Panic in Memorial Park

Cyclists say wait Ho Chi Minh-ute

"There has been some erosion," Murphy says, "but what's never compared is the little bit we've caused versus building a baseball diamond or a golf course -- all the facilities they have in the park. I'm guessing that to bulldoze a baseball diamond kills a thousand trees. And in the ten years that I've ridden on those trails, I've seen maybe two saplings that have accidentally been killed. Plus, the fire roads that the city has bulldozed are actually the ones that hold the water and get chewed up the most. Those are the worst spots on the trail."

Of course, statements such as that, which seem to dismiss any culpability on the part of mountain bikers, may be one reason that compromise has been so hard to come by. Since the announcement about the trail closing, Murphy and other HAMBRA members have been passing out fliers that urge riders to call and complain to city officials. But if HAMBRA members are hopping mad, so is parks director Smith, who sounds like he has tire tracks all across his back. He compares the bikers to children who have broken a promise with their parents and are now being punished.

"An agreement was reached with HAMBRA a little over a year ago, and that agreement has been breached," says a steamed Smith, who adds that he has seen some areas where exposed tree roots have been hacked with axes for easier passage.

Smith seems almost as upset by HAMBRA's response to the situation as he is by the erosion itself. The director points to HAMBRA's fliers, which state that "in face of ever increasing erosion and overuse, complete closure of all mountain bike trails seems to be [the city's] solution." Smith maintains that the bikers are ignoring his plans to construct an alternative path.

"We have proposed moving them from one set of trails to another set of trails in a less environmentally fragile area," says the director. In hopes of alleviating bikers' fears that such trails would not be as geographically stimulating as the gullies and hairpin turns that punctuate the existing course, the parks department has acquired the services of an architect to design what Smith describes as a "new and more interesting" bike path. But the cyclists say the dearth of bike routes in Houston gives them little reason for confidence in the alternative plan.

Smith says the decision to close the Ho Chi Minh trails -- which ironically came during a week set aside to promote biking to work -- is no longer open to debate. Nevertheless, hardcore riders continue to insist the issue is far from being resolved.

"It's not going to be a problem," maintains David Smith, a local energy company executive and HAMBRA member. "I'm not overconfident. I just think that there are so many people in the community that enjoy using the trails. And this isn't, in general, a group of just 18-year-old high school kids and bike messengers. This is a very significant, responsible part of the community that likes to ride over there."

Mayor Bob Lanier has given a slight indication that there is still a chance for compromise. Audubon Society president Gary Woods agrees. "Maybe in the future we can figure out a way to allow the mountain bikers to keep using the area without degrading and destroying the habitat," he says.

But in the meantime, it's happy trails to the Ho Chi Minh trails.

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