Feb 18

Save Lake Oroville’s Trails

California mountain bicyclists need to write the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) immediately to save mountain bike trail access at Lake Oroville. Public comment ends Feb. 29.

A proper trail management decision at Oroville will protect trail access in other California state parks. This is an issue that affects everyone who rides in California.

Please write to:
Magalie R. Salas, Secretary
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
888 First Street, NE
Washington, D.C. 20426

You’re letter should reference:
“Feather River Project, FERC Project No. 2100-119”

Points to make in your letter:

There is solid science, recreation and management literature to justify shared-use trails at Lake Oroville.
California State Parks has a long, successful history of managing trail recreation (including mountain biking).

California State Parks uses well-crafted policies and guidelines to help them make decisions regarding trail use. State Parks followed these policies and guidelines to determine that trails should be multiple use.

At Lake Oroville, State Parks initiated a public process where hikers, equestrians, bicyclists and other stakeholders could participate in decision-making.

The vocal objections of a few critics do not justify rejecting the decisions that were made.

The California Recreational Trails Committee (comprising of various trail leaders appointed by the governor and representing the California trails community) unanimously supported the decision to make trails at Lake Oroville multi-use.

FERC’s Draft Environmental Assessment (DEA) revealed few instances of actual trail conflict. Other than some vague complaints from one disgruntled equestrian, the EA relied upon a general statement in a bicycle guidebook that many hikers and equestrians “assert” that bikes speed and that riders can’t share trails. That statement had no relevance to the trails in question.

Professional agencies favor shared use. Supporting letters were provided by the California Department of Parks and Recreation, the California Department of Water Resources, the National Park Service and the California Recreational Trails Committee. The process involved substantial involvement of stakeholders
n Neither trail impact nor water quality is at issue. FERC’s assessment itself states there would be “little or no environmental effects on geology and soils, terrestrial, or cultural resources” caused by bicycle use.

The trails in question have been open to bikes without incident for more than two years. This was the result of an extensive public review process.

There is no evidence of safety problems. There were no accidents involving bicycles on the trails during the relevant period of time.


In 2002, the California Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) opened several trails to cyclists at the Feather River Project at Lake Oroville, after a thorough process involving all user groups. Subsequently, the Federal Regulatory Commission (FERC), the overall authority for the area, received some complaints about bicycle use, and became involved. On January 30, 2004, after nearly 2 years of bicycle use, an Environmental Assessment prepared by FERC recommended that the bicycles be banned. The reasoning behind the recommendation is flawed, and reflects little understanding of the needs of cyclists.

The licensee for the project is the California Department of Water Resources (Licensee), and the trails are managed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation (State Parks or DPR). These trails are part of the larger, Lake Oroville State Recreation Area (LOSRA). FERC is the overall federal authority for the Feather River Project.

In 1994, FERC approved a recreation plan for the area, which included a 17.5-mile equestrian/hiking trail, and a 35-mile loop mountain bike trail, which was later expanded to 41 miles. The approved plan included convening the Oroville Recreation Advisory Committee (ORAC), which was charged with reviewing recreational facilities in the project area, and determining the need for improvements. ORAC is composed of agencies, fishing and boating interests, and other groups, but no trail users, other than some anti mountain bike equestrians.

In 2001, and as part of its obligation to manage the trails, State Parks began the process of evaluating the use of trails in the project area as well as changes to trail use policies. It formed the Lake Oroville Trail Advisory Committee to look at opportunities to increase multiple-use trails in the LOSRA. This committee included two equestrians, two mountain bikers, two hikers, and the State Parks Trails Coordinator for LOSRA. State Parks definitely gave adequate notice of the proceedings. Its efforts were well known among stakeholders.

After a great deal of work studying policies, user safety, resource protection and user conflict, State Parks announced that all trails at the project would be open to bicycles as well as hikers and equestrians, unless posted closed. The trails were formally opened to bikes in early 2002, and have been enjoyed by cyclists since that time.

