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Recreation Opponents Vocal in Melrose

posted Nov 12, 2011, 6:01 AM by michele biscoe   [ updated Nov 12, 2011, 6:27 AM ]
The deadline to submit comments on the MA Department of Conservation and Recreation's (DCR) draft Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the Middlesex Fells Reservation is November 14.  In the two weeks leading up to the deadline, opponents of public access in the Fells have stepped up their efforts to keep people off public recreation land.

Friends of the Fells Executive Director, Mike Ryan, wrote a guest column in the Melrose Free Press, "DCR must put conservation first in the Fells" on October 27.  Ryan is critical of the DCR because "the agency proposes opening more trails to bike riding and promoting more options for dogs to be allowed loose on hiking trails."  In particular Ryan targets the involvement of "vocal dog owner groups" in the public process for the RMP.

This past week, the Melrose Free Press printed a letter to the editor from the Friends' Executive Director as well a letters from Anita W. Brewer-Siljeholm, a member of the Friends of the Middlesex Fells Advisory Council, and Steve Gyurina, whose photographs have been published in the Friends of the Fells Newsletter.  The letters from the Friends of the Fells are all anti-recreation. Brewer-Siljeholm's position is that "bikes don’t belong in the Fells". Gyurina, too, recommends: "plans for new bike trails at the Middlesex Fells as described in the draft RMP should not be included in the final plan".

The reality is that existing rules do not work for a majority of the recreational users of the Fells. By insisting on enforcement rather than revision of the rules, the Friends of the Fells explicitly want the people who currently use the Fells NOT to use the Fells.

Enforcement of existing rules, however, will not drive recreational users out of the Fells.  The uninteded consequence of enforcement of existing rules will be to drive recreation off official trails onto unofficial, “rogue,” or “spider web” trails — or worse, off trail altogether.

Greater Boston New England Mountain Bike Association (GB NEMBA) President, Adam Glick, responded to the Friends of the Fells in a guest column in the Melrose Free Press on November 3 ("An alternate perspective on the Fells management plan").  "The RMP calls for designating more single-track trails as multi-use, effectively normalizing the Fells with other comparable parks, and as a result will provide more legal single-track trails for riding".  "We strongly believe that multi-use trails are the best way to build a positive trail community and reflects what the actual normative trail user experience is".

The official trail system is what sustains the high volume of recreational use at the Fells.  According to the draft RMP “the natural resources currently within in the Fells have co-existed with high levels of recreational use for decades, if not over a century” (49).  This is because, “on well established trails, even large increases in use will result in minimal increases in impact.”  Conversely, “where use levels are low, such as off-trail, small differences in the amount of use can result in substantial differences in impact.” (p 49-50).

A reasonable solution to concerns raised about recreation during the public process for the RMP is to keep recreation--with or without off-leash dogs--on well-established trails, as I propose in a letter to the editor  that was also published in the Melrose Free Press (Fells should be open for diverse use).