Biked Out

Time may be up for the Ho Chi Minh Trail

"David Smith, our best spokesman, couldn't show up at the meeting," Murphy explains a bit sheepishly. "We needed him there. We're all non-assertive, passive, non-aggressive people."

Although HAMBRA is mostly made up of professionals in their 30s and 40s, members often say they've felt intimidated by the more staid committee members, with their distinguished environmentalists' credentials. "The people who have the most power in the oversight committee are white women in their sixties or seventies. They literally speak down to us," Murphy says. Some committee members have bluntly said that in the best of all worlds the trail would be sealed off with razor wire; others call HAMBRA members "bikers," which the cyclists think conjures images of leather-capped hoodlums out of The Wild One.

The cyclists' efforts to preserve access to the trail come at a time that the oversight committee -- in the absence of any overarching parks department policy about the area -- is intensifying its efforts to stave off further development and diminishment of the park's wilderness area. "This committee really feels strongly that the time has come to protect this place," says Blackburn. "If we don't, it will be just as bare and terrible as Hermann Park. Already, if you look at the cover of trees, you can see the future of Memorial Park."

But, like the packed-down dirt and treeless expanses of the playing fields, the Ho Chi Minh Trail may already be an ineluctable part of Memorial Park's present. HAMBRA board members are working hard to make it that way. Last week they began drafting a letter to the parks department and Lanier asking for more mediation; in it, board members say they'd be satisfied cutting the trail down by half.

HAMBRA contends that wholly erasing urban Houston's one sylvan bike trail could create headaches that would make the past year's tensions look fleeting. Although public speaking may not be the cyclists' strong point, they are adept at expressing their feelings on wheels. "If they can't work out a more acceptable compromise, it's just going to stir up a lot of bad feelings," says HAMBRA's David Smith. "If mountain biking becomes, in effect, illegal, the parks department will have to get involved in massive policing to keep the trails sealed. Hundreds of people are going to get ticketed. What I'd like to see them do, instead, is to recognize that there are too many people involved in the sport, who value the trails, to ignore."

Blackburn and the oversight committee, which has retained a geologist to perform its own environmental study, maintain that the park's terrain just isn't rugged enough to sustain the continued onslaught of fat-tired bikes -- even if it's closely monitored.

"Mountain biking is a wonderful vigorous sport, but it's the wrong area for that activity," she says. "That's the problem. After all, the sport is called mountain biking. We don't have mountains.

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