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Mountain bikers, equestrians try to play nice on trails

With a growing community of mountain bike riders, equestrians are trying to hold onto their trails
By: Justin A. Lawson Journal Staff Writer
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The scenic and challenging trails in the Auburn area have become a favorite for hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians. With the pleasant weather and the American River as a backdrop to many of the trails it?s easy to see why, but the swelling numbers of mountain bikers have forced a competition for trail time with equestrians. ?The mountain bike community is just growing and growing and they?re just riding out there on some of the horse trails and we encounter a lot of that,? said Joe Larkin, president of the Gold Country Endurance Riders. On a busy weekend you can find a number of cars parked along the Foresthill Divide Loop with bike racks on the roof. While the trail is designated a multi-use trail, mountain bikers have basically taken over the trail, which was rated one of the top 5 rides in Northern California by Yahoo!. The trails on the loop are narrow with several blind corners that are challenging for mountain bikers to avoid collisions and can easily spook unsuspecting horses. ?The trails are narrow in certain areas so there are problem areas,? said Dan Tebbs, owner of Victory Velo bike shop in Auburn. ?But the majority of the mountain bikers seem to stay on the confluence, Clementine Loop and Stagecoach, Foresthill Divide and the horse people generally stay on the Western States and the trails that they have the rights to.? The Western States Endurance Trail is limited to equestrians and hikers only. It also serves as the home of the Tevis Cup, a 100-mile horse endurance race that begins in Squaw Valley and ends in Auburn, and the Western States Endurance Race. Larkin patrols the Western States Trails with Auburn State Recreational Area Mounted Assisted Unit, a group of about 35 in which he is the president. The group doesn?t have any power but the Auburn State Recreation Area depends on individuals to report issues in remote areas, like the trails, that they can?t readily access. Larkin said that because mountain bike trails have filled up, some riders have ventured on to the Western States Trails despite the clearly marked signs that prohibit them. ?We understand you want to ride it, but you?ve got to be considerate of people who are on horses that are spooked at bikes they can?t hear,? said Larkin, who is also an avid mountain biker. ?It?s a single track and you?ve got a canyon on the side and it can be dangerous.? While both mountain bikers and equestrians said they would ideally like their own trails, both sides admitted that it?s about education. Mountain bikers should announce themselves to horses and be courteous as they pass, Tebbs said. ?I know that the equestrian community they?ve classically been in a defensive position because they?re shrinking in comparison to the mountain bike community, which is growing,? said Jon Brandt, a state park ranger at Auburn State Recreation Area. ?They typically feel pretty strongly about trying to defend the trails they do have.?