In November 2002, having received complaints from ORAC and others, FERC reminded the Licensee about the existing (1994) plan, and said a formal request to amend that plan would be necessary to open the trails. FERC based this on the alleged failure of State Parks to consult with ORAC and other groups, and upon a clearly erroneous technical error in the 1994 plan. Pursuant to that, the Licensee consulted with all interested entities and individuals, including ORAC, in an extensive process. On February 10, 2003, the Licensee held a large meeting, notice of which was given to all parties involved. One hundred seventy people attended, and in addition, 600 comment letters were submitted.

Significantly, the weight of public opinion favored shared use. (58% of 600 letters). The relevant professional opinion favored shared use, including Department of Parks and Recreation, the Department of Water Resources, the National Park Service, and the California Recreational Trails Committee.

The position of the National Park Service (NPS) is of particular interest. Under the Federal Power Act, NPS is authorized to provide technical assistance for recreation planning in the licensing of hydropower facilities. Its policy is to ensure that hydroelectric projects subject to re-licensing recognize the full potential for meeting recreation demands, while maintaining a quality environmental setting.

In a letter dated February 11, 2003, the NPS indicated it was very disappointed that FERC had chosen to intervene in State Park�s authority regarding management of trails on LOSRA. NPS urged that FERC�s November order for an amendment request was �an over-reaction to a concerted effort on the part of a couple of individuals who mounted a massive letter-writing campaign.� It said that without understanding the true objective of the campaign, (to eliminate mountain bicycles,) FERC had seized on a technical error in the 1993 Recreation Plan, and ordered a reversal of State Park�s 2002 multi use policy, as well as the amendment request. NPS noted that FERC had based this on the mistaken notion that the 2002 policy might be inconsistent with a clearly erroneous statement in the 1994 plan that �Mountain bikes are restricted to paved roads.� (It was an error because in fact, the 1994 plan clearly permitted bikes on dirt trails.)

NPS indicated that it and virtually all other federal land-managing agencies have a policy of encouraging multi use wherever possible and practical, and that it is the responsibility of the managing agency, (State Parks in this case,) to identify exceptional cases where multi use won�t work.

NPS disagreed with FERC�s contention that notice of the 2001 planning effort was defective. It pointed out that the action was well known by all stakeholders, including ORAC, in the FERC Project re-licensing plenary and recreation work group. It was properly noticed with the State Clearing House and posted on State Park�s website in a timely manner.

NPS was very disturbed at the practice of an outside agency intervening in the day-to-day decisions and management of recreation operations.

In concluding that State Park�s 2002 decision to open trails, as well as the proceedings that led to it were completely appropriate, NPS urged that FERC�s action was a potentially bad precedent, which could compromise the licensing effort now under way.

Later in February,(after the big public meeting and a great deal of process,) ORAC protested that they had not been consulted sufficiently. They and others wrote letters, and filed motions to intervene. Subsequently, FERC received more comments from the public. By the close of the public comment period in June, 2003, it had received an additional nine letters; seven opposed multiple use, while two favored it.

After all of the above proceedings, Licensee made a formal request in April 2003, that FERC amend the approved recreation plan (1994) to convert specified trails to shared or multiple use trails, (which had already been opened in 2001.) FERC had its staff prepare an Environmental Assessment (EA) to examine the request.

On January 30, 2004, the EA was announced. It recommended that the proposed amendment to open trails be denied, and that the trail policies remain as set forth in the 1994 plan.

FERC�s decision making process did not include an adequate analysis of environmental or social effects of the bicycle use, and the conclusions drawn are not supported by their own, much less easily available data. The reasoning behind the EA recommendation is deeply flawed, and indicates little understanding of the issues.

It should be noted first that EA agreed that there would be �little or no environmental effects on geology and soils, terrestrial, or cultural resources� from the changes proposed by the amendment, and that there would be no affect on water quality, because the trails had been in existence and used for a long time. In other words, trail or water impact are not issues.

At the outset, the EA cited the California Trail Plan, stating that �DPR recognized that trails that were originally designed as narrow, single-track equestrian and hiking trails often failed to meet the needs of mountain bike users, as well as other trail users.� This takes the statement completely out of context. It was actually intended to indicate that trail use changes are coming, and that we need to be attentive to that, and design trails with the entire trail community in mind. It goes on to argue that multi use trails are most economical in terms of resource allocation. It�s a pro multi-use quote, not an anti one.

