|You might remember this image I posted about a week or so ago....|
I don't mean to say I'm some sort of "expert" on singletrack by any means, but I know a lot about singletrack in the Greenbelt and how people treat it, use it, maintain it, and neglect it. My ride a while back brought many thoughts to the fore, and a recent trail group's Facebook thread reminded me of some other things. So, once again, I must post the following disclaimer before moving on with my thoughts.
NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....
So, singletrack- that narrow dirt ribbon laced on either side by copious amounts of Nature. I tend to have a "narrow definition" of singletrack, (sorry for the pun), and much of what I see today in the woods isn't singletrack. Not by my definition. It is sanitized, contrived, not well thought out, and too easy. It has too much "man made" and not enough "natural". Much of the singletrack- so called- doesn't work with the area it is in, but against it, and the results are predictable.
|About as close as it gets today to the classic, old school Green Belt single track.|
Then I got a mountain bike and I took it back in the Green Belt circa 1989-90. I rarely saw other cyclists here. There were still plenty of the original trails left, but even then I recall flooding that took out huge chunks of shoreline that used to have the trail on it. In fact, I nearly flew right into the creek on one ride when I came around a corner and poof! The trail was gone. Instead the single track ended about twenty feet above the creek in an exposed tangle of grassy roots. A hairy root ball sticking out into nothing. I stopped just in time.
It was also a given that you didn't ride the Green Belt back then without getting "high fived" by Nature. Tree branches slapped you in the face. Seven foot tall weeds lined parts of the trail, making the singletrack invisible for several yards. Nettles would scrape your legs and make your skin itch to high heaven. Waterloo Parks & Rec would mow once a year. This generally happened after the weeds and undergrowth matured, maybe early September. Late August in some years. You might not even get to ride back there some years in Summer, the vegetation was so thick.
|This bandit trail in the Green Belt is a pretty good reminder of "how things used to be".|
|Now days most of the Green Belt is wide enough for a dump truck and mowed on a regular basis. Some say that's better.....|
The City brought in an end loader instead of the old, 4ft wide brush hog mower they used to use. Suddenly a clear cut mentality was being used to maintain the area. The single track was double tracked for a while. The big machines the City used were destroying what was once a wild area and turning it in to a grass highway, for all intents and purposes. Quads and motorcyclists started tearing up the place and I even saw pick-up trucks with fisherman driving up from the Southern terminus of the trail at one time a few years back. The City made it possible to drive back there due to the new, ultra-wide track they enforced on the Green Belt, so people did just that. We never saw that back when the single track was truly narrow.
The other thing that I see is how trail users want to "make things easier" all the time. If they see mud, they try to ride around it, lensing out the trail and making a little mud hole a great big one. Instead of getting off their bicycles or taking a few minutes of time, they walk and ride around fallen branches instead of clearing them off the trail. They'd rather burn in another line instead of maintaining the one that has been there for decades. I blame the super-wide mowing job the City does now. The users take the easier routes because they can. Nature is pushed further away, and it doesn't take much imagination to see that a paved trail mentality is starting to take hold of this part of Waterloo. Yeah....more run-off issues, more high maintenance costs, and more sanitized trail. Gah! I hope it never happens, but city governments seem to think paved Nature trails are an attraction for everyone.
|Typical single track look that CVAST does these days.|
Now, I don't have all the answers, but I know that all across the nation, singletrack is getting less "natural" and more contrived. I feel with the way things seem to be headed, we're taking away more than we need to be. There should be a better balance of the "natural" and the maintained. Getting dirty and having a brush with green things shouldn't be frowned upon. Singletrack should be narrow, not eight feet wide with a bare tread down the middle. Do we really need to build berms and structures, or should we learn how to ride the land as it lays? I'm not sure where the balance is there, but I see more "built" trails than I do trails that are so much a part of the landscape you barely notice it.