Bike trail push for Eagle Creek stirs controversy

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With knobby tires and shock absorbers, a mountain bike pedaled by a skilled rider can smite the roughest trail with a cloud of dust. Mountain bikers have salivated for years about building trails in the rolling hills of Eagle Creek Park, the city’s largest municipal park.

At the same time, environmental advocates warn such trails would lead to erosion and more sedimentation in the park’s reservoir, which is used for drinking water. Perhaps it’s no wonder Indy Parks and Recreation hasn’t been in a hurry to take up the issue of mountain bike trails. But that’s about to change.

“We are looking to schedule a public listening session,” said Indy Parks spokeswoman Jen Pittman. The session could be held late this month or early next, she said.

“This deserves to be heard. We know there’s a high level of interest” from both sides, Pittman said.

That will be welcome news to the Hoosier Mountain Bike Association, which complained in a recent e-mail to its members that park management “refused to even consider Eagle Creek” for such trails.

“I want to be very clear that HMBA is done asking nicely about Eagle Creek,” HMBA President Paul Arlinghaus told his members. “We require Eagle Creek to be on the table. [We want to see] progress toward a trail master plan that includes Eagle Creek.”

Local environmental activists, including Clarke Kahlo, are concerned about the effects.

“I hope Indy Parks will be able to resist HMBA’s apparent demanding, if not ‘strongarm,’ tactics. Eagle Creek Park is an ecological gem, but will cease to be so if mountain bike trails are permitted,” Kahlo said in a letter to city officials.

Arlinghaus told IBJ that mountain bikers have grown frustrated over Eagle Creek management’s reluctance to take up the issue in past years. Frustration came to a head recently when park management quickly approved a zip line for the park, the kind of use not even hinted at in past master plans.

Some mountain bikers said they were led to believe that features such as bike trails and zip lines needed to be included in a master plan before they could proceed.

The contract with a private zip-line operator “puts money in [Eagle Creek’s] pockets, so it just happens,” Arlinghaus said.

Mountain biking, unlike a zip line, promotes exercise and physical fitness—something sorely needed to address Indiana’s obesity problem, Arlinghaus said.

Arlinghaus disputed concerns that mountain biking trails would pose a risk to the environment. He said the trails can take up to four years to open because the effect on local plants and animals would have to be carefully considered.

“Designing a trail is a very complicated process,” he said.

Mountain bikers use trails in Indianapolis-area parks. Fort Harrison State Park has two trails. And the City of Indianapolis has them in Town Run Trail Park at 5325 E. 96th St. Bicycle paths also were built at Southeastway Park in southeast Marion County.

Pittman said that while the mountain bike trail topic has come up during various meetings over the years, Indy Parks staff couldn’t remember a meeting dedicated to the topic.

“We do want to make sure we’re getting it right and not just acting quickly,” she said.

Although Eagle Creek doesn’t have dedicated mountain bike trails, its narrow arteries often swarm with packs of on-road bicyclists. The park prohibits bicycles on its hiking trails. Some mountain bikers ride on a grass-covered service road on the northern end of the reservoir, near the 71st Street gate. But that route is relatively short.


