DCR's draft RMP for Holyoke Range - please comment
The DCR has recently issued a draft Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the Mount Holyoke Range Planning Unit. This RMP covers the trails on both sides of the Notch Visitor Center in Hadley (“Batchelor Street” and “Earl’s Trails”) as well as Mt. Tom. More information on this process, as well as the RMP itself, can be viewed at http://www.mass.gov/dcr/stewardship/rmp/rmp-holyoke.htm.
This document indicates that some trails, in particular mountain biking trails, are likely to get closed which would be a tremendous loss to our biking community. NEMBA is currently drafting a response to the RMP, but to show just how important these trails are to mountain bikers please consider submitting your own comments as well. We list some bullet points from our comments below that you can rephrase and submit as your own comments. Please stay constructive and positive in your comments.
The deadline to submit comments is Sunday, March 24th. Comments can be submitted electronically by emailing DCR.Updates@state.ma.us - put “Mount Holyoke Range RMP” in the subject line.
Holyoke Range Bullet Points:
● The Holyoke Range RMP does not adequately analyze and present a vision of how recreation fits within the Landscape Designation of a Reserve. Holyoke-Skinner State Park is a highly utilized park. Its location near three major colleges and the population centers of Amherst and Northampton make it a prime destination for many thousands of users each year. It is also an important destination for mountain biking - especially the trails off of the Bachelor Street side as well as those in the area of Military Road and Mt. Hitchcock (AKA, Earl’s Trails).
● The areas North and South of the Notch Visitor Center (“Batchelor Street” and “Earl’s Trails”) are very popular among mountain bikers. The usage statistics may not accurately reflect use by mountain bikers as it is much harder to survey bikers (much larger area covered during each visit, less time spent near survey points).
● Hiker-Biker harmony is supported by having adequate experience opportunities for all. The goal for the RMP should be a “no net loss of current trails or trail experiences.” If trails are closed, there will be a higher user density on the remaining trails.
● What does DCR consider a redundant trail? Any with similar start and end points? Any with similar difficulty? Any with similar topographic experience? Any with similar environmental experience? Many people place the highest value on dense trail networks as they offer the most varied of experiences in the smallest of areas without being repetitious. Unfortunately the draft plan does not define redundancy.
● “Redundancy” implies a destination, but mountain biking is not a destination-driven activity. The goal is the experience, the flow and the “feel” of the trails – not arriving at a destination.
● Mountain bikers require a greater amount of trail mileage than walkers. Whereas a three-mile hike might be appropriate for a casual hiker, a casual mountain bikers would require ten-miles. Thus, closing down purportedly “redundant” trails could have a very negative impact on mountain biking at Holyoke.
● Even if there are two or three trails that end up at similar destination, none of them are necessarily redundant since each trail provides its own experience. Variety of abilities require a variety of routes - kids, beginners, intermediate and advanced mountain bikers will enjoy different terrain and types of trail.
● Highly sustainable trails may appear denser because they follow contours and have numerous switchbacks rather than following fall lines. The pitch of the mountain bike trails is significantly lower than for the hiking trails and that should be considered in the trail impact assessment - particularly when considering trail density. Trails that follow the contours of the land will appear dense as a consequence, but will have a lesser overall impact due to lower trail inclination.
● When trail closures are considered, all trails following fall-lines and showing signs of erosion should be evaluated, not just the trails favored by cyclists.
● Trails “in poor condition” should not automatically be closed but rather be evaluated to assess whether maintenance or reroutes of sections would make this a sustainable trail of value to the recreational community.
● Patrons get lost most usually due to inadequate signage. Improving signage and providing maps at trail heads will enhance the trail experience.
● “Reserve designation”, as documented in the landscape classification process, is not inconsistent with a recreational trails network.
Mount Tom Bullet points
● Mt. Tom’s status as Priority Habitat makes it a poor choice for a facility designated as Parkland and should be considered for redesignation as a Reserve.
● There are no scientific studies cited to support the presumption that mountain biking has a greater negative impact than other forms of trail-based recreation. In fact, there are many studies that have shown that the impact from mountain biking is similar or less than that from hiking. If a trail is required to be closed because of deleterious effects on rare species by bicyclists, it should also be closed to hikers.
● Positions taken by DCR and NHESP on the impact of mountain biking should not be left to conjecture or opinion, but rather based on scientific study. Unsupportable positions and opinion intended to restrict usage give the mountain bike community the impression that they are being singled-out arbitrarily.