Mountain bikers get in gear to tidy trails

Date Published: 
Fri, 07/06/2007

The South Mountain Reservation is getting some of its trails repaired

this weekend by a group of people not normally allowed in the reservation.

Mountain biking is not permitted in the 2,000-acre park owned by Essex County, which stretches through Millburn, Maplewood, South Orange and West Orange. But a volunteer crew from the International Mountain Bicycling Association is spending this weekend working on the reservation's trails.
First, the trail care crew will host a class at the Millburn Library, 200 Glen Ave., at 9 a.m. tomorrow open to volunteers that will teach ways to create sustainable trails. The class will be followed by a lunch, donated by local merchants. Then, volunteers will fan out to different sites at the reservation to do trail work until 5 p.m.. On Sunday, volunteers will return to continue the trail work from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The South Mountain Reservation is the only New Jersey site being visited by the association's trail crew, which is sponsored by Subaru. Volunteers from New Jersey's Off-Road Bicycling Association, are coming, too.

"We want to show mountain bikers -- as a user group -- do provide expertise. We do add value to a park. We're more than happy to contribute," said Jeffrey Mergler, executive director of the New Jersey group.

Dennis Percher of the South Mountain Conservancy, said his organization -- which provides volunteer work and advocacy for the reservation -- has been studying the issue of mountain biking and has formed a committee to consider whether it should be allowed in the reservation in the future.

"We have a committee working on this to see if it is at all possible," he said.

Percher said committee members have traveled to other parks in New Jersey and Pennsylvania that allow mountain biking and met with staff to talk about the pros and cons of having the bikes on park trails.

Mergler said, regardless of the conservancy's decision, which would also have to be approved by Essex County, the mountain bikers are glad to be helping at the reservation. "If they invite us to the park in the future as a legal user, that would be fantastic," he said. "But there's no guarantee of that ... We are not doing it for that specific purpose. We want to be considered a long-term partner."

Percher said the conservancy is grateful for the biking association's help. He said the association's trail care crew has come up with ways to keep trails from eroding and plans to teach some of those methods in the Saturday morning class.

"It begins to bring an expertise we do not have," he said. "At the minimum, we are going to learn how to fix trails."

Mergler said his group, besides helping build trails, also promotes courtesy between bikers and other trail users and helps educate the public about mountain biking.

Percher said the conservancy welcomes volunteers for the weekend program. Volunteers should be 15 and older, wear sturdy shoes and bring work gloves. The trail tools needed will be provided.

Percher asks people who are planning to attend to e-mail the conservancy Web site at: trailcare@somocon.org in advance so members will know how many to expect for lunch.

Friday, July 06, 2007
BY ELIZABETH MOORE
Star-Ledger Staff