Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Director of Sierra Club explains rationale behind MTB park lawsuit

Posted by on May 21st, 2013 at 11:38 am

Sierra Club Oregon Chapter
Director Brian Pasko.

Our story last week about a lawsuit against the Timberline Mountain Bike Park has sparked a lot of conversation. Several people commented and contacted me to express concerns that I failed to offer adequate context to the story. The Sierra Club and other environmental groups that have signed on as plaintiffs to the lawsuit, strongly maintain that their stance is not about bikes at all. Rather, they say their concerns are about the broader environmental impacts, the private developer that will construct the park, and a feeling that the U.S. Forest Service has not fulfilled its obligations within the public process around the project.

In our story last week, I included an email from Kenji Sugahara, the executive director of the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association, to Brian Pasko, the director of the Sierra Club’s Oregon chapter. In that email, Sugahara questioned the Sierra Club’s actions and requested their immediate withdrawal from the lawsuit. Today I want to share Pasko’s response to Sugahara because I it adds some important context to this debate (emphases mine):

Hi Kenji,

Thank you very much for this note and for your past support of the Sierra Club’s work in Oregon. I want to assure you that the Sierra Club did not approach this litigation lightly, nor should our involvement in this lawsuit imply that we oppose increasing the level of mountain bike recreation opportunities on the Mountain.

We chose to engage in this lawsuit because we believe that this particular proposal is not appropriately located and the environmental costs vs. recreational benefits are just too high. In contrast, we chose not to oppose a similar proposal on Mount Bachelor because its location is much better suited to this type of bike park.

Additionally, we appreciate and admire IMBA’s exceptional trail maintenance work. It is our understanding that the trails on this proposed bike park would not be trails open to the public and managed by IMBA or other volunteer trail crews, but would instead be maintained by the private owners at Timberline for their economic gain.

More importantly, we are pursuing this lawsuit in part because we believe that the Forest Service has fundamentally failed in its obligation to fully evaluate the potential for additional mountain bike recreational opportunities in the Mount Hood National Forest. We too are disappointed that the Mountain bike and environmental communities are being divided over a debate about the location of a single privately-owned bike park, when instead we should be engaged in a collaborative effort to substantially expand the publicly accessible mountain bike trail system forest-wide.

The Sierra Club believes that the Forest Service should be carrying out a robust analysis and implementing a formal stakeholder process to expand mountain bike opportunities on our national forests. We are keenly interested in working with the mountain bike community to achieve this goal. In fact, we are meeting with leaders in IMBA and others in the next few weeks to discuss this and how we can move forward together.

I appreciate your concerns about our involvement in this litigation, and hope that I have given you some assurances that the Sierra Club is very interested in partnering with the mountain bike community to convince the Forest Service to do better recreational planning on the Mount Hood National Forest. I hope that this is the start of a continuing dialogue with you and others about how we can work together to make that a reality.

Chapter Director
Sierra Club – Oregon Chapter
1821 SE Ankeny Street

— For more on this story, browse our Timberline Mountain Bike Park story archives.

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  • Gabriel Amadeus Tiller May 21, 2013 at 11:48 am

    Fair enough, I can see that side of the argument. One follow-up question though: Does the Sierra Club plan to file a lawsuit against the privately operated Timerbline Ski Area sometime soon?

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    • Babygorilla May 21, 2013 at 12:17 pm

      As the lawsuit alleges, this is the first of a couple of projected expansions of RLK’s Timberline summer and winter commercial operations. When RLK seeks to have their permit expanded to build a new parking lot and construct a new day lodge, I imagine the Sierra Club and the other plaintiffs will be objecting through the administrative process and filing a lawsuit if warranted.

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  • Zimmerman May 21, 2013 at 11:55 am

    What a massive steaming crock of horse manure… I’ll believe the Sierra Club is mountain bike friendly when they do more than just “choose not to oppose” projects and actively take part in planning mountain bike trails.

