In response to pressure from cyclists who want access to Middle Fork Trail, Chugach State Park is issuing special-use permits this winter, allowing riders of fat bikes to use some areas traditionally closed to bikes.
Some people are excited about this, and others are offended by the idea that bike riders need a permit to use a public, snow-covered trail where they will have zero permanent impact. Some feel that the fat-tire stipulation is discriminatory. I understand their frustration, but I’m taking the position that this is progress.
For years, park maps have identified Middle Fork as a “No Bicycles” trail. And with good reason. During summer, it’s a hellish quagmire that’s unsuitable for anything but mosquitoes. I know this firsthand, because I accidentally ended up there one evening seven or eight years ago during a solo ride on a weeknight. At one point, I sank up to the middle of my quads in thick, gooey mud. I could see myself being stuck there for hours as insects drained me of blood. By the time I escaped, I was limping, hungry and caked in slimy filth. I got home hours later than planned.
But Alaska trails change in winter. They freeze hard and get buried under snow. Middle Fork is a multi-use route and there’s no reason to ban snow bikes from it, other than tradition. But with no accommodation for bikes in the park’s old master plan, land managers are at least taking steps to ease bikes into acceptance, despite the whining of other trail users who don’t want to share.
Some day, hopefully, there will be no need for permit to ride trails in Chugach State Park. But for now, a free permit allows fat-bikers to use trails they otherwise couldn’t, and the permit system allows managers to gauge how many cyclists want such access.
I say vote with your feet, Anchorage riders. Scoot on down to the Potter headquarters of CSP and pick up a permit, then go ride Middle Fork on a fat bike this winter. Comply with the rules. Show park managers that they can have a better experience dealing with mountain bikers than they have with all the bike-hating whiners.
It’s a minor inconvenience to get a permit. And yeah, being told you need a permit to ride your bike sucks. But being told you can’t ride your bike sucks a lot more.