In support of its recommendation, the EA stated that bikes affect trail safety, but provided no credible basis for this conclusion. It cited, but totally misread the California State Parks, Angeles District accident statistics of 1995-96. The Angeles District probably has tens of thousands of mountain bike, hiker, and equestrian visitor days. True, there were 46 accidents that year, but almost all of them were minor, and involved solo bicyclists. There were five accidents involving bikes and hikers, but three of these were minor. The small number of accidents in such a large metropolitan area shows that multi use is relatively safe, rather than a reason to forbid bikes. Trail safety statistics, such as these provided by California State Parks, have been used to support shared-use trails by other, more knowledgeable agencies. Interestingly, in LOSRA, (which includes project in question,) no bike accidents were reported; in fact, the only accident involved someone who fell off a horse.

The EA�s �proof� of user conflicts and trail impact is spurious, to say the least. It stated that �Many hikers and horseback riders assert that mountain bikes travel too fast, and many riders are too awkward to share the trail with other users,� and that �Hikers and horseback riders have asserted that mountain bikes are destroying trail surfaces due to their weight and force.� BOTH of these quotes were taken from Ann Marie Brown�s book, �Northern California Biking�, which is a guide to 150 road and trail rides. You can bet that the book went on to talk about the importance of good behavior. There was nothing cited in the EA recommendation about specific user complaints in the region, other than vague references to �user conflicts� made by an equestrian.

The discussion about trail maintenance is odd. During the past few years, State Parks has increased its trail maintenance, and improved its trails to meet state standards. Yet this positive activity is somehow used as an argument against multiple use on the assumption that this must be necessary because mountain bikes have more impacts. This seems to contradict their statement that trail impact is not an issue, and worse, is a bootstraps method to support their recommendation.

It should also be noted that the trails in question have been open to bikes for nearly two years, without incident, other than the single equestrian accident mentioned above. There had been extensive public review and participation in the process, first to develop the �open unless closed� policy, and later to request the amendment as required by FERC. It was after this extensive process, and after the resulting decision to request the amendment, that ORAC took action to oppose opening the trails.

In its recommendation, the EA criticized State Parks for not involving ORAC and RSWG in its process. But these groups were working on re-licensing, a three year process. These committees did not include specific representatives of trail groups. As part of its ongoing obligation to manage recreation, State Parks created the Lake Oroville Trails Advisory Committee, which included the State Parks Trails Coordinator, as well as local equestrians, hikers, and cyclists. They were charged with examining trail use in light of current State Park standards. They did their job, and it was their recommendation that led to the multi use proposal. ORAC and RSWG were to deal with the trail issue in terms of the longer time frame of re-licensing.

As part of its �reasoning,� the recommendation said that bikers don�t need the trails in question, because they have many trail opportunities in the surrounding national forest, therefore, they have enough opportunity in the Oroville unit. This is absurd. They should use the same argument against equestrians who have the ENTIRE forest to ride in. Somehow this fits with another statement that the proposal would �reduce user experience for equestrians.� It�s hard to tell what that means. It certainly does not mean that the agency is considering �user experience for cyclists� in any meaningful manner.

To understand why this recommendation is so flawed, it helps to look at the literature cited and relied upon by the EA. Other than 2 bicycle guide books, there are only official agency documents dealing with planning and the like. There is nothing else there. There are no studies of user conflict, or methods to deal with it. There was no science of any kind.

It appears that an orderly and thorough process was derailed by anti bike people, who were able to make a lot of noise, and harass the FERC into refusing the recommendation of Licensee, without any basis in fact.

In conclusion, State Parks followed a reasonable process in making the changes, and the Licensee followed a reasonable process in approving those changes, and later in requesting the amendment. It was the FERC that insisted on the amendment request, and it was the FERC�s Environmental Assessment that used flawed analysis to reject the proposed amendment. The proceedings indicate that the FERC seems ready to privilege the experiences of equestrian trail use over the experience of other legitimate trail users. This is plain wrong. The recommendation contained in the Environmental Assessment must be rejected, and the trails should remain open to bicycles.