Debate: Should Natural Area Open to Mountain Bikers, Trail Runners?

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Photo Courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management

On Monday, the city council of Charlottesville, Virginia decided to table a proposal that would have opened a popular natural area to mountain bikers, trail runners, and dogs.

The debate arose after the city, which recently assumed control of the Ragged Mountain Natural Area, held a meeting to determine if said uses were appropriate in Ragged Mountain and desired by community members.

Currently, this 980-acre forest, which surrounds the Ragged Mountain Reservoir, only allows for “passive” recreational uses like hiking and bird watching, but many in the community would like to see those uses expanded.

“We think with a shift of rules at Ragged Mountain, we’ll see a lot better opportunities [for mountain biking],” Sam Lindblom, president of the Charlottesville Area Mountain Bike Club, said during a recent meeting of the Charlottesville City Council. “There are tremendous connecting corridors to get from trails like the Rivanna Trail out to Ragged Mountain.”

RM-trailsCourtesy of City of Charlottesville

Lindblom, who also represents the Rivanna Trails Foundation and Charlottesville Area Trail Runners, says that everyone has a right to enjoy the natural beauty that Ragged Mountain has to offer regardless of his or her preferred method of outdoor recreation.

“What we love about our various pursuits, whether it be birding, mountain biking, or running, is that it gets us outside,” he said in an interview with WVIR-TV. “It gets us into these beautiful places, and everybody wants to experience nature in a different way.”

But not everyone agrees with Linblom’s assessment.

“These activities are inappropriate for a natural area,” said Charlottesville resident Downing Smith during the same council meeting where Lindblom voiced his opinion. “We have lots of parks where people can run and ride their bicycles, can walk their dogs. This is the only natural area.”

City Council Member Dede Smith is a former director of the Ivy Creek Foundation, which previously managed the Ragged Mountain Natural Area before handing it over to the city back in September.

She says that the council should consider the reasons that such recreational regulations were originally imposed on Ragged Mountain and take that information into account going forward.

“I think it’s really important to understand why these rules were imposed in the first place,” Smith said. “At the time, Ragged Mountain Natural Area was probably the most ecologically significant piece of land anywhere in this region.”

At a Charlottesville City Council Meeting on Monday, October 19, during which nearly two dozen residents spoke on the matter, the council voted 3-2 to delay opening the trails until the completion of a “natural diversity inventory.” It is likely that results from this inventory will not be submitted to council members until spring.

“We do have a process for our parks that we always follow and it wasn’t followed,” said Councilor Dede Smith said. “I can see how this happened, but it’s not what we do in the city.”

Do you think mountain biking, trail running, and other forms of outdoor recreation that might not be considered “passive” should be allowed in designated natural areas throughout the Blue Ridge? Let us know in the comment feed below and learn more about this particular issue here.

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