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March 2: Disciples of Dirt

Mountain bike riding is a sport with growing popularity in this area where cities are surrounded by forests well-suited for riding. Disciples of Dirt Mountain Bike Club (DOD) boasts members from all over the Pacific Northwest and beyond, but focuses efforts within Oregon’s Southern Willamette Valley, where the club was founded, and the majority of its membership lives and rides. Club members share a high level of passion for mountain biking and the DOD is well known within the cycling world for being stewards of our local trails and champions for improved trail access for cyclists. What may be less known about Disciples of Dirt is that it is also a leader in the maintenance, rehabilitation, and construction of new trails in the forests. Peter O’Toole, the “Trail Czar” of Disciples of Dirt, talked to City Club on March 2nd not only about the sport, but about the club’s major efforts to making mountain riding more available to the community. Although the club’s roots are in the Oakridge area, they have expanded, both in terms of riding opportunities and trail development, to several other areas in Lane County.

For the past several years they have worked on trail development in the area know as the Carpenter Bypass, near Lorane. (For a map of that area click the Carpenter Bypass Map.) As the unofficial use of the trails in that area grew from 2010-2012, the Club petitioned the Bureau of Land Management, who was responsible for the public lands where the trails ere located, to officially sanction use of the trails for bike riding. Although BLM did so, the public process was somewhat controversial because of concerns from equestrian riders who had also been using the tails. Ultimately BLM decided that the trails would be managed [primarily for bike riding other uses, such as equestrian use, would be allowed a well. So far, conflicts have proved to be minimal. In addition to getting approval for the tails that existed, the club also secured a grant for BLM to construct trails with the intent of moving all of the tails off of private property and on to publicly owned property. So far, the club has invested of $75,000 in trail repair and rehabilitation in the area and plans to build a mile of new trails this spring.

The club has also made a major investment in the potential for developing trails in the Thurston Natural area just east of the Springfield City limits. Beginning in 2017 the club collaborated with Willamalane Park and Recreation District to develop a plan for 4.5 miles in the Natural Area. (See the THNA Trail Map.) In addition, the club has collaborated in a plan to develop more trails inn an area adjacent to the Willamalane managed area that is the subject of a proposed timber sale. Those plans were incorporated in the National Environmental Policy Act process surrounding the timber sale. Development of those trails has stalled however, because of litigation challenging the timber sale. BLM has concluded that without the timber sale being approved it cannot move ahead with the bike trail plan and is now contemplating moving ahead with a new harvest proposal for the timber sale that would not include the bike trails as an element. The club has taken issue with this approach, pointing out that the previous process contemplated the trails and because of that they are considered reasonably likely activities that should be considered in the next NEPA evaluation.

Mr. O’Toole said they had not experienced NEPA issues in work on the Carpenter Bypass trail system because those trails, even the part that were “rogue” trails that had not been approved, were preexisting features of the land and, accordingly, categorically excluded from NEPA analysis. Trails are typically about 40 inches wide, and for environmental purposes are considered to have a 50-foot buffer from the trail centerline. Mr. O’Toole said new trails are generally constructed using mechanical equipment for dirt removal with volunteers doing finishing work by hand.

Disciples of Dirt has about 150 members, although may more individuals regularly ride the trails in the local area, some of whom are current or former members. The club does occasionally support specified kids rides to help introduce younger riders to the sport and last fall hosted a skills clinic to help riders maintain and improve their riding abilities. Mr. O’Toole said it is very important to make sure riders have good equipment. The typical mountain bike cost at least $1,500 to $3,000, when some going for as much as $10,000. While those costs are high, he said, it is important to make sure that your equipment is of high quality and in good condition for safe riding.

In response to a question, Mr. O’Toole said that most riders and trail managers have no objection to electric pedal-assist bicycles. BLM does not have a  vigorous enforcement policy and thus pedal-assist electric bikes are generally not a problem, although motorcycles are not permitted on trails

The club is now involved with BLM on yet another project in the Oakridge area. The Cloverpatch project will seek to complete a loop of about 30 miles near the town of West Fir. The club will be doing the scoping of the trails for BLM. They are about 18 months into the project, with about two more years to go, Mr. O’Toole said.

With respect to some environmental concerns, Mr. O’Toole said that it is important to understand the nature of the land where trails are bult. He said that while trails in the Carpenter Bypass can be used year-round, many of the trails built in the Thurston area would not be useable in the winter because of different soil and drainage conditions.


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