On Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019, a motorcyclist collided with a group of young mountain bikers near the Gateway Trail in Mount Shasta, California. Two middle schoolers were injured, one suffering a broken femur and the other a broken hand.
This accident highlighted the potential conflicts between different groups of trail users on public and private lands. The trails are non-motorized, multi-use, meaning they can accommodate hikers, runners, dog walkers, bicyclists, and horseback riders. Motorcycles and other motorized vehicles are prohibited within the Gateway Trail system, which is on US Forest Service land. Even the gravel access roads within the Gateway system are off limits to motorized vehicles.
Two problems contribute to possible dangerous interactions. First, many of the motorcycles are not street legal (so-called “dirt bikes”), so the riders want to get off paved streets and onto dirt roads and trails as soon as possible. This places them on trails close to town where hikers, dogs, and slow bicyclists are more frequently found. Second, it is hard to police the access roads and trails because the land is owned by numerous entities, including the USFS, the Forbis Estate (which owns the partially abandoned railroad line), and other private landowners.
With summer upon us, the Gateway Trail system is as busy as ever with non-motorized trail users, and there have been recent encounters with motorcycles causing unsafe situations. The Mount Shasta Trail Association has been in discussion with US Forest Service officials regarding how to minimize/stop the dangerous interactions between motorcyclists and other trail users. Here are some suggestions:
1. Motorcyclists need to understand the risk to trail users because of the speed and weight of the vehicles they are riding. They need to avoid the lower elevation trails and connecting roads for the safety of their fellow citizens. The Gateway Trail System is not conducive to, nor built for, this type of trail activity.
2. Motorcyclists can utilize the miles and miles of national forest system roads approved for motorized use. These can be identified on the Motor Vehicle Use Map of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, available for free at the USFS offices or online (including Avenza download) at: www.fs.usda.gov/detail/stnf/maps-pubs/?cid=fseprd632360.
3. Trail users should photograph and report motorcyclists they encounter on non-motorized trails (report to USFS).
4. The USFS will increase patrols of known locations where motorcyclists are most commonly found.
5. Fast downhill bicyclists should also control their speed in areas where hikers, dogs, and slower bikers can be met. Even though the weight and speed may not be as high as for motorcycles, there is still risk of collision and injury.
It is anticipated that as segments of the Gateway II Trail system open up, it will disperse many of the fast downhill mountain bikers to higher elevations, but the motorcycle problem will persist, since Gateway II will also be a non-motorized trail system. Education and community involvement may help prevent a repeat of the unfortunate accident that occurred last year. There are plenty of opportunities around our area where all trail users can enjoy our “community backyard.” Please recreate responsibly, abide by rules and regulations, and respect other trail users.