  • hello
    A couple of facts to point out - Mountain bike trails are dirt only - no living trees are removed, so very low impact construction is involved. Furthermore the trails are designed and engineered to prevent erosion, and avoid environmentally sensitive areas. The bikes themselves are pedal powered only - not motorized. Furthermore the proposed location of the trail is OUTSIDE of the nature preserve. Have any of the opponents visited existing mountain trails so that they are aware of what they are in opposition to? Passing judgement without knowledge? The proposed ares is already littered with abandoned boats, rolled fence wiring, invasive plants. eroding trails and trash. Do the opponents care so much about this area to leave it in this way? Please give more thought to your opposition and realized the asset that would be created for our community.
  • Making Zionsville Better
    Zionsville/Eagle Creek is a lovely area however there is one thing that it is severely lacking and that is mountain bike trails. The east side of the city has two wonderful trails available (Ft. Ben and Town Run) and both of these areas are undoubtedly better because of these two trails. Not only do these trails give these parks even more use (more money for the parks) but the people that use these trails are helping to preserve the park through trash pick-up, trail maintenance, and public education. Eagle Creek, it's time to catch up!
  • Shooting Range?
    Yeah, IPD has one over next to the dog park off the north end...
  • What Threat?
    Please explain what you meant when you wrote "...threaten a nature preserve and a bird sanctuary." What threat does this trail pose for the Nature preserve or the bird sanctuary?
  • Small thinking
    This is the same type of thinking that has caused many (me included)to leave the Eagle Creek Foundation, because a few people have somehow deluded themselves into thinking this is their private park. The fact is that trails at Fort Harrison and down in Brown County State Park, as well as places like French Lick have been boons to the environment. Further, environmentally sensitive places in states like Colorado and Utah happily have mountain biking trails without issue. People go there to vacation to mountain bike. IMBA and HMBA have worked hand in hand to ensure that this is done right. Making a blanket statement like this is simply ridiculous and without merit where there are thousands of miles of MTB trails around the nation that would refute this type of thinking. Birds can co-exist with mountian bikes. Good grief.
    I suggest doing some reading and research before weighing in on this subject.
  • Making it better
    Anyone who has been on the trails that HMBA has designed and/or maintains can certainly tell you that they greatly improve the parklands they play and work on. The area that is now Town Run Trail Park was a mess of trash and washed out trails before HMBA took over. Their partnership with the Indy Parks Dept. has turned Town Run into a clean, well-maintained trail system that is accessible to almost anyone. Anyone that would oppose the trails at Eagle Creek on "environmental" grounds is simply not informed about the true impact that mountain biking will have on the area. I can guarantee that any mountain bike trails that are built would end up being the cleanest, most well looked after trails in the park. Who knows, we might even inspire others to venture away from their cars and into the woods.

    The other argument I can't stand is the one based on how "pristine" Eagle Creek is. The worst day I have had in any Indy park was a Eagle Creek. A picnicking family of about 40 set up four party tents, a generator and a full DJ set-up, complete with four huge speakers, and proceeded to DJ a party for anyone within a mile of the picnic area. Since they had paid to rent a picnic shelter, this was entirely permissible. What a pristine day at the park.

    Like most other issue, if everyone tries to be open minded and become educated about what is being proposed and what the legitimate concerns are, progress can be made.
  • Bad Science
    I wish "environmental activists" knew something about research. Depending on the peer-reviewed, published scientific journal article you read, MTBers exert the same if not less stress on the environment than hikers. It makes sense if you step back and think about it: less off-trail use in MTBers; less chance of littering (who even has the time?); different shearing forces exerted on the trail (hikers shear with every step; MTBers shear when improperly braking or on slopes) - shearing = loose sediment; etc. etc.).

    I say this as a hiker/packer that used to be against mountain biking. The trails they build are beautiful, responsible, and the most litter-free I've seen. HMBA really busts their butt to keep these trails well-maintained and keep riders off when trails are wet or need maintenance. Public lands are scarce and everyone has different interests; multi-use trails are the only responsible choice to get as many as possible enjoying and protecting our natural environment.
  • Blue Blood Land Title
    The area on the westside of the reservoir has been an awesome MTB trail since the 80's.
    The best trails in central IN are located there. Ranger Schmidt has been a true supporter of the park and a true antagonist in regard to MTB in the park and preserve. The Lillys, Ayres, and other old skool Indy families have ties to this spot. Hence the long time lack of openness. It is 2012! Open up the park to current outdoor activities. Those that accept the responsibilities will certainly follow thru! The best overall trail in central IN is on the westside of the reservoir. This trail has been around since the mid 80's. It is 1 foot wide and a screamer. If you have never heard of it, good.

    Wake UP! Tell the bluebloods that think that ECP is still owned by their families, that it is time that they step aside and let the people enjoy the land. They already made the NW side less than it was suppposed to be.

    Fort Ben is about the same but not any better. Unfortunately, this part of town is out of favor and lacks the politcal push required to make the difference. This will take masssage and lobbying to change the current circumstance. In the meantime we lose another plus for Indy to an outsider.


    This is why I left. Narrow minded and lacking vision.

    I am a sucker and do miss Indy.
  • More Info
    More information on the proposed mountain bike/shared-use trails at Eagle Creek Park can be found at www.eaglecreekmountainbiking.com.
  • Drainage
    Properly built and maintained trails will drain water away without causing increased erosion. Proper drainage makes the trails better for everyone, not just mountain bikers.
  • Mountain Biking
    I have always felt that the park system exists for the residents. If the residents want to enjoy the outdoors in a way that respects the park then why not? It needs to be done in a way that HMBA has proven over and over again can be done in an environmental way. In fact, I would argue that the montain bike trails at any park in the city or state are much better maintained than many hiking trails. Yes, I am a rider and I know not to ride a trail when its wet. And for the riders who don't know that there are many postings at trail heads. If you think mountain bikers are bad on the environment I really suggest you look at HMBA's website and see the great care and pride the group takes in the trails and all of the hard work maintaining them as well as the outreach to the community. Any trail, any zip line or any other activity that gets people out doors is a great thing. It needs serious conversation and consideration. It gets my vote!
  • I was a yes now I'm a no
    I just bought my first pass for the park this year and my first thought was how fun it would be to ride a bike on the trails but now that I've been going a while I realize what a bad idea it is. The drainage there is horrible, it's always wet, someone had a bike on the trail today and it left a huge rut and that was just one bike. Bikes can enjoy the park from the road.
  • nature preserve?
    I have seen dozens of pictures of the proposed area for the mtb trails. If abandoned boats, old field fence and other trash are what opponents are trying to preserve then by all means, keep HMBA out. I can attest to several natural areas in the city and in our state that have been stripped clean and kept clean by HMBA members. As some earlier post had mentioned, if you don't believe what an ASSET these trails will be then go to SouthWESTway Park, Ft Benjamin Harrison State Park, Town Run Trail Park, Versailles State Park, Brown County State Park, yadda, yadda, and hike or ride those AWESOME trails. Heck, Brown County State Park trail, built in a previously undeveloped area of the park, have received NATIONAL acclaim.

    But a zip line? Really? Talk about high liability risk.
  • No, you're missing the point!
    To say that people riding a bike thru a well designed narrow path thru the woods "threaten" a nature preserve and bird sanctuary, is rediculous and just not factual. Check with any park manager or naturalist at any park we've developed a trail system in, and they'll tell you we've had zero negative impact on the wildlife and plantlife. If anything, we've improved it in a variety of ways.
  • Correction in article
    I want to point out an error in the article. It states that mountain bike trails were built in Southeastway Park in southeast Marion county. It should be noted that dedicated mountain bike trails and horse trails have been built at Southwestway Park in southwest Marion county, not Southeastway in southeast. I have been involved with the trail building at SWW Park, and the trail system under development is included in the 2010 Master Plan for SWW Park. IMO one cannot find a more ecologically minded club than HMBA, and their dedication to fitness and preserving our environmental assets in Indiana has few rivals. Dedicated bike/hike trails do no more environmental damage than any other user group that just hikes anywhere on the park property, creating unsustainable rogue trails. If Mayor Balalrd is serious about promoting biking in Indianapolis, this issue should get serious consideration and merit serious discussion by all who have an opinion.
  • Trails are a GREAT IDEA!!
    These dirt trails for physical fitness are a great idea. There are no motors...those opposed must think these are motorcycles. Further, dirt trails certainly more natural than a concrete or asphalt pathway or road. I would love to see the park get a fresh attraction as the entire west side has been on a downward slide for many years.
  • Missing the Point
    Has the HMBA looked at any OTHER sites in Eagle Creek Park? Ones that don't threaten a nature preserve and a bird sanctuary might make more headway. Where is HMBA's so-called good environmental stewardship.
    • Stick to the Master Plan
      The Master Plan for Eagle Creek includes: Recreation, Education, and Fitness. To omit, deny, or ignore decision regarding mountain bike trails at Eagle Creek should be considered outside protocol on the part of the park’s governing body. Mountain bike trails and the riders that use them have more then established their impact, or lack of, to the areas they use and this information should be used and reflected on in a formal decision in the Master Plan of Eagle Creek.
    • build it
      Build it with surfuce that is not impervious. YOu can build it environmentally friendly no need for a asphalt path, mountain bike remember. Would love to see bikes off of busy roads.
    • correction
      And shouldn't that be "pedaled," not "peddled" in the first sentence?
    • Eagle Creek Rocks!
      I'm for this!

      I live in Eagle Creek for 12 years and it just sucks.

      Myself and everybody else goes to Broad Ripple, Downtown,etc which I do too because there is nothing to do in Eagle Creek.

      I also support local beer, places to eat and it's all chains.

      all we have is Ricks which is great but what about Scotty's,etc!

      Tod Esquivel

      Indiana's Fitness Guy

      Indy Boot Camps
    • Logical conclusion
      Maybe we should just keep people out of the parks altogether. Animals, too. And I'm not so sure those plants are doing anyone any good.
    • Range
      Eagle Creek does have a shooting range. That's where our City's police officers train with their firearms.
    • Laughable
      “I hope Indy Parks will be able to resist HMBA’s apparent demanding, if not ‘strongarm,’ tactics. Eagle Creek Park is an ecological gem, but will cease to be so if mountain bike trails are permitted,” Kahlo said in a letter to city officials.

      Laughable. Kahlo has a host of front organizations created to use strongarm tactics to bully the city into doing things. Remember "Canal Park Advocates" trying to stop the city from developing a vacant lot DOWNTOWN? Fine, have your way 'environmentalist.' We'll build it in the sprawling cornfields.

      Who knows, the trail may have environmental issues. But as soon as I hear his name associated with anything it loses all credibility.
    • Nattering Nabobs
      Hey, Just Say No. There is a shooting range by Eagle Creek already. Any other uninformed opinions? I wanna ride! We can do it in an enviromentally friendly way.
    • Responsibly built trails
      I've enjoyed trails throughout the U.S. and can attest to HMBA's trail building protocol has become a benchmark in regards to sustainability, ecological impact, and all-level participation. Ft. Harrison would be the most recent trail system model that demonstrates what committed volunteers with professional guidance can accomplish collectively with regards to all park users and clearly an increased attendance. My best suggestion is to experience these trails yourself and take a hike or ride around the Schoen Creek trail at the Fort and judge for yourself.

      Tony O'Neill
    • Just Say NO
      Leave Eagle Creek alone! If you add biking trails, then other groups will follow and want a piece of Eagle Creek too. What's next a shooting range? Not to mention when you add things like biking trails or anything that allows human presence, that leads to pollution (of all kinds). Hell no, leave it alone. Plenty of other places to ride your bikes.
      • Environment
        If I remember correctly, when the Ft Ben trail was constructed, it was done in such a fashion that erosion and environmental impact would be kept to a minimum. After riding that trail a few times, I can definitely attest to that. The path follows along the topography of the terrain, and barely makes any sort of cut into the hillside. It's a quiet, peaceful ride full of deer and other animals.

        I say build the trail. It probably has less impact than a towering zip lane that's going in.
      • everyone but the radicals
        Philosophically, what is an "environmentalists"? Most mountain bikers I know qualify, unless the term is restricted to those who eschew any human contact with the earth made by something other than a wooden paddle or shoe soles, as Kahlo appears to be.

        Mountain bikers in general, and the HMBA in particular, are excellent stewards, appreciators, and enjoyers of our parks and ecological gems. They coexists just fine with wildlife, walkers, bird watchers, families, and everyone but the radicals.

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