Ragged Mountain Natural Area and our Trail Partnerships

Since 2003, the Charlottesville Area Mountain Bike Club has proudly partnered with government agencies and non-profit organizations in an effort to promote sustainable trails, and educate our community about trail stewardship. We have also been fortunate to partner with many community organizations to promote shared trail use, safety education, healthy lifestyles, and alternatives to motor vehicle transportation. Our partners include the City of Charlottesville (City), Albemarle (County) and Fluvanna Counties, the US Forest Service, the University of Virginia, and the Rivanna Trails Foundation.

We will never back away from these partnerships, or our shared missions.  Despite these solid partnerships, we have traversed some rough patches with the City and County recently. Rest assured CAMBC is doing what we do best. We are rallying our volunteers and applying our experience and training to restore a currently unsustainable path.

How did we get here?

In late 2014, the City of Charlottesville took over management of Ragged Mountain Natural Area, and began a series of public hearings to guide future management. The city’s hearing demonstrated the support of our community to open the parks trails to cyclists and runners. These meetings were publicized and well attended. As a recognized leader in sustainable trail design, the city reached out to CAMBC in 2015 for input on a new trail plan, and to help replace trails now underwater following the expansion of the reservoir footprint.  Contrary to a few claims of collusion, CAMBC was never promised or assured cycling access would result.  In that consultation process, several existing, poorly designed and badly eroding trails and roads were identified, and trails with a sustainable grade were drawn up. Aside from the City Parks and Recreation Staff, we have been the only advocate for rehabilitating eroded trails and roads. CAMBC put $3500 of club funding toward 2 days of expertise from professional trail builders, and rallied over 40 volunteers putting in an equivalent of $3,300 of volunteer labor on a third workday.  The City Parks Department soon brought a proposed ordinance to council.  Indeed, both Albemarle County, and the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority  (RWSA) supported the change to include cycling and trail running.  In fact, RWSA has stated that these activities do not in any way impact water quality.  This public video, Parks Director RMNA City Council Briefing, beginning at 1:45 clearly shows this.

As RMNA had previously not gone through a park planning process, the City Council felt a responsibility to restart with new public hearings (totalling 4 public meetings, 2 parks advisory board meetings, 1 planning commission meeting, and 2 city council meetings), especially as a city ordinance needed to be changed to allow additional uses such as cycling, running, pets, boats, etc. This process took well over a year to reach a 3-2 verdict in favor of shared-use over exclusive use, in December of 2016.

During this time, our message has remained consistent and positive:

  • We have the volunteer resources, expertise and equipment ready:
    • to repair or de-commission all of the problematic, eroding trails at Ragged Mountain (that only see foot traffic to date),
    • To construct new trails that follow modern trail standards for sustainability,
    • To work with our partners to insure that the placement of these trails do not negatively impact important, identified natural resources.
  • Shared-use trails benefit community
    • More areas for people to explore outdoors
    • Increased value ascribed to natural pursuits and environmental protection
    • Promotes healthy lifestyles
    • More users generates more advocates for our local trails
  • Sustainable trails benefit the environment
    • Less erosion
    • A sustainable trail system identifies area trail users would like to visit (positive control points). Of equal importance is to identify sensitive or dangerous areas to keep trail users away from (negative control points). A comprehensive sustainable trail plan uses positive and negative control points to guide trail users through an enjoyable natural experience, without risk of danger to the trail user, damage to a sensitive area, or encouraging trail users to venture off trail.
  • Mountain biking has no proven increased impact to the environment and trails compared to hiking
    • Mountain bikers spend less time in a specific spot, reducing animal disruption
    • Mountain bikers are less likely to trample sensitive flora and fauna, as going off trail offers no benefit to us versus other foot travel uses

The anti-bike community’s message has focused on elements of fear and hyperbole:

  • Mountain bikers can injure hikers
    • We are unaware of a single reported incident. As a result of this concern, we are promoting the use of bike bells on crowded local trails to mitigate this risk.
    • More miles of trails disperse all trail users, minimizing conflict.
  • Mountain bikers disturb wildlife
    • There is no evidence to support this. Studies supporting either viewpoint may be very specific to geography and local land management practices.
    • Taylor and Knight 2003: No statistical difference in animal disturbance between hikers and mountain bikers.
    • Papouchis et al 2001: Animals fled 61% of encounters with hikers, and only 6% of the time a mountain biker approached
    • Jordan 2000: The presence of trails fragments habitat, and introduces microclimates due to reduced canopy cover and other factors around the trail tread. For this reason, CAMBC would never advocate separated use trails over shared-use trails if environmental impact is a concern.
  • “This is a Natural Area!!!”
    • This will continue to be a natural area.  In no way does allowing running and bicycling destroy RMNA.
    • Human presence at Ragged Mountain is evident and longstanding. Old homestead foundations can be found within the park leftover from those who farmed the valley. The reservoir at Ragged Mountain has seen 5 major construction projects, and the subsequent expansions of the reservoir pool. A major highway forms a border of the area and a major housing development forms another.
    • Our plan is to create trails that minimize impact to the environment. We would never run a trail through sensitive areas.
    • We recognize how special this place is, which is why we would prefer to partner with other organizations to balance access with sustainability.
  • The reservoir is the water supply for the city and county
    • Mountain bikes in no way pollute water any more than any other trail user.
    • Our trail management practices mitigate sediment runoff. There are dozens of rehabilitated trail sections in our region that prove this. CAMBC is ready to help repair the current erosional problems at Ragged Mountain.
  • Mountain bikers will increase the use of this land, and therefore increase impact
    • They have said openly that the fewer people that access Ragged Mountain, the better.  This view simply does not represent our community.
    • CAMBC believes that this public land should be available for all citizens to enjoy.

Where this has taken us?

The 3-2 vote to allow shared use at Ragged Mountain signified a win for the Charlottesville community. Even before the City Council vote, some opponents of the new plan began to lean on Albemarle County, as the county jointly regulates Ragged Mountain as a water supply. The city has already heard statements from the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (managers of the dam and reservoir) stating that they see no problem allowing cyclists and trail runners to use the reservoir area. Based on this sudden interest by the public in water quality of its reservoirs, the County has removed cycling as an activity promoted at Chris Greene Lake Park, and Totier Creek Park. This move was silent, but not nefarious in nature. It was an oversight they needed to fix because the county code states:

Any activity not expressly permitted, including but not limited to, swimming, hunting, trapping or discharging of firearms and camping shall be prohibited within the boundaries of the reservoir

Despite the fact that trail maps showed bike trails, cycling was a not a permitted activity according to County code, therefore making cycling at these locations illegal. This means we just lost 5 miles of shared-use trail from parks that have never caused concern since their inception. The list of examples of illegal activities, with the exception of swimming, involve activities dangerous to pursue in a populated area, or activities that take from the land. These are reasonable prohibitions. Cycling and running are not expressly permitted around county reservoirs, yet pose no threat to other users, do no damage to the water supply,  and actively give back to the land in the form of volunteer trail maintenance.

What can you do?

We are confident that our longstanding partnership with the City and County, our proven track record of protecting local trails, and our advocacy of trail use for everyone will prevail. We need our members to advocate now. Here is a list of County Supervisors by jurisdiction:

  • Tell them that CAMBC still wishes to be a proud partner of the county. We have so much to offer our parks and trails.
  • Ask them to include cycling and running in the authorized uses on trails around county reservoirs.
  • Ask them for a fast resolution to this conflict between city and county, to which citizens are now caught in the crossfire.
  • Ask them to look at the history of reasonable uses they have advertised in our parks, namely biking, running, canoeing, dog walking (Chris Green Lake Dog park). Ask them if they still consider the presence of these activities, in clear violation of the county code, an amenity to the County’s parks.

To email all of the albemarle supervisors, use
bos@albemarle.org

Individually, they can be contacted at:

Rick Randolph, Scottsville District
rrandolph@albemarle.org

Diantha McKeel, Jack Jouett District
dmckeel@albemarle.org

Liz Palmer, Samuel Miller District
lpalmer@albemarle.org

Brad Sheffield, Rio District
bsheffield@albemarle.org

Ann Mallek, White Hall District
amallek@albemarle.org

Norman Dill, Rivanna District
ndill@albemarle.org

With strong partnerships, we will get past this–hopefully with an ever growing number of trails. Thank you to all of you who have already spoken out over the last 2 years. Every single voice has counted.

 

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