersheds from damage, short of imposing an outright ban.

"The problem is their mindset is not recreation, it's safe water," said Joe Surkiewicz, a free-lance writer and one of the organizers of the Maryland Association of Mountain Bike Operators, also known as MAMBO.

"I understand where they're coming from, but none of this is really unsolvable," he said.

"The idea is to provide water and protect the water," said George G. Balog, director of Public Works. "Recreation is secondary."

Ralph Cullison, the chief of environmental services in the public works department, said he proposed the ban because the mountain bikes "degrade the buffer lands that protect the water," and that leads to erosion.

The water that comes out of the tap is as good as it ever was, Mr. Cullison said, because of the treatment it receives. But, he said, the "raw water" coming from the reservoirs is declining in quality.

"That hasn't been quantified," he said. "But the soil's going someplace. There are places that have had considerable erosion. You see the damage to the land. If you're damaging the buffer, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to see that there's going to be a decline in the quality of the raw water."

Other new regulations proposed by Mr. Cullison include a ban on gasoline-powered pontoon boats, kayaks and racing sculls, bungee jumping and rock climbing. One climber has already been killed on city watershed property, he said.

"The basic thing driving those prohibitions is the city's liability," Mr. Cullison said.

But it was mountain biking, a rapidly growing sport, that drew the most attention.

"There need to be regulations for something that's getting out of control," said Jeremiah Bishop of Sykesville, who rides the trails around Liberty Reservoir in Carroll County. "But I don't think that's a reason to ban it." ......TC Mr. Surkiewicz said mountain bikers are probably the biggest recreational users of the reservoir watersheds. Loch Raven Reservoir is particularly popular because it is so close to Towson and Baltimore, he said. Mr. Surkiewicz acknowledged that the bikes do damage and that inconsiderate bikers recklessly tear up woodlands away from the usual trails.

But MAMBO, he said, has repeatedly appealed to city officials for permission to do maintenance to minimize the damage and it has always been rebuffed.

"As soon as you start talking about going in there with a shovel or a hoe, they start worrying about liability," Mr. Surkiewicz said.

State parks, in contrast to the reservoirs, have been receptive to bikers and their efforts to ameliorate the effects of biking, several people said.

One speaker, Jo Owen, of the Watershed Protection Coalition, said she was grateful for the proposed restrictions. "We're not talking about a park," she said. "The watersheds are not parks. We have grandchildren coming along who will need that water."

Pub Date: 3/08/96

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