    The outside contractor they are referring to in this letter to OBRA is Gravity Logic, the company that designed and maintains the trail system at the Whistler Mountain Bike park and many other bike parks around the world. The trails they wish to build HAVE to be sustainable or people will not come ride them. Rutted out, poorly draining, unmaintained trails are not something people will pay to ride. We’re not talking about cyclists randomly taking off through an alpine meadow, we’re talking about building a professionally built trail system placed in an area already set aside for recreation that has been previously cleared out for ski trails and where a chairlift already exists.

    This lawsuit, while seeming to be squarely aimed at punishing RLK for some perceived past transgression, has instead further driven a user group that values the environment away from the Sierra Club’s membership.

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    • wsbob May 21, 2013 at 12:16 pm

      “…Rutted out, poorly draining, unmaintained trails are not something people will pay to ride. …” zimmerman

      That sounds mostly concerned with ride experience rather than impact of trail design and accompanying development on the environment it occupies.

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      • Zimmerman May 21, 2013 at 12:23 pm

        Thanks for ignoring the part about explaining the area is already set aside and used for high impact recreation. A good ride experience goes hand in hand with environmentally friendly sustainable trail building and stewardship.

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        • wsbob May 21, 2013 at 1:14 pm

          RLK has been permitted to use an area of National Forest land for types of recreation that rely on high impact development. I believe the object of the Federal guidelines the Forest Service and RLK are subject to, is to mitigate the extent of the impact of that development.

          The proposed bike skills park would be far from being just a simple trail through the woods. It would be part of a large and growing business that relies on an extensive, correspondingly growing support system.

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          • Zimmerman May 21, 2013 at 1:20 pm

            If FUD is your business, business must be good.

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            • Alex May 21, 2013 at 1:34 pm

              I do believe it must be his business. He must be getting money to propagate these views – it is the only thing that makes sense. I don’t know what his dog in this fight is, but he sure likes to get involved in anything involving mountain bikes…and he sure doesn’t seem to be a mountain biker.

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              • Granpa May 22, 2013 at 8:19 am

                His dog in this fight may be that he sees downhill “freeride” mountain biking as incompatible with preservation of a delicate ecosystem. Some people cherish the earth more than mountain biking.

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              • Bjorn May 22, 2013 at 9:37 am

                The proposed park is not a Freeride park, it is targeted mostly at beginner and intermediate riders, but that hasn’t stopped BARK and the Sierra Club from falsely suggesting otherwise.

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              • Brian May 22, 2013 at 9:53 am

                We are all on an ever-changing spectrum when it comes to our impacts on the Earth. If someone advocates for more recreational opportunities on Mt. Hood it doesn’t mean they “cherish the earth” less than those who lobby against it. These mountain bike advocates may not own a vehicle and commute to work all year, they may volunteer for river restoration work parties, they may be vegan, etc, etc. I am tired of non-mountain bikers narrowly defining mountain bikers as selfish destroyers of Mother Earth due to that one aspect of their identity.

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              • Alex May 22, 2013 at 11:32 am

                I think letting him address that would be best and I would not prefer conjecture. I would like to see the scientific studies that back up what you are saying – that mtbing is incompatible with the preservation of a delicate eco-system. I think if he thought that, he might want to ban downhill skiing first, replant the huge swath of trees that were cut down for that and allow the much narrower paths to be used for mtbing.

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              • elk May 22, 2013 at 6:21 pm

                The “delicate ecosystem” that has been clear cut with riblets every 150 feet? I love the old growth chairlift up palmer glacier, so majestic!

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      • Alex May 21, 2013 at 1:19 pm

        Can I downvote this somehow so people don’t have to see such inane comments?

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    • longgone May 21, 2013 at 12:23 pm

      As Zimmerman has already pointed out the element of horse poo here, I have but one tidbit to ad..

      All who bemoan J. Maus’ supposed lack of offering both sides of this issue,(for the sake of off road cyclist’s) can now kindly stop bitching.

