Science - May 16, 2012

Students propose new mountain biking trail

Text:
Marion de Boo

Students of Van Hall Larenstein Applied Sciences University today presented a proposal which outlines a challenging and continuous mountain biking trail across the Heuvelrug National Park in Utrecht.

Although four short stretches of mountain biking trail now exist between Rhenen, Veenendaal, Amerongen and Leersum, these are rather heavily used and not linked up. In the western part of the national park, there are no trails at all. As such, more and more mountain bikers take to cycling off-road, to the agony of walking enthusiasts and owners of the land.  This caused the Dutch Tour Cycling Union to commission the Science Shop of Wageningen UR to do a study. The resulting report, titled 'Mountain bikers in the Utrecht Heuvelrug', was handed over to Bart Krol, officer-in-charge of spatial development and rural areas in the province of Utrecht.
Although mountain biking does not appear to be causing any more damage to flora and fauna than other recreational activities, it does conflict with other recreationists and owners of the land. 'Estate owners, in particular, still raise a lot of objection,' says Derk-Jan Stobbelaar, a lecturer of integrated nature and landscape management. He supervised the field work of three batches of students. 'It boils down to cultural differences - mountain biking does not fit into their perception of this park. But the Utrecht Heuvelrug is becoming more well-known and the sport is gaining in popularity. So something has to be done!'
Crashing
Mountain bikers are less prone to ride off-road if they have a nice and challenging trail which they can follow through.  For this reason, Staatsbosbeheer (Dutch forest management authority) has laid an attractive mountain biking trail across Amerongon Hill, which has resulted in less bikers crossing 'in the wild' there, says Stobbelaar. 'However, after going round the short Kwintelooijen route in Veenendaal three times, bikers would naturally look for somewhere else and would then go crashing across the forests to the Amerongen Hill. Therefore, we are proposing to set up a network.' Existing paths could be used to link mountain biking trails, while new thoroughfares would enable bikers to search for further routes from fixed points along the borders of the National Park.
Stobbelaar: 'Landowners are wary about bikers breaking a leg, ending up unable to work and then holding them responsible.  But landowners are protected judicially if they carry out yearly inspections to ascertain that their properties are properly maintained.'
Surveys show that many cross-country bikers are willing to pay for a good route network. Charging two euros for a day pass and 15 euros for a year pass would generate enough income to pay for maintenance and enable landowners to get better insurance against damage claims, and an opening payment as well. Stobbelaar: 'Similar passes are already in use in the Veluwe region. We don't see why our plan wouldn't succeed as well.'
Science Shop Report 282 'Mountainbikers op de Utrechtse Heuvelrug - een voorstel voor een uitdagende en financieel haalbare routestructuur waarbij beheer en aansprakelijkheid geregeld zijn' can be downloaded here.

Re:act