Salisbury Considering Mountain Bike Trail Accord

SALISBURY — Unwilling yet to fully endorse a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the city and the Eastern Shore branch of the International Mountain Bicycling Association (ESIMBA) for trail preservation, the Salisbury City Council did agree to keep the issue on the table while they examine the trails and consider possible impact.

While not the total support that ESIMBA was seeking, spokesperson Jeff Dean said that he is optimistic that his organization can convince the council in the next few months to get behind the MoU and allow ESIMBA to shepherd Salisbury’s trails, many of which are overgrown.

“We are asking, basically, to use our expertise and training to create a set of trails that are safe, that do not erode, that are built to last with a minimum of maintenance. [And we want] to reduce the amount of negative interaction between various trail users,” Dean said.

Council President Terry Cohen told Dean any negativity between bikers and other users of the parks and trails concerns her.

“I have seen it get very nasty and very adversarial between groups and people and officials,” she said.

While Cohen hoped that wouldn’t happen in Salisbury, she said staying balanced could be tricky at times. Another possible choke point is the environmental angle, she added.

“There are also those who are concerned with whether or not it creates the flushing of animals and birds, whether or not it’s going to create soil erosion,” she said.

Council Vice President Debbie Campbell had questions over what ESIMBA’s efforts to maintain trails might mean for local wildlife.

“I think an environmental assessment would help us to understand the implications not just of this but of other things and what the impact of changing the use of the area is,” she said.

Campbell recommended moving forward in accepting such an assessment that was offered by Salisbury University. However, Dean pointed out that the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) had already conducted an assessment of the area that supported ESIMBA.

A third worry over the MoU broke down to semantics. City Attorney Mark Tilghman harbored reservations about the language in the current MoU, which he felt wasn’t specific enough at certain points and could leave Salisbury liable if people were injured using the trails.

“It’s really a design maintenance issue where we’re basically saying come and ride these trails, and if somebody breaks their neck I don’t want it to be our fault,” Tilghman said.

Cohen agreed and claimed that other parks in major cities have had their share of legal trouble over injuries.

“New York City right now is losing a lot of lawsuits, a lot of people killed in Central Park,” she said, adding that falling tree limbs seem to be the biggest issue.

Unlike some of her colleagues, Councilwoman Laura Mitchell actually saw ESIMBA’s offer as a great way to make the city less liable for accidents on the trail and to reduce the rate of those accidents.

“I think this is protecting the city,” she said of the MoU.

Mitchell argued that the current trails are often overgrown and messy and present a greater hazard both to users and the city than the well maintained paths that ESIMBA promises.

After hearing the council’s concerns, Dean admitted that there seem to be a few misunderstandings. He told Tilghman that the wording of the MoU is flexible but that the main point is to protect the city by keeping adequate signage around trails and producing paths that are safe for mountain bikers as well as walkers. ESIMBA doesn’t plan on radically altering any of the current trails either, he added, only refining and preserving those that currently exist.

“I’m guessing, literally, that we could resurrect these trails inside of a month, easy because there’s not a lot of mileage out there,” Dean said.

Once the trails were cleared and open, Dean promised that every effort would be made to promote peaceful use by bikers, hikers, and any others who wanted to explore the trails. He admitted that ESIMBA might return in the future to recommend more significant changes or additions to trails, but that those things weren’t part of the current agreement.

The MoU received support from Mitchell and Councilwoman Shanie Shields. The remaining three councilmembers didn’t endorse the agreement, but didn’t deny it, either. Campbell suggested that the city consider “phasing” into the understanding by taking the process in steps. Dean said that ESIMBA could accept that but asked that the council establish a process where each phase doesn’t have to come back before them.

No legislative steps were taken Monday, but several council members have expressed an interest in visiting the trails with Dean so that he can address any concerns about the locations.

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