      Have a nice day.

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  • RWL1776 May 21, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    “we should be engaged in a collaborative effort to substantially expand the publicly accessible mountain bike trail system forest-wide.”

    Mr. Pasko, you are a little late with this suggestion. Back in 2006, our own Pro-Bicycle Congressman Earl Blumenauer championed the Mt. Hood Legacy Wilderness Act, which actually CLOSED over 110 miles of trails that bicyclists had ridden and maintained for over 2 decades! We lost the ability to ride over 55% of the 210 miles that could be ridden at that time.

    Are you proposing we look into re-opening those miles of trail we lost? Not going to happen, it’s now Wilderness. And this is why the trails that are still open to bicyclists are over ridden and rutted out earlier in the season. Less access + more bicyclists will cause that to happen, just like if hiking trails were closed to access.

    Its a simple example of supply and demand. The supply has been curtailed by legislation while the demand has increased. Any specific ideas in mind to turn this around? Does this mean the Sierra Club will back proposals by the NWTA when they propose new trails in the area, and not just Mt. Hood? Will the Sierra Club actually show up at the trail maintenance event scheduled for June 1st in the Knebal Springs Trail area?

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    • wsbob May 21, 2013 at 1:25 pm

      Just a reminder, that the Mt Hood National Forest comprises more than 1000,000 acres. Federally designated wilderness comprises only 63,000 of those acres. The federally designated wilderness area boundary at Government Camp is north of Hwy 26. Mt Hood National Forest south of the highway, may be open for some mountain bike opportunities.

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      • Bjorn May 21, 2013 at 1:32 pm

        I’m not very concerned about what % of the area bikes are banned from, because when I ride I stay on the trails. The issue isn’t the amount of land bikes have been removed from, it is that they were banned from more than half the TRAILS. That is like saying that Portland is a very small percentage of the land area of the state of Oregon so it wouldn’t impact the economy of the state if it was nuked.

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      • Alex May 21, 2013 at 1:35 pm

        What did he say that contradicted any of that?

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      • RWL1776 May 22, 2013 at 4:56 pm

        WRONG: http://goo.gl/maps/DeQ4T see this Salmon Huckleberry Wilderness Area? There were about 40 miles open to bicycle access in this one area alone, south of HWY 26. They are now closed to bicycles because of that Wilderness Act. These were some of the most pristine, primitive, back country Triple Black Diamond type of MTB trails in the entire area. I have maps that were created by Gary Sprung (of IMBA fame) that detailed all of the areas and trails that were open, but are now closed, along with spreadsheets that also cataloged the miles and trail names. If you want, we could go into a long discussion of how the MTB got SCREWED by our own Pro-Bicycle Congressman, but that is old news, water under the bridge, etc.

        Time to move forward and find out what the Sierra Club has in store for when they state “we should be engaged in a collaborative effort to substantially expand the publicly accessible mountain bike trail system forest-wide.”

        Actions speak louder than words, Sierra Club.

        Still why no mention of Oregon Wild, the enviro group that crafted the Wilderness Act language for Congressman Blumanauer?

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    • Thor Tingey May 22, 2013 at 11:29 am

      Yes, where was the Sierra Club in this collaborative process to provide trail access to mountain bikers when the Mt. Hood Wilderness bill closed over 100 miles of previously legal singletrack. That’s right, on the side seeking as much wilderness protection as possible regardless of the mountain biking interest. Supporting wilderness is a perfectly fine goal for the Sierra Club. But they should stop pretending that they have any support for mountain biking. Actions speak louder than words.

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      • elk May 22, 2013 at 6:38 pm

        They were too busy pandering the the equine lobby to be bothered with your B.S.

        Of course now they have tons of time to be collaborative. I quit the SC in the mid-90s because they were clearly interested in politics more than actually making a difference. I have no doubt that John Muir would kick David Scott in the groin were he still alive. The sooner SC dies the pathetic death it deserves, the better off we will all be. (Note: I don’t count earthjustice in this group of deserving a swift and painful death, just the political lobby that calls itself the serria club).

        Perhaps we should distribute the 15 million metric tons of horse poop on their doorstep they so vehemently faught for the right to be distributed on our trails.

        Last comment. I can’t count the number of backpacking trips I’ve been on, got 5-15 miles in and seen tire treads and thought, “oh, this is open to bikes.” Conversely, I can count the number of of hiking and backpacking tips I’ve been on and 100 feet in thought, “I wish I had known this was open to horses, this sucks, I wish I was somewhere else.” Pasko, please don’t divert any of your attention to low-impact users of the trail system, we’ve been fine without you getting the shaft for the last 20 years, please go back to further pandering to the horseback riders, destroying the very environment you claim to fight to preserve. It’ll be fun watching your organization die with them.

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    • wsbob May 22, 2013 at 6:07 pm

      “WRONG: …” RWL1776

      Again, the Mt Hood National Forest comprises more than a million acres. Mt Hood Wilderness area and Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness area, each of which are around a comparatively modest 62,000 acres, are about 12 percent of the entire forest acreage. There is still very close to one million acres of Mt Hood National Forest in which additional mountain biking opportunities could possibly be developed.

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      • Alex May 22, 2013 at 7:56 pm

        Again, what did he say that contradicted any of that?

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  • Bjorn May 21, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    Just because the Sierra Club hasn’t opposed the Batchelor bike park (which isn’t even that much closer than Whistler anyway) yet is meaningless, we are in the comment period now. It is not clear what the final plan for the bike park will be, but fast forward to when construction is ready to begin and the Sierra Club could still easily swoop in and start running up costs for the construction through legal actions. What is very clear once again from this response is that the Sierra Club’s official position on mountain biking on USFS land near Portland is that we support it in theory but we don’t officially support any specific trail construction, although we do oppose mountain biking on whatever specific trail it is being proposed for. You will never see them suggest a reasonable/similar alternative, it is always just no not here this would be horrible. When they were pushing through the removal of around 150 miles of mountain bike trails through legislation they said no worries there is lots of forest and new trails can be built outside the wilderness, which would be true if the Sierra Club stopped spending massive amounts of money suing everyone who tries to actually build new trails.

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  • GlowBoy May 21, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    “… nor should our involvement in this lawsuit imply that we oppose increasing the level of mountain bike recreation opportunities on the Mountain.” … “the Forest Service has fundamentally failed in its obligation to fully evaluate the potential for additional mountain bike recreational opportunities” … “the Sierra Club is very interested in partnering with the mountain bike community”

    Those are nice words, but given the Sierra Club‘s past hostility towards mountain biking, both locally and nationally, I find it difficult to believe them. What has triggered this wholesale change of attitude? I’d need to see a well-articulated, heartfelt explanation, and some real commitment to these goals, in order to not consider this just another bait-and-switch tactic.

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    • Charley May 21, 2013 at 1:36 pm

      100% agreed. The Club has every reason to support Wilderness designation to prevent resource extraction, but they don’t seem at all concerned about the impact on a given trail system’s traditional quiet recreational uses (like riding a bike). Until it looks like they give a damn, I will remain skeptical.

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  • Bjorn May 21, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    A lot of people believe that mountain climbing is environmentally damaging. I have not heard the Sierra Club oppose mountain climbing on Mt. Hood. I wonder if the fact that their director Brian Pasko enjoys mountain climbing and has been to the top of Mt. Hood and wants to climb it again has anything to do with it…

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    • Charley May 21, 2013 at 1:31 pm

      Yep. The cure for mtb-phobia is exposure. Get these people on a bike some time and they’ll change their tune. And, speaking as a climber, we have a huge impact on the land. Ever followed a “boot track” or a “climber’s path” up a mountain and noticed the erosional mess it creates? I’d ask Crag Law Center about that. . . but they’re probably too busy trying to keep people from riding bikes on the mountain to answer the question.

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      • elk May 22, 2013 at 6:43 pm

        No, it won’t. Dirtbags ride mt bikes. Doctors ride horses and climb big mountains. Until mt bikers come up with big dollars you will be invisible to lobbyists.

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  • wsbob May 21, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    “…everyone who tries to actually build new trails.” Bjorn

    Trails attempted to be built where in the Portland area, and by whom…aside from Forest Park and in federally designated wilderness? The Mt Hood National Forest is fairly large…one million acres… . The federally designated wilderness area is a relatively dinky percent of the Mt Hood National Forest.

    If the Sierra Club has sued to stop efforts by the NWTA or any other mountain bike trail building group, seeking to build mountain bike trail in the Portland Metro area or in the Mt Hood National Forest outside of federally designated wilderness area, please post examples of that effort specific to location, to this comment thread.

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    • Alex May 21, 2013 at 1:47 pm

      “If the Sierra Club has sued to stop efforts by the NWTA or any other mountain bike trail building group, seeking to build mountain bike trail in the Portland Metro area or in the Mt Hood National Forest outside of federally designated wilderness area, please post examples of that effort specific to location, to this comment thread.” –wsbob

      Who needs the Sierra Club when you have Marcy Houle and yourself fighting that fight?

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  • humus May 21, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    I don’t want to see a mt bike park in an area that will damage the alpine ecosystem any more than it already is. plus i don’t want to have to pay to ride my bike in mt. hood.
    You know the forest service did a report a few years back that said 49% of the roads on the mountain are unneeded and need to be removed. Many of these could be turned into great mt. bike trails with the help and advocacy of bike organizations. I’d suggest working on this kind of win win situation rather than dissing the great environmental organizations that fight to protect mt. hood from destructive projects.

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    • Deidra May 21, 2013 at 3:17 pm

      Roads turned into trails? So basically, this would just be more of a Leif Erickson dirt road sorta deal; that I would have to drive to? Yeah, no thanks. Some of us actually enjoy winding single track through the beautiful forests. How about they open back up the 200+ miles of trails they closed to bicyclists.

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      • humus May 21, 2013 at 3:56 pm

        No not like leif erickson especially if all the stakeholders got involved and decided exactly what they would want. a road turned into a trail is just that, a trail. they don’t look like roads anymore.
        You could help the forest by pushing the forest service to get rid of ecologically damaging roads that harm salmon and all sorts of other animals, and quite literally get hundreds of miles of bike trails that would be free to ride on.
        And no you don’t have to drive to them. Ride your bike to them or take public transportation.

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        • Bjorn May 21, 2013 at 4:54 pm

          There is not much Trimet to Mt. Hood, and if there was they only allow 2 bikes per bus so the idea of taking public transportation to mountain biking is pretty naive, that is the whole reason why people would like to have some access within Forest Park, but folks like Marcy Houle are bent on making sure that driving will continue to be a requirement to mountain biking.

          Trails don’t get built or maintained for free, money is needed for planning and building and USFS has basically said that they aren’t going to be able to fund it. They are looking for partners who are willing to help fund the building, partners like Timberline. Until your Roads to Trails idea has a funding source it is going to stay a pipe dream because while volunteers are great trails don’t get built simply with a couple of weekends of unskilled volunteer labor.

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    • elk May 22, 2013 at 6:49 pm

      And exactly how a they great? So this is an either or? Also, don’t think they won’t oppose mt bikes riding on closed roads…they will.

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  • Dan May 21, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    Voting with my dollars on this one.

    Dropping the Sierra Club membership doubling down on the IMBA.

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  • are May 21, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    i rather doubt affirmatively advocating for a mountain bike trail anywhere is within the sierra club’s mission statement. not oppose is what you should expect, unless there is an adverse impact, which is what they are claiming here.

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    • GlowBoy May 21, 2013 at 9:37 pm

      “i rather doubt affirmatively advocating for a mountain bike trail anywhere is within the sierra club’s mission statement.”

      Which is what makes me suspicious when they start talking about doing so, especially if they haven’t explained their change of heart.

      On the other hand, why not? They advocate for hiking, regardless of whether or not it is in their mission statement. Why not advocate for other benign forms of non-polluting, human-powered recreation?

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  • Uncle Muscles May 21, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    Paying lip service to mountain bikers, trying to keep those precious membership dollars rolling in. Don’t buy it folks. As another poster stated, drop the Sierra club and double up on IMBA or your local MTB association.

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  • Rob May 21, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    Can anyone comment on the accuracy of the statement that these trails will not be open to the public (i.e., only open to those paying a fee)? It doesn’t work that way for skiing on the hill, you only need to pay for the chairlift.

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    • Babygorilla May 21, 2013 at 5:35 pm

      Page 12 of the Forest Service Environmental Assessment on their website indicates that “The proposed mountain bike park includes trails that are specifically designed for, and are limited to downhill, lift-assisted mountain biking.”

      I guess if some of the proposed trailheads intersect already existing trails, you would not have to pay to access the new trails, but there won’t be uphill trails built to allow free access.

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      • davemess May 23, 2013 at 10:04 am

        that doesn’t exclude people riding up service roads.
        Again, this is going to be a VERY small percentage of the ridership that would even think of doing this.

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    • davemess May 22, 2013 at 9:00 am

      Doesn’t work that way at most other parks. You want to ride up the service roads you can do any trails you want. I imagine it would be the same situation here, although we’re still talking about less than 1% of riders who would do this.

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  • Nate May 21, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    If we had nothing other than Mr. Pasko’s heartfelt words to go on, one might believe that Sierra Club could be a real ally to mountain biking in the Cascades.

    Unfortunately, we have years of experience whereby SC fights tooth and nail to limit bikers’ use of singletrack around the country. It is this evidence that belies the truth – SC doesn’t like mountain bikers and will never support expansion of biking in wilderness (little ‘w’, not designated Wilderness). Not only will they not support trails, but they will continue to fight every trails project they think they have a chance of winning, as with the Mt. Hood system

    Not only does this mean they don’t get my money, it also means that forests around the country miss out on a population of invested, caring volunteers that go to great lengths to do right by the lands they use. Shame on you, SC.

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  • Fred May 22, 2013 at 10:56 am

    What I find ironic on the hiker/skier/conservationist vs. MTBer argument is that the Sierra Club board/director/members apparently have no issue with driving to Mt. Hood to engage in hiking, skiing, climbing, bird watching, etc. But if someone wants to ride a bike in an area that is already clear cut for skiiing then it’s about Salmon, wildlife and fragile ecosystem preservation. Really, so then should we exclude all recreation activities?

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  • MikeE May 22, 2013 at 7:43 pm

    Oddly, Mt Hood Ski Bowl has been serving up lift access MTB for 20+ years and not one person has brought up any significant impacts on Tom Dick Mtn or Multorpor Mtn. Sierra Club obviously reconizes a good sustainable trail- they rest of ya just wanna post what you ‘think’ you know about trailbuilding and maybe attend one work party every other year. Kenji at OBRA hasn’t touched a MTB bike in years. How can he properly represent someone who is out there every single day. Very confused responses from 89.9% of ya. Turn of the internet- go ride some trail nature lovers.

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    • davemess May 23, 2013 at 10:03 am

      an odd response is backing Sierra Club, with no real reason, other than they haven’t bothered to go after ski bowl, and that OBRA hates mountain biking.

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  • Jon May 22, 2013 at 10:10 pm

    I think the Sierra Club director should make a trip to Whistler to really see how well community thrives not only in the winter, but summertime while the whole community embraces biking and other outdoor recreational activities amidst the pristine surrounding wilderness where wildlife, streams, forest, rivers still flourish.

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