Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Rover's Rant

"Multi-use" includes more than skiers. (Photo: Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game)

Rover’s Run has a shady reputation that refuses to die. That’s partially because retired biologist Rick Sinnott keeps resuscitating it with cantankerous fits.

Poor Rover’s has taken more than its share of lumps over the years. It got overused, leaving it widened and full of mud holes. Then a bear spent a summer treating it like gang turf, so former mayor Mark Begich shut the trail down. His successor -- making the only one of his decisions I’ve ever agreed with -- reopened it, to the frustration of people like Sinnott.

Now, in a sure sign of spring, Sinnott has dredged up the issue again with an online column lamenting that Rover’s has become “wildly popular” and insisting that “if nothing’s done, more people will be mauled on Rover’s Run.” 

He’s right about a couple of things. The trail wasn’t well-planned, and when it was built more than 30 years ago, mountain biking wasn’t foreseen as one of its uses. He’s also right that it runs through the riparian zone next to Campbell Creek, which attracts salmon and bears.

But he’s not so quick to recognize that most of us have spent years and years riding Rover’s Run without ever seeing a bear on it. Bears are out there, sure, but that’s true of most of our local trails. Rover’s had one bad summer in 2008. The trouble-making bear was killed, and there were no further problems. Another bear — which was involved in the summer’s worst mauling — was never found, and was never heard from again. 

Even the young woman who was mauled has told me she thinks she probably hit the bear with her bike, causing it to react in a natural, defensive manner. Alaska biologists generally leave such bears alone, because there is no reason to believe they will act aggressively toward other people.

In other words, riding Rover’s Run involves some risk, just like every other trail in bear habitat. And yes, it merits a little extra caution because it’s next to a salmon stream. But over the decades, it has been a safe trail, with the exception of a single summer when one grumpy bear was in a pissy mood and didn’t have the option of writing a column for Alaska Dispatch, which is where other old grouches let off steam with you-damn-kids-get-off-my-lawn rants.

I’ve said for years that the city’s reaction to the summer of 2008 has often been comparable to a driver who spends years on Anchorage streets, then has one bad car accident on an icy road and decides to never drive in winter again. Sometimes a bad thing happens, and you just have to get over it.

Now there’s talk of moving part of Rover’s farther away from the creek. Fine, do it, as long as the new trail is some sweet singletrack. But I doubt the bears would mind a short detour for easy walking on the new trail, so don’t expect much of a change.

In the meantime, I’ll keep doing what most of us have always done: Make noise, carry bear spray and ride Rover’s.

Because this is Alaska. There will always be bears.

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