Bridle Trail Task Force
Department of Transportation – Rich Brauer
Department of Agriculture – Don Moffitt
Department of Natural Resources – Amy Madigan
Horsemens Council of Illinois representative: Ron Rhoades
Other Entity Having Trail Interest - Illinois Federation for Outdoor Resources/Scott Bryant
President of the Senate’s appointee – Selinda Jensen
Minority Leader of the Senate’s appointee - Senator Chuck Weaver
Speaker of the House’s appointee - Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia
Minority Leader of the House’s appointee - Tony Troyer
Advisory Group to HCI Trails Committee on the Bridle Trail Task Force Project
Patti Fahey - firstname.lastname@example.org
Nicole Mauser-Storer – email@example.com
Andrea Ward – firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike & Terry Timmerman – email@example.com
Joica Campbell – firstname.lastname@example.org
Advisor/Liaison from HCI Legislative Committee to HCI Trails Committee -- Lauren Malmberg
Congress Passes National Forest Service Trails Stewardship Act
Results of the STC Bike Survey
The Shawnee Trail Conservancy recently conducted a survey to determine the opinions of the equestrian community as to the use of mountain bikes on the equestrian/ hiker trails in the Shawnee National Forest. We are pleased to report that the survey has been completed, tabulated and the results turned over to the US Forest Service.
The purpose of this article is to explain the events that led to this survey, to share the results of the survey, and to explain how the results will hopefully be used.
First of all, let’s be clear: The officers of the STC are in no way trying to eliminate the use of the mountain bikes in the SNF. The intent of the survey was to provide feedback from the equestrian community on this issue. Hopefully this information will prove useful to the US Forest Service when they develop their next forest plan for the Shawnee National Forest.
This issue first came into prominence after an encounter between mountain bikers and equestrians that resulted in several riders being thrown from their mounts and injured. Around the same time STC officers and directors were hearing rumors that mountain bike groups were petitioning the Forest Service to use all trails in the Shawnee National Forest. Currently, there is no policy that either allows or restricts their use. Discussions with members of the biking community confirmed that a small group of mountain bikers are using the trails and are also encouraging all of their friends to do so.
Many local residents and members of the STC who are transplants from northern Illinois remember what happened in areas like Cook County. Trails in the Cook County Forest Preserve were originally created for equestrian use and have now been almost taken over by bikers.
Further research online has shown there are inherent problems in areas all over the US where bikers share the trails with equestrians and hikers. This writer would suggest the reader do their own search online and read some of the accounts regarding this issue.
The results shown here accurately represent the totals of all responses. A careful inspection will show there are discrepancies in the totals of the answers. The STC cannot definitely explain these discrepancies. One possibility may be that not everyone answered every question. Another possibility may be the responder misinterpreted the directions. and answered some questions with more than one response. Nevertheless, we had over 400 responses to our survey which in itself shows there in considerable interest and or concern regarding this issue among the equestrian community.
.Survey Questions and Results
Question 1: How would you categorize your riding ability?
Question 2 How would you categorize your horse’s training?
Question 3: How often do inexperienced riders accompany you?
Findings from Questions 1,2, and 3:
Seventy-eight percent of all riders who responded consider themselves experienced and sixty-one percent of the horses ridden are considered experienced. This is significant because experienced riders on experienced horses would be more capable of handling unusual or unexpected encounters on the trails. Ninety-one percent of the time inexperienced riders may accompany the ride. These riders would be the least capable of handling an unexpected or unusual encounter which could lead to an unfortunate accident.
Question 4: Have you ever ridden in the Shawnee National Forest?
Total Responses 460
Question 5: If you answered yes, how often do you ride in the Shawnee National Forest?
Findings from Questions 4 and 5.
Over 400 of the responders have ridden in the Shawnee National Forest. These visitors have a significant impact on the local economy, including campgrounds, gas stations, grocery stores, and tack shops. It has been determined in earlier studies that the horse industry brings millions of dollars to Southern Illinois every year.
Question 6: If the present equestrian/hiker trails in the SNF are changed to multi-use trails (which then includes mountain bikes), which of the following would you prefer to see? Check Only One
Question 7: If several outlying trails (those away from the commercial horse camps) were changed to multi-use, the average distance equestrians travel away from those camps must be determined. Choose in miles or in time how long you spend riding AWAY from a horse camp.
.5 miles 14
1 mile 11
1.5 miles 5
2 miles 9
2+ miles 141
Total Responses 180
Question 8: Would you continue to ride in the Shawnee National Forest if: All the trail miles were shared?
Total Responses 445
Total Responses 417
Total Responses 450
Findings of Questions 6,7, and 8.
It is quite obvious from these results that the majority of equestrians who ride in the Shawnee National Forest would prefer to have separate trails for bikers and equestrians. A significant finding is that over half of the riders say they would not continue to ride in the Shawnee if all the trail miles were shared. More would be willing to share trails if the multi-use trails were located some distance from the horse camps. Presumably this would result in fewer encounters between the two user groups and therefore result in fewer potential accidents.
Question 9: How often have you personally encountered a mountain biker or bikers while riding your horse in any locality?
Total Responses 450
Question 10: How would you describe your encounter?
Findings from Questions 9, 10, and Written Responses.
As can be seen from the responses to Question 9, the vast majority of the riders completing the survey have had some type of encounter with bikes on the trails. We also asked the responders to write a description of any encounter they had had with bikers. There were too many responses to include here but they support the results listed in Questions 9 and 10.
Many times responders reported pleasant encounters; with both parties stopping and engaging in conversation before continuing on their ride. Other times the bikers pulled off the trail behind a bush or tree and were not easily visible to the horse. This action made the horses reluctant to pass because they did not know what was lurking in
the bush. Equestrians reported they often asked the bikers to talk and let the horses know they were there.
In most locations bikers are supposed to yield to the horse and rider. As indicated above, this happened less that 25% of the time. As indicated in the written responses sometimes bikers raced on by without stopping even if the horses reacted or the rider had a problem. Sometimes they hurled insults and indicated the horses were not supposed to be on the trails as they rode on by.
There were 167 instances reported where the horses shied at the encounter. It is important to remember that 78% of the responders consider themselves experienced and 61% of the responders consider their horses experienced. If the riders or horses had had less experience, the potential for accident or injury would be greatly increased. Also, as seen from Question 3, most of the time inexperienced riders accompany our responders.
There were 59 of the encounters classified as dangerous. We know from the written responses that some of these encounters resulted in injury to the rider and on some occasions to the horse as well.
So you ask, what now?
It seems obvious from the survey that most equestrians have indeed met bikers on the trails here in the Shawnee National Forest and in other locations. Many have indicated they would prefer to NOT share the trails. Some have even indicated they would stop riding in the Shawnee National Forest if all trails were multi-use. This, of course, would have a major negative impact on the local economy.
The STC recognizes the fact the mountain bikers have as much right to recreate in the Shawnee National Forest as any other user. However, we recognize the inherent dangers of having two totally different user groups using the same trails.
Some disagreements and dangerous encounters could be avoided if bikers were educated about the flight response of the horse. Bikers are generally moving fast and do not make much noise. When a fast moving bike comes out of nowhere, both the rider and horse are startled. This scenario can cause a major accident.
If some trails are eventually designated as multi-use, we would hope they would be clearly marked. In this way both user groups could be on the lookout for the other. Additionally, it would be wise if these trails were constructed in such a manner as to cut down on limited visibility such as blind curves.
It is the hope of the officers and directors of the STC that the results of this survey will help the United States Forest Service in the development of a forest plan that will provide for the safety of all of its trail users.