By Don Corrigan
America has seen some major battles over special-interest use of public lands. Those fights have usually involve mining, timber, oil and gas interests. The fight came to Kirkwood recently when a mountain bike concern sought use of Kirkwood City Park.
Dave Schulz of the Gateway Off-Road Cyclists (GORC) sought use of a forested area of the city park for cycling trails for his organization. Public reaction was swift and by the end of January, Schulz appeared to be backing off.
GORC will no longer support the addition of cycling within the west forest at Kirkwood Park. Following discussion with Kirkwood’s Parks Director Kyle Henke, the Gateway Off-Road Cyclists (GORC) will no longer support the addition of cycling within the forest at Kirkwood Park, according to Schulz.
A bicycle playground and family-oriented bike area outside of the forest are still being considered. Dave Schulz of GORC told the Webster-Kirkwood Times that Henke spoke with him on Thursday, Jan. 20, regarding the proposed updates to Kirkwood Park’s trail system, which would include mixed-use areas permitting cyclists.
During their conversation, Henke told Schulz that the Kirkwood Master Plan, along with other documents, does not support using the forested trails for GORC’s cycling. Henke cited conflicts with the master plan — which states that Kirkwood residents believe the trail system should be designated as “passive natural” — as well as environmental concerns regarding detrimental effects of biking.
Schulz said GORC — a non-profit organization for the advocacy, design, construction and maintenance of multi-use trails — would continue to help with improving Kirkwood Park’s current damaged trail system, despite the fact that mountain biking is no longer included in the proposal.
This controversy over public land use in Kirkwood appears to have been settled before it began. Monstrous battles over use of public lands by mining, timber, oil and gas interests are not so easily resolved. Often, the public interest is trumped by special interests.
One big reason that the public loses the monster battles is because state and federal lawmakers are influenced by monstrous campaign contributions by mining, timber, oil and gas interests. And so, the trees are clear cut, the mountains are decapitated, the woods are lost to strip mining and the land quakes with the machinery of fracking.
The dilemma over the special recreational use of a Kirkwood Park is obviously on a more benign and smaller scale than the monster state and national battles which the public so often loses. Still, these micro controversies can be instructive about the macro controversies that take place in the United States of America.
In the Kirkwood case, the local public interest was well-represented by nature groups that enlisted the help of experts like Scott George, PG. Master Naturalist Environmental Science Consulting, LLC. According to George’s study of the Kirkwood Park situation:
• Intact natural communities are uncommon in the metro St. Louis area. Kirkwood Park Forest is a small (14 acres), but biologically diverse community, with 186 plants identified in three communities; upland forest, bottomland forest and riparian zone. Over 103 birds use Kirkwood Park, with several rare (listed) migratory songbirds, along with Barred Owls and Red-headed Woodpeckers. Most areas have been restored by volunteers (honeysuckle removal/planting natives). This area is designated as Passive/Natural Area in the Kirkwood Parks Master Plan.
• GORC proposes a network of mountain bike/recreational trails, totaling over 2 miles. These will not be foot-paths, but large trails with clear lines of sights (removing trees), grade controls, and berms/rolling shapes, which mountain cyclists enjoy. Mountain bike trails can be very destructive; fragmenting natural communities, disturbing and impeding wildlife movement, eroding/compacting soil, introducing exotic species, and turning many trails into mud. Bikers seldom stay on defined trails, but cut cross-country, heavily impacting flora/fauna.
• Human movement/noise disturbs wildlife, driving it from natural areas. A meta-analysis of 274 studies assessing recreational impacts to wildlife, found negative impacts in almost every case (Larson 2016) (USFWS 2018). Some wildlife will not cross human barriers; e.g., woodland salamanders, for example (Marsh 2005).
• Parks are intended for multiple uses, including cycling, but ecological impacts should be recognized and avoided, when possible. We can see no need to develop the Kirkwood Park Forest, which should remain a natural area, as intended by Kirkwood citizens.