“It embarrasses me that some outdoors people feel that there are others who are not ‘pure enough,’” wrote avid trail hiker of 50 years, John Pfaltz, in a letter to C-VILLE the day after Charlottesville City Council voted 3-2 to table the decision on whether a prohibition on cyclists, runners and dogs would be lifted at Ragged Mountain Natural Area.
Pfaltz has made an annual hiking trip to Douthat State Park, where mountain biking and training is encouraged, for the last eight years, and says the cyclists have been invariably courteous and friendly.
“I’m sure a few are not, but I have not met them,” he adds.
Acknowledging that biking may damage a trail, Pfaltz says, “I can understand people wanting to [preserve] nature,” but, he adds “it keeps people out.” He also acknowledges hiking could damage a trail.
Sam Lindblom, president of the Charlottesville Area Mountain Bike Club, also believes everyone should be given the chance to experience nature, and he says the “epidemic” of people not getting outside contributes to poor health.
“We also know that if we want people to care about natural places, then they have to go there. They have to visit and experience them,” Lindblom says. “People tend to care about places they frequent.”
To make Ragged Mountain more accessible, Lindblom, who is also a longtime member of the Nature Conservancy, says his biking club supports the development of sustainable, shared-use trails, which could be made environmentally responsible with proper planning and by avoiding sensitive areas.
But, for some, any human activity at the natural area is too much.
“It is broadly accepted that there is a tier of disturbance to naturally sensitive areas,” City Councilor Dede Smith says.
Smith, who voted to table the decision, is opposed to lifting the ban on recreational use and believes it should be enforced further.
“It’s not a new principle to say that walking paths have the least impact [on the environment],” she says, “but yes, some areas should be off-limits, period. And that is where we need to focus our attention now.”
Preserving drinking water at Ragged Mountain is one of the main reasons Smith is apprehensive about allowing recreational activity at that location—the area has a two-square-mile watershed due to its “bowl-like” topography, she says.
“Anything bad that happens on that land, including a lot of dog poop and erosion, will end up in our drinking water,” Smith says.
For 14 years, Smith ran the Ivy Creek Foundation, which managed the Ragged Mountain Natural Area until September, when the land was transferred to the city after the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority built the new dam.
Out of 13 parks in the county, where Ragged Mountain Natural Area is located, six allow mountain biking. If it were to be allowed at Ragged Mountain, only one other park, Charlotte Yancey Humphris Park, would be reserved for passive recreation. Other parks allow a slew of activities including hiking, swimming, fishing and horseback riding, with access to grills, picnic shelters and playgrounds. Both Ragged Mountain and Charlotte Yancey Humphris are shared city-county parks.
Charlottesville Parks and Recreation Manager Doug Ehman says it’s going to be awhile before a decision is made, but he’s aiming for next summer. The city’s trails planner, Chris Gensic, plans to inform the City Planning Commission of the results of an environmental study by June. After the commission’s recommendation, the ordinance will go back to City Council for the official vote.