August 31, 2007 Features & Images » Feature Story

Going Big (part 2) 

click to enlarge Downhill Mountain Biking has revolutionized the bikes now used for cross-country riding. Photo by Scott Brammer, coastphoto.com.
  • Downhill Mountain Biking has revolutionized the bikes now used for cross-country riding. Photo by Scott Brammer, coastphoto.com.

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In 2002, the Oregon Department of Forestry discovered that a small group of riders had been building trails and small jumps in the area. This was technically illegal, but instead of shutting down the trails, the department asked the riders to form a club and get their work approved. If they would manage and maintain the trails, the Forestry Department would let them add jumps and other features. Black Rock opened in December of 2004, and since then, Bontrager figures usage has tripled, as riders from Portland, Eugene and even Canada, the holy land of freeriding, have flocked to its trails.

The mountain bike association takes its responsibilities seriously. When the Forestry Department found an illegal trail in the area, the Black Rock cyclists decommissioned it in a week; they even got one of the offending trail-builders to apologize on the association’s website. "It was jeopardizing our trails," says Bontrager. "Our goal is to make sure that Black Rock stays."

Black Rock is smack in the middle of prime spotted owl nesting territory. This means that during much of the year, when the owls are laying eggs and raising young, the association can’t use chainsaws or earthmovers to work on the trails. The Forestry Department’s John Barnes says it’s a minor inconvenience, adding that without the owl, the freeriders could be kicked out to make way for logging.

"I’m not objectionable to logging. Falls City is a bit depressed," says Bontrager, who always stops at the town’s small grocery on the way to ride. "But we’re trying to show that we can bring Falls City and Dallas money every year, not just every 40 years" when the timber can be harvested.

Despite the owl’s presence, Bontrager hasn’t had any run-ins with environmentalists, and he doesn’t worry about wilderness issues because Black Rock isn’t near any wilderness.

The bike association is working with the Forestry Department on a long-range plan for the area. Bontrager hopes the park, which already sports six miles of trail, will continue to grow, possibly to include a cross-country loop. "I love converting cross-country guys," he grins.

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