City parks board recommends bikes at Ragged Mountain Natural Area
After a year of community study and debate, an advisory group has recommended that Charlottesville allow bikes on some trails at the Ragged Mountain Natural Area.
The Charlottesville Parks and Recreation Advisory Board voted, 6-2, to recommend that the City Council approve the use of bikes on limited trails at the property, which until recently was operated by the Ivy Creek Foundation.
“Some of the caveats were as long as we can make the trail systems separate and there is minimized use conflict with no single-track trails that are commonly used for pedestrians and bikes,” said Brian Daly, the director of the city’s parks department.
The city’s parks and recreation department took over management of the land shortly after the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority built a new dam and expanded the reservoir.
The department had been working with stakeholders to develop new trails, and plans were created to open them up to dogs, runners and cyclists. All have been prohibited at the site since it was opened as a natural area in 1999.
However, the City Council voted, 3-2, in October 2015 to delay implementation of those plans until after the idea could get more input from the public.
The parks and recreation advisory board has held six meetings on the topic since February. An eco-system report was published in June. Opinions were roughly divided during a public hearing in July.
On Wednesday, members of the advisory board finally had the chance to take a vote.
“I have ended up in favor of multiple uses, including bikes, as long as the uses are separate,” said Ned Michie, the city School Board’s representative on the advisory board.
However, others were not in favor.
“I firmly believe the value of Ragged Mountain Natural Area is not recreational and it is a place for passive activity, so I will vote against any kind of biking,” said Jody Lahendro, the Planning Commission’s representative to the board.
Board member Anne Hemenway said she believed groups advocating for bikes and those advocating against them should not be seen as two camps.
“These groups have much more in common than they do in opposition,” Hemenway said. “They are keenly interested in the beauty at Ragged Mountain Natural Area and they want to make sure there is a sustainable trail population for a long time.”
The board’s chairman, David Hirschmann, said he has been involved with the Ragged Mountain Natural Area since working as an Albemarle County employee to help map out the original trails.
“I tried to think not about the current passions and drama but maybe another 20 or 50 years from now,” Hirschmann said. “That led me to think about building a community constituency to care for the place.”
Hirschmann said he agreed with other board members that the trails should be laid out in such a way as to preserve the experience for people who want to hike in peace.
“The experiences I’ve had with biking is that if you’re on the shared trail and there’s an adventurous bike going past, it does change the experience and it can be unnerving,” Hirschmann said.
The advisory board’s final recommendation came through a series of motions.
Its first unanimously approved motion recommended allowing non-motorized boats, fishing, hiking and trail-running at the park. This motion also continued the prohibition against dogs.
The second motion to allow bikes eventually passed, 6-2.
Another recommendation is that no biking be allowed in the southeast section between the new dam and a new floating bridge.
“That vote was 7-1,” Daly said. “They then made a motion that staff would work with others to lay out the trails in the southwest side and give discretion to proceed, and that motion passed, 6-2.”
The recommendations will next move on to the Planning Commission in November. Afterwards, the matter will move on to the City Council for a final decision as early as Dec. 5.
This story features additional reporting from Aaron Richardson.