Generally speaking I don't like off-road-vehicles (ORVs), ATVs, "four-wheelers" and dirt bikes.  That's because I usually encounter them when they're breaking the rules:  driving in "No Motorized Vehicles" zones, blazing unauthorized trails, and driving on paved streets in my neighborhood.  They're not supposed to do any of these things but the vehicles are advertised as "We Break The Rules" so of course they're often used that way.

I mused about this during my hike last Sunday when three dirt bikes drove by me at top speed.  My first reaction was "Ugh!" but after they were gone I realized I was walking in a very beautiful area, an area that would have been inaccessible to me had the dirt bikes not blazed the trail.  Without them I could not have found my way in and I certainly couldn't have found my way back.  Sometimes I benefit from their actions.

So there's a contradiction in my mind.  Do I like what they do ... or not? 

On my way back to the car I found a dead scarlet tanager on the ground, his body run over by a dirt bike. 

It made me cry.

(photo of dirt bike trails and mudhole by Kate St. John)

12 thoughts on “Contradiction

  1. It made me cry, too. Not only do their illegal actions disturb the vegetation (witness the mud puddle and the ground stripped bare in the photo) but they also disturb the wildlife. When I see these riders tearing up and down a hillside, my first thought is that erosion is not far behind. They are wasting resources and leaving a scar on the landscape. I do not like them.

  2. Not that I’m all that fond of dirt bikes either, but I’m wondering why you think that the scarlet tanager was killed by a dirt bike. It’s fairly rare for birds to be killed on the road by cars, which are much bigger and going much faster than dirt bikes, which are comparatively small, slow, and really noisy…I think most birds would hear them coming and get out of the way of them.

    I have in the past belonged to another group that hikers complain about…horseback riders. Horses are big and their feet probably do more damage to the trails that a deer or a person would do, but it’s very frustrating to find so few places to be able to ride horses in the woods…many places ban them. Most riders that I know are responsible, try not to ride where it’s really wet (where it would do the most damage), and also do trail maintenance, although I’m sure there are those who don’t.

    Now I don’t have horses and am always on foot in the woods, and I am bothered by the cyclists who don’t announce themselves and are traveling at high speeds silently from behind…I don’t know they are there until they are right on top of me.

    Many people want to travel through the woods in different ways…I think we all just need to try to do as little damage as possible and be respectful to others who are out enjoying nature in their own way.

  3. The pic above shows another problem with off-road-vehicles: They make a trail on steep or even sloped terrain. Then when there is a downpour, soil erosion occurs, which is bad for the soil and even for the trail itself.

    These off-road-vehicles would be more tolerable by me also if they abided by the rules.

    It is a shame that they had to run over any animal, much less a beautiful scarlet tanager. So sad. 🙁

    It gives one the impression that they don’t respect the environment, which covers flora and fauna.

  4. Kate, it would make me cry too, but as I thought about this my question is:
    Could another scenario be that the Tanager died in another way, was on the ground and run over after it was dead?

  5. Good morning Kate,

    This post prompts me to comment on the toll that our vehicles takes on wildlife – what a large toll it is. While driving around Pittsburgh on our many winding, wooded roads, I have always been frustrated and saddened by the number of animals I see that have been hit by cars – birds and mammals alike. The New York Times recently featured an article about a veterinarian that spends a lot of his time documenting roadkill in order to raise awareness about this problem. I was oddly comforted to see this article because it means that at least someone is doing research and attempting to do something about it.

    I share your sadness at finding the scarlet tanager during your hike the other day, especially being that you found him in a place where our vehicles simply do not belong.

    – Lily

  6. Yes, the dirt bike may have run over the tanager after he was dead. (I changed the text a little to make that clearer.) The tanager was in a track & there were tracks on his body. To me his body was so obvious to avoid hitting … maybe not obvious when driving fast.

    As I mentioned in my blog, my mind is full of contradictions & it makes me mellower about the various ways people travel through the woods. I agree whole-heartedly with Mary Ann Pike:
    “Many people want to travel through the woods in different ways…I think we all just need to try to do as little damage as possible and be respectful to others who are out enjoying nature in their own way.”

    And, Lily, Yes! So happy to see that someone is raising awareness about roadkills. Sadly we see so many roadkills in the fall because the juvenile animals & birds are naive about cars.

  7. cars definitely kill birds. whenever i walk or bike roadside, i discover bird bodies. when biking in the florida keys last november, route #1 was literally littered with bird remains.

  8. You pose a very interesting point here. Our lives are filled with many contradictions, they seem almost inevitable in our complex modern world. As you point out, there are always two sides to every proverbial coin. The truth is, human experience is inherently subjective; it is thus difficult to find objective truths in any aspect of life.

    Philosophy aside, I don’t think we should give to much credit to these trailblazing ATV and dirt bike riders. Although the trails they make are sometimes good for walking, they are often made in areas with certain restrictions where no one should be in the first place, for example in certain conservation lands. Also, walking trails are thoroughly thought out and designed with many environmental and ecological factors in mind; I doubt your average ATV rider thinks about water runoff when forging ahead. These paths can cause deleterious erosion patterns if the proper precautions are not taken.

    However, I have spent many hours enjoying walks on dirt bike trails, so I can’t hold that against anyone. It seems that contradiction are themselves embedded with more contradictions. The complexity of our world is astounding!

  9. Speeding up or down the hill…speed is what makes it “fun” and very dangerous, at least that is what it seems like when I see them riding on paths like this or illegally on the road…I actually saw a group of 4 wheelers and dirt bikers on the road near our old place and someone stopped suddenly and our mailbox got hit by several….wonder how many close calls there were to the tree in the middle of the trail!!! So glad you got out of the way esp when they came zipping up “blind” up or down the steep hill…that’s one can usually hear and smell them coming…I have to have the windows closed when they come near our house with the fumes…just stay safe out there…

  10. Dear Kate,

    I am a regular reader of your blog and I really enjoy it! Thank you for your insights and knowledge. I am also a cyclist (both road and mountain). I am writing to point out that while you “see” those members of our sport that you don’t like or object to, there are many more of us who are responsible trail stewards.

    I co-founded a group (Pittsburgh Trails Advocacy Group) when I moