Bikes in, dogs out at Ragged Mountain

Signs prohibiting pets at Ragged Mountain Natural Area were recently posted in its new parking lot to limit confusion and people breaking the rules. Staff photo Signs prohibiting pets at Ragged Mountain Natural Area were recently posted in its new parking lot to limit confusion and people breaking the rules. Staff photo

In a 6-2 vote, the Charlottesville Parks & Recreation Advisory Board recommended on October 19 that City Council allow biking on some trails at Ragged Mountain Natural Area, but some sports enthusiasts still have their concerns about the endorsement.

Dave Stackhouse, an advocate for shared use of the trails, says he’s disappointed the board recommended no bikes in the southeast and southwest corners of the natural area because of its “unsuitable terrain” and a desire to protect sensitive areas.

“Terrain can be handled with good trail design, which is needed anyway,” he says. “And bikes wouldn’t cause any more difficulty or damage than hikers in the southwest corner. Plus, those areas being closest to I-64 won’t be peaceful for hikers, so why not have them as shared-use?”

Shared-use in this area, he says, would allow bikers to complete a loop around the site by riding across a floating bridge.

At the meeting, a series of motions led to the parks & rec board’s recommendation, beginning with a unanimous vote to not lift the natural area’s prohibition on dogs and to allow trail-running, hiking, fishing and non-motorized boats.

Cyclists, runners and dogs have been banned from Ragged Mountain since it opened as a natural area in 1999. Multiple meetings on the controversial topic have been highly attended.

“City Council still needs to decide this, so we’re concerned what the trail plan and what the specifics of the ordinance will be,” Stackhouse says. “We expect the hiker-only vocal minority to continue to exaggerate the impact of bikes and we expect them to speak strongly against shared-use during the public comment portion when the matter is before City Council.”

The planning commission will make its own recommendation November 9, before City Council ultimately decides on the fate of Ragged Mountain, which could happen as early as December.

“The purity of the water should be the main issue,” says Afton resident Cathy Clary, “especially with all the different water controversies that are bubbling up all over the nation.”

Those advocating against allowing bikes and dogs on the property have long cited the environmental effects of doing so.

About the bikers, Clary says, “They want to do what they want to do and they don’t want to accept the fact that what they want to do has negative consequences.”

She adds, “You’ve gotta draw the line somewhere. I would hope that the public interest would trump—if you’ll forgive me—these individual private interests.”

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