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Despite opposition, mountain bikers in favor of trail plan for Settlers Hill

Published: Wednesday, July 4, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, July 4, 2012 4:17 p.m. CDT
(Sandy Bressner - sbressner@shawmedia.com)
Jenaiya Stolper is an avid mountain biker and often travels to the Palos Heights area for trail rides. Stolper says the mountain biking community is "very tight-knit."

Taped to a counter at All Spoked Up is a map of what a redeveloped Settlers Hill may look like. Matt Knowles, a partner at the downtown Batavia bike shop, doesn’t hesitate to explain why the proposed mountain bike trails would be an asset to the landfill.

“If done right,” he said, “it could be one of the best trail systems in the Midwest.”

The elevation changes make it an ideal site for mountain biking, which differs from other types of cycling because it is off-road and covers natural terrain, Knowles said.

With only a few legal single-track trails in the Chicago area, he and other mountain bikers said the trails at Settlers Hill would fill a need.

He said he believes mountain bikers were unfairly characterized by neighbors of Fabyan Woods who urged a Kane County committee to keep the mountain bike trails out of the forest adjacent to Settlers Hill.

Opponents want the county to preserve the woods as a “quiet refuge” from bicyclists and have claimed mountain bikers engage in “risky behavior” that has no place in a Kane County Forest Preserve District property.

Genevan Ben Jenkins described the opposition as “a lot of unjust negativity on us” and said he was “bummed out” mountain bikers “came out looking like a group that we aren’t.”

Jerry Stoeckigt is the executive director of Chicago Area Mountain Bikers – or CAMBr – a nonprofit organization that has more than 4,500 people registered on its website. He and Jenkins described mountain biking as a family sport that people of all ages and walks of life – doctors, lawyers, businessmen – participate in.

“It really covers the whole gamut,” Stoeckigt said.

But in greater Chicago, Stoeckigt said, the bikers have few places to exercise their sport. Some areas include the Palos Forest Preserve in Willow Springs, Knoch Knolls Park in Naperville and Saw Wee Kee Park in Oswego. That’s why he’s excited about new trails planned for Raceway Woods in Carpentersville.

The Kane County Forest Preserve District is in the process of approving a license agreement with CAMBr regarding the proposed single-dirt turf trail, said Mike Holan, director of operations and maintenance. CAMBr will maintain the trail.

Depending on how the two-year agreement goes, the district may consider similar partnerships in the future. Holan said the district tries to provide as much recreation as possible to county residents with the least amount of destruction to natural resources.

The district had problems several years ago with mountain bikers building trails and jumps in the East Fabyan Forest Preserve, Holan said. He noted signs now indicate the area is closed to bikes.

“If it’s done where it’s allowed in a proper fashion, it can function with what we’re doing,” Holan said. “If it’s not, it does nothing but destroy a natural resource, and that’s where the problem comes in.”

Potential environmental damage is among the reasons why Kathleen Valle, a Fox Run neighborhood resident, and others oppose mountain biking in Fabyan Woods. She fears the sport will hurt the trees’ roots, threaten fragile woodland plants and cause erosion.

“I am in favor of mountain biking, provided it’s in the right location,” she said. “This simply isn’t the right location.”

Knowles doesn’t believe mountain bikers will affect the forest’s trees. Thousands of bikers travel the Palos trails, he said, and the trees appear fine.

Stoeckigt said CAMBr is sensitive to the environment when designing trails. It follows international trail-building standards to reduce erosion and directs paths around plant life as needed.

“Every trail we build has an environmentalist walk through before the trail gets built,” he said.

CAMBr members clocked almost 2,000 hours of trail maintenance last year, Stoeckigt said. Maintenance includes keeping sight lines clear, re-sculpting sections and improving the trail tread.

“Mountain bikers are very respectful to the woods because they get it,” he said.

Valle is also concerned about conflicts between bikers and walkers.

“It would be very difficult for bikers to anticipate who might be on the trails walking and simply enjoying themselves,” she said. “… A biker might come rapidly around the corner and not see them.”

Knowles and John Mesmer, a mountain biker from Geneva, said bikers understand they’re sharing trails with hikers. Although Mesmer didn’t see another person while in the woods during a recent visit, he is courteous when he encounters others.

Jenkins believes the opposition toward mountain bikers was based on a few instances, not the community as a whole.

“There’s always bad apples in any organization,” he said.

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