Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Pole Canyon Drama

Disclaimer: This post has no actual biking content and is a very personal rambling

As part of the trail project being lead by the City of Victor, I was asked to spend some time Monday with Scott of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. Our goal was to hike the Pole Canyon Trail, identify problem areas, and scout potential solutions for short & long term projects.

First, I’ll give you a little background from a mountain biker’s perspective. Pole Canyon Trail is the closest trail to my home but I don’t ride it very often because its combination of relentless 15-20% grade and loose rock in the trail tread simply take the fun out of it. It wasn’t always this way. Five years ago the trail was the same grade but its surface was predominantly tight dirt and therefore traction while climbing wasn’t an issue. It was hard but rewarding and the the payoff was ripping back down an incredibly fun trail. An exponential increase in motorcycle traffic, which is legal on this trail, has dislodged rocks and created a deep rut where the trails surface used to be flat.

My hike with Scott was incredibly enjoyable and educational. This day was not about turning Pole Canyon into a mountain bike trail. It will remain a multi-use trail shared by motorcycles, hikers, horses, and cyclists. However, I was able to give Scott some perspective on why certain sections of trail were unfriendly to mountain bikers and we discussed solutions that would work for all users. On the flip side, I learned a ton about building trails for multiple user groups and why you can’t simply switchback a trail up the side of the mountain to cater to mountain bikers.

I left Pole Canyon Monday afternoon full of energy and excited to be a part of turning Victor’s flagship trail into a gem that all users would love.

A public meeting had been scheduled for 6pm Tuesday in Victor to discuss Pole Canyon and gather input from all user groups. The Forest Service already had plans to work on Pole Canyon this summer and therefore it made sense to provide feedback from the community to the Forest Service ahead of their work.

The meeting was train wreck. Somehow a rumor got started that the meeting was about closing Pole Canyon to snowmobiles in the winter and the rumor spread like wildfire throughout the valley during the day on Tuesday. An angry mob showed up in Victor and despite our Mayor’s best effort to dispel the rumor immediately, the crowd was too emotional to hear it and verbally attacked him. It was an intense and uncomfortable scene that resulted in the Mayor walking out of the meeting after 20 minutes because the crowd simply would not let him speak. I would have done the same thing if I were in his shoes. The goal of the meeting was never about closures or excluding a user group.

Having agreed to help facilitate the meeting, I was at the front of the room writing down notes on an easel as the room exploded with angry emotion and I felt exposed and a little uncomfortable. At the same time, I wanted to see how this scene would unfold so I remained. I recognized many faces in the room and was shocked to hear what was coming out of their mouths. The anger and ignorance that I witnessed at this meeting was so shocking that knee-jerk thoughts of leaving Teton Valley filled my head. If this was the majority voice of the community I live in, I don’t want to be a part of it.

Our Teton Ranger District’s big chief, Jay Pence, happened to be lurking outside the packed room listening to the proceedings. At a critical point, he bravely stepped in front of the firing squad and fielded questions for almost two hours. Jay was able to alleviate the unfounded fears that the Forest Service was going to close Pole Canyon and explained the work that the Forest Service has in mind for this summer and next.

Wednesday Morning
I woke up early Wednesday morning replaying the events of last night’s events over and over in my brain. I have to admit that the stoke level that I had Monday following my hike in Pole Canyon has been replaced by doubt. I had visions of our little non-profit, Victor Velo, officially adopting Pole Canyon and pouring volunteer hours into the trail but now I am not so sure. The trail needs work just as much as it did before last night’s meeting but it just doesn’t “feel good” at the moment. Maybe that feeling will pass.


brandon said...

You guys have to deal with some weird sh!t over there. What is it about people who can't accept any change whether it is for good or bad in their mind.

Sounds like Victor Velo needs to work with Jay to build mtn bike only trails. That would be cool.

FixieDave said...

golly it always amazes me how stuff turns into a bad game of telephone like that with rumors.... lots happening with the blm down this way so feel your pain to a degree...

Grizzly Adam said...

Trail access is such an emotional issue. We have had similar meetings down here, although so far they have not been overly heated. But the potential is there.

The problem is that in the emotional firestorms, facts get pushed aside. And instead of trails being repaired, and properly maintained, or user groups becoming more educated and trail-centric, we get yelling and screaming.

old cyclist in Tetonia said...

Dave, I applaud your efforts to get with Scott and do the right thing. I wasn't at the meeting but know a lot who were there. They are confused thinking the "bike shop" mayor is trying to allow the use only to mtn bikes. I let them know that is NOT the situation that the mayor is trying to help all users of the trail (Pole Canyon) work with the Forest Service so all (motor bikes, hikers, atv's and snow machines. Again thanks for your efforts. Don't think about moving you and Scott are an asset to the community.

Rick LaBelle said...

Wow, I feel ya Dave. Kudos for staying involved; 30yrs from now, you'll look back at this chapter with great perspective & pride, regardless of exact outcome. Teton Valley has always been a microcosm of user group conflicts, which I learned in detail researching the story I wrote back in '07. I highly recommend communicating with Big Wood Backcountry trails over in Sun Valley ( have been there, and found good workable solutions. Hang in there my man!