Happy trails for bikers Public Works' rules allow bikes on some watershed roads

March 06, 1998|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Bungee jumpers, rappellers and tree climbers will have to seek their thrills elsewhere, but mountain bikers may ride the trails at Baltimore's reservoirs, the Department of Public Works has decided.

Two years after a proposed mountain bike ban prompted an outcry from riders who favor rugged watershed terrain, the city has adopted regulations that will let them ride on designated roads as long as the roads aren't wet or muddy.

The regulations -- part of sweeping new guidelines on recreational activities in the watersheds in Baltimore and Carroll counties -- strike a compromise between allowing bikers to use those areas and assuring the protection of the drinking water for 1.8 million people.

"That is the most significant achievement we made," said Public Works Director George G. Balog of the compromise worked out with the cooperation of mountain bike enthusiasts.

The regulations have the backing of the Maryland Association of Mountain Bike Operators (MAMBO), although some bikers say the rules are too vague to be enforceable.

"If you're out there and a rainstorm comes up, are you then guilty of riding when it's muddy?" asked Jim Wayne, manager of Princeton Sports and Travel.

Joe Traill, a salesman at Bicycle Connection in Cockeysville and a biker who rides along the reservoirs, said he felt bikers were being unfairly singled out for restrictions. "Mountain bikes do about the same amount of damage as someone on foot."

But bikers said they were relieved that they were able to persuade city officials not to ban mountain biking altogether.

"It's very important to have this area open to us," said Ann Lembo, vice president of MAMBO.

Although bikers can ride in parks and other areas, the reservoirs are closer for many bikers.

Protocol followed

Penny Troutner, owner of Light Street Cycles in Baltimore and a member of a task force that helped write a mountain biking plan for the reservoir, said the regulations generally reflect the accepted protocol of the International Motor Biking Association.

"Mountain cyclers are environmentalists and want to avoid doing damage," she said.

The regulations cover the 17,580 acres of city-owned watershed property that surrounds the Loch Raven, Prettyboy and Liberty reservoirs in Baltimore and Carroll counties.

Under the regulations, bikes will not be permitted on deer paths or hiking trails, through water courses and environmentally sensitive areas, or on roads when they are muddy or wet. Bikers must yield to hikers and horseback riders on the roads and are required to sound a bell when approaching curves or the crests of hills.

Wayne, though less skeptical the rules can be enforced, said the bikers had feared the regulations would be worse.

"I guess it's not a total wash," he said. "I guess it is a compromise somewhat."

Prohibited activities

Meanwhile, rock climbing, bungee jumping, tree climbing, rappelling and using pontoon boats will not be permitted for safety reasons, Balog said. Paint guns will also be prohibited.

Other changes in the regulations include higher storage fees for impounded boats, bicycles and motorized vehicles and requiring boaters to comply with Coast Guard regulations by having proper flotation devices and fire extinguishers.

The department also is extending boating season from March 1 until the end of December, weather permitting. Previously, the season ended Nov. 30.

As part of the agreement to allow bikers to ride in the watershed, MAMBO has promised to help maintain the trails and inform bikers about the rules. The group also is talking about setting up a hot line or a Web site to let bikers know when the roads are too wet for riding.

MAMBO will hold a meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Loch Raven High School to discuss the regulations.

Pub Date: 3/06/98

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