Will off-trail biking in Red Rocks be nixed?

2013-02-06T05:15:00Z Will off-trail biking in Red Rocks be nixed?CYNDY COLE Sun Staff Reporter Arizona Daily Sun
February 06, 2013 5:15 am  • 

Sedona resident Tyler Gavigan, 20, pleaded guilty Tuesday to illegally building mountain bike jumps in the Coconino National Forest outside his home, agreeing to pay $500 in restitution to the Forest Service.

The site required "extensive rehabilitation to prevent further harm from soil erosion into nearby Oak Creek," the Forest Service wrote in a statement.

He was one of three convicted on similar offenses near the Red Rocks in the past year, for creating or working on trails built illegally in the adjoining national forest.

Now the Forest Service is thinking through what to do about trail-builders and people who create trails by riding the same paths repeatedly until a trail gets established.

It's considering closing the national forest right near Sedona to cross-country (not on a trail or road) mountain biking, in addition to cracking down on unsanctioned trail-building, which is illegal.

"We're concerned about the accessibility, on the Internet and through different websites, on unauthorized trails, and how that has sort of substantially increased the cross-country use by mountain bikes in particular," said Jennifer Burns, recreation staff officer with the Red Rock Ranger District.

Gavigan had faced potential fines of as much as $5,000, six months in jail, and being banned from the national forest after being cited in September 2012.

Two other individuals have also been convicted on similar offenses on the national forest surrounding Sedona in the past year -- one a hiker and one a mountain biker.

It's these individuals that spoil it for the rest, said Jake Plapp of Absolute Bikes in Sedona.

"It's not so much traveling cross-country that's the problem. It's the people who think they can improve on a trail system that's already world-class -- that's really the problem," he said.

Plapp sees customers from most continents in town to ride the trails every month.

The Forest Service faces an unenviable decision, he said.

"The people of the Forest Service are great. Most of them are mountain bikers and they understand, but their first obligation is to protect it," Plapp said.

The Coconino National Forest surrounding Sedona and the Village of Oak Creek has about 180 miles of authorized hiking and biking trails (bikes aren't allowed in wilderness areas), including some 30 miles that were constructed illegally but added to the network of approved trails, Burns said.

It has another roughly 60 miles of illegal trails made by feet, tools and bicycles -- with a majority of that from bike riders, she said.

Some of these trails go into and over archaeological sites, like the wall of an early Puebloan home.

"There's a fairly limited area around Sedona and the Village of Oak Creek that has very sensitive soils and has an extremely high density of archaeological sites," she said.

This week alone, for example, workers in Burns' agency found five more trails built out in the forest surrounding Sedona, and went for archaeological clearances and started work to revegetate them. The bill on that starts at about $50,000, she said.

"We're spending a lot of time and energy and public funds restoring these unauthorized trails, and it's taking from our construction on good trails," Burns said.

Cyndy Cole can be reached at or at 913-8607.

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(1) Comments

  1. Morpheus
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    Morpheus - February 06, 2013 1:31 pm
    The damage goes far beyond illegal trail building, and It's hardly just the out-of-towners doing this. Just last weekend I saw a guy from Flag illegally riding in the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness area. I'm an avid mountain biker, and often ride cross country. Creates a hell of a lot of resource damage, especially when it's wet. Hardly ever yield to hikers either because they almost always yield to us. Time has come to limit bikes to existing trails and no more. It's out of control.
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