When I first started riding the trails around Folsom Lake eight years ago it was rare that I would encounter another rider on my afternoon trail rides in either summer or winter. Today, it isn’t uncommon to pass four or five groups of several riders on the narrow single track trails. And if a mountain bike race is scheduled, I could see fifty plus riders ripping across the trails.
Aggressive mountain bike riders
All of this increased mountain bike activity is destroying the trails around Folsom Lake in Granite Bay. Some parts of the trail have become half exposed rock, eroded trails with gullies that are getting deeper and multiple corner tracks are being developed. In short, the trails are turning into scars that can’t be healed with good stewardship. Most of the damage being done can be attributed to the aggressive riding tactic of racers and those wanting a thrill ride down the hill.
Erosion beyond repair
Not only are the current trails being turned into gullies of erosion, some really lame mountain bikers are creating new trails on slopes to steep. Once they have killed the grasses and created a path of bare dirt, there is nothing to stop the winter rains from racing down the trail and creating an ever deepening rut.
There are many parts of the trails that are on relatively flat ground and are stable. Because they are wide and flat, with a stable base of decomposed granite, they support multitudes of hikers, bikers, horses and runners with no visible erosion taking place. This is the type of trail that needs to be supported and increased around Folsom Lake.
Horses outnumbered by growing mountain bikers
Some people believe horses are to blame for the rapidly decreasing state of the tails. There is no doubt that horses, because of their weight, can really destroy native grasses and cause erosion. However, for every horse I have seen on the trails there are 50 to 100 mountain bikers. Horses walk at a steady pace, almost blindly following the path and only venture off trail to allow a bike to pass.
This isn’t a BMX track
Mountain bikers, especially the racers, bike as fast and as hard as they can. They are jumping over rocks and landing hard on the moist dirt. Mountain bikers have no issues with going off trail either to avoid an obstacle, make a short cut or create a new trail just for fun. For the racers, it’s all about winning and not necessarily preserving the trails for others to enjoy.
New steep trails for fast thrills
Mountain bikers have become more irresponsible and more aggressive over the years. It is not uncommon to see a group of mountain bikes flying down the hill like it was their own personal course. They seem to have no clue that these are multi-use trails and right around the corner could be a family out for hike. I have also seen new trails, non-existent just 2 years ago, that are already showing signs for severe erosion because they are on slopes too steep.
In addition, many riders are aggressively riding like they are in a race. They make hard turns, jump over rocks and lock up the back tire cutting into the soil. The worst of the destruction happens in the winter and spring when the ground is wet and easily cut by the knobby tires.
Would you destroy your own backyard?
I like to bike hard through the mud puddle just as much as anyone. Mountain biking is fun. There are just parts of the trail around Folsom Lake that combine highly erodible sandy soil with slopes that is just perfect for long term scaring from erosion. Some of these ruts will never heal and will only get worse over time. No property owner would allow this sort of destruction and erosion on their own land, so why is it “OK” on public property?
As the trails become nothing more than eroded ruts; hikers, runners and even horse riders stop using the trails to avoid twisted ankles from the miserable condition of the trail. I run on the trails and I see and have experienced the danger of the deep ruts caused by mountain biking.
It is my hope that all interested parties will work together to improve and stabilize the trails. Here are a few suggestions, but I am certainly open to adding more if others have ideas.
While we may not be able to completely repair the damage done to existing tails, trail users and California State Parks must stop bikers from creating new trails on highly erodible steep slopes.
Where possible, CSP should look at rerouting mountain bike trails to paths with smaller slopes. Virtually all of the severely eroded trails our on steep slopes where rain easily washes the sandy soil away.
Institute a damage repair fee to organized race events. By far the greatest damage is done by aggressive mountain bike racers who slice through the moist soil deepening ruts and expanding the track. The collected fees could be used to repair damage to the trails and create obstacles to keep the racers on the designated path.
I’ll do my part
As a community member who hikes, runs and bikes on the trails around Folsom Lake, I contribute to the overall destruction of the trails as well. I am willing to accept restrictions, new flatter trails and physically work to repair the trails within the framework of a solid plan. Folsom Lake is a great place and a resource that will only see more use as our population and the sport of mountain biking grows. If we don’t start preserving the trail system now, the hills around Folsom Lake will be a series of crisscrossed scars and an ugly reminder of how communities fail in their stewardship of public resources.
One year update on trail erosion (2014)
It’s been almost one year since I originally posted this blog on how I have seen mountain bikes irrevocably destroying the trails out at Folsom Lake. From the comments below and the numerous emails sent to me, most passionate mountain bikers don’t feel their activities on the mix use trails around Folsom Lake cause any long term harm. Below are a few pictures where I was able to compare the photos from 2013 to the photos of the same trail spot one year later.
New trail becomes permanent
This comparison shows the beginning of a new bike trail to avoid numerous rocks on section of the trail. By February 2014, the initial tire marks have become a well used trail widening the overall trail by several feet.
This comparison shows a multi-track bike trail has gotten too much worse in the last year. The drought of 2014 has prevented any native grasses from growing potentially stabilizing the soil in the future.
New Trail Cuts
In an effort to avoid a large granite rock and the deep rut, the trail has been widened as bikes maneuver around the outcrop. The next photo shows the beginning of a new trail as bikers avoid a deep eroded rut on the side of the hill up to the “Bench”.
2016 New Mountain Bike Trail Scars
In the three years since I first posted this blog, we continue to see new mountain bike trails and scars at Folsom Lake. Contrary to the view of many mountain bikers, these new trails have not been created by horseback riders. They are primarily short-cuts off the main road, notable between Cavitt Junior High School entry point and Granite Beach State Park. In an effort to spice up the ride, some bikers are creating steep trails to gain speed and then ramping off the opposite side of the road bank. There are a subset of mountain bike riders at Folsom Lake who have no respect for the park. For many bikers, if they aren’t ripping up the environment, they aren’t having fun. Folsom Lake State Recreation Area is a public resource for all who like to walk, hike, bike and horseback ride. It’s sad that the Park’s Department doesn’t attempt to stop the destruction of the area. I know many mountain biking organizations attempt to create brush barriers to prevent unauthorized mountain bike trail creation. Perhaps we need to start putting up more brush barriers to protect the Folsom Lake trails from mountain bikers who wish to destroy it in their zeal for a fun ride.
Click on the thumbnails to enlarge
Wet soil, high speed mountain bike racing
This is a recording of a mountain bike race on the mixed use trails around Folsom Lake. On this February 16th morning, the soil was wet from a previous rain storm. This is the first lap of a two lap race. Within 5 minutes, 29 riders had passed as they negotiated the slope, ruts, rocks and trees on this particular down hill curve. Five years ago this curve was single track trail. Today, the original trail is a rut 6″ deep and two other tracks have been established around it. Hikers and horses didn’t expanded the the trail and turn it into a scar.
Comparing hiking, mountain biking and horse riding impacts on vegetation and soils in Australia and the United States of America
Excepts from page 5 From
the Journal of Environmental Management, an article published in July of 2009: Comparing hiking, mountain biking and horse riding impacts on vegetation and soils in Australia and the United States of America. I have received so many comments that mountain bikes caused no damage that I decided to include this scientific review of different studies assessing the impacts of mountain bike riding on multi-use trails.
The extent and severity of mountain biking impacts appears to
be connected with different riding styles. Impacts are likely to be
greater when riding is faster, less controlled, occurs on steeper
slopes and in wetter conditions. In Western Australia impacts from
different styles of bike riding were compared on trails (Goeft and
In contrast to the findings of Goeft and Alder (2001) Newsome
and Davies (in press) identified mountain bike related impacts to be
a significant management problem both on and off trails. Impacts
included the deliberate modification of existing trail networks and
the creation of informal trails.
These impacts relate to particular riding styles and especially the thrill
seeking adventure components of downhill riding, free riding and
dirt jumping. Although this method was found to be useful for
assessing mountain bike specific impacts and especially the
impacts of informal trail development by mountain bikers it is not
suitable for comparing the relative impacts of different use types on
What is abundantly clear from the studies is that destruction to the trails is related to aggressive riding on multi-use trails not designed to tolerate such activity. I’m not advocating that all mountain biking or races be stopped at the Folsom State Park Recreation Area. We just need to invest in new or alternate trail systems more suitable for aggressive riding.
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Click to enlarge photos.