Senior citizens who enjoy quiet but challenging hikes are only accommodated in one place in Charlottesville and all of Albemarle County, according to former mayor Kay Slaughter. And that’s Ragged Mountain Natural Area, where three out of five city councilors say mountain biking and trail running should be allowed—which would make the vicinity a little less peaceful.
“Ragged Mountain is one of two natural areas,” says Slaughter, who has been hiking there since the trail system was completed in the late ’90s. “For those who want [them], more than 70 miles of bicycle trails currently exist in other county and city parks.”
Several people voiced the same grievances at a December 5 City Council meeting, in which the public heard the first of two readings of a draft ordinance to lift the ban on biking and running at Ragged Mountain and 35 signed up to comment. A conclusion to the ongoing controversy draws nearer—the final reading is scheduled for December 19.
Dave Hirschman, chairman of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, says his group has spent some time hiking and boating at Ragged Mountain—“not biking or taking any dogs, of course”—and consulting with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s natural heritage program.
“One of the things that some of the board members pointed out is that even though there are various opinions, there’s a great deal of common ground,” he said. “When it did come time to take votes, there was one unanimous vote, and that was to allow hiking, trail running, fishing and boats with electric motors or no motors.”
However, he said opinions varied on details of the proposed ordinance and the board decided on a few limitations: To the extent possible, the trails for hiking and mountain biking should be separate, though all biking trails should also be open for hiking. On very narrow and steep single track trails, there should be no shared use. And biking should not be allowed from the natural area’s dam to the pontoon bridge nor around the southwest corner of the property.
The last restriction is troubling to those in the mountain biking community, which wants the ability to bike an entire loop around Ragged Mountain’s perimeter.
President of the Charlottesville Area Mountain Bike Club Sam Lindblom says allowing bikers in the southern area near the floating bridge would disperse them away from the majority of hikers who may not want to be in the same vicinity as the cyclists. He submitted a CAMBC-approved shared-use map to council for consideration.
“It makes sense to allow cyclists to quickly move towards the west and south side trails where only a small percentage of walkers will venture to,” he wrote in an accompanying letter, adding that without a loop trail, bikers will be restricted to the northeast corner where the majority of hikers concentrate. Hikers rarely use the floating bridge, he says, because it’s a long hike from the parking lot, next to the noisy interstate and down a steep gravel road that could be designed safer for bikers.
Former mayor Slaughter says this southern area is also an “ecological hot spot,” an area of great concern for the plant populations, which a city-ordered biostudy previously noted. Though it seems like bike approval at Ragged Mountain is a foregone conclusion, she says a landscape architect should have a hand in mapping which trails will support shared-use.
“I don’t think I should come in and design the trails, either,” she says. “I think it’s arrogant for any group to think they can do that. I believe that it should be a professional with some kind of oversight from people who have looked at this long and hard.
See full map below. Click to enlarge.