Let’s stop the fear-mongering about mountain bikes and work on solutions

MWRA Advisory Board Joe Favaloro’s recent fear-mongering propaganda in various media outlets portrays mountain bikers as destructive criminals who, if permitted to ride bicycles on trails in the vast watershed lands of central Massachusetts, would soon degrade Boston’s pristine water to that found in Flint, MI. The ignorance of his op-ed is equaled only by the hypocrisies of reality.

Living in central Massachusetts means being surrounded by more than 100,000 acres of watershed land owned by us, the Commonwealth’s citizens. This land is foremost the water supply for the residents in greater Boston but lucrative extraction of natural resources and some recreation are also allowed.
There is constant logging in the watershed and it is easy to find evidence of oil spills, trash, deep muddy ruts, and extensive collateral damage to the remaining trees.

There are bulldozed road drainage ditches into watershed wetlands, clear violations of laws.

There’s evidence of toxic illegal dumping sites left for years along watershed roads near tributaries, and a large and eroded gravel pit sits mere feet from water on a Quabbin peninsula.

Walkers, permitted nearly everywhere, let dogs swim in critical watershed intake zones, and powerboats are allowed on the Quabbin Reservoir among other watershed lakes.

Favaloro ignores all of this but speculates that mountain biking poses the greatest threat to water purity.

Favaloro ignores the scientific literature that attests that the physical impacts of mountain biking are similar to that of hiking, even though the Department of Conservation & Recreation that oversees the Division of Water Supply Protection (DWSP) has reviewed and agrees with these conclusions. Favaloro, the MWRA, and the DWSP have no factual basis to make these claims.

Favaloro fears that allowing mountain biking is a slippery slope that could lead to allowing snowmobiles, horseback riding, and swimming. But he seems to be unaware that all of those activities are already permitted within the Ware River Watershed. He suggests that mountain biking could spread to the Wachusett Reservoir Watershed, but doesn’t realize that there have been legal mountain bike trails there since 2001.

Overall, Mr Favaloro’s opinion, while widely publicized, is factually inaccurate and fails to consider the needs of area residents. That he is in a position of authority in our water management system is extremely concerning.

The DWSP is mandated to allow environmentally sustainable recreation to the Ware River Watershed and for decades mountain biking has co-existed on the more than 35-miles of trails there. During this time, the MWRA’s own reports indicate that water quality has increased, not decreased, and this fact alone highlights the error in Favaloro’s claims. Mountain bikers are a responsible user-group that plays an important role in stewarding trails and open spaces. Hiking, XC skiing, hunting, fishing, horseback riding, and mountain biking should all be possible in the watershed; there’s no reason for just mountain biking to be excluded.

Local residents now feel that they are living in a police state. Trails used for decades by walkers, equestrians and cyclists have been closed to everyone by hundreds of signs and state cut trees. Hidden spy cameras abound. Watershed rangers photograph you and your license plate to look up your address and create a list of everyone on this public land.

Keeping people off trails that have been in use for decades with no effect on water quality is suddenly the top priority despite 15 years of water quality reports never even identifying recreation as a cause of poor test results, much less mountain biking.

The DWSP should partner with the local residents to fix or close the trails that could erode and use factual analysis to allow shared non-motorized trail use. Together we could improve the recreational experience of all of local residents while at the same time ensuring that the resource is protected. This is what the New England Mountain Bike Association, the Friends of the Ware River Watershed, and I have offered from the start. But we’ve been soundly and repeatedly told to go away. One can only hope that fear-mongering and misinformation attacks will cease. That common sense will prevail and that we can all work together to achieve the goals of protecting this resource and the recreational experience of local residents.

Brett Russ is the vice president of the Wachusett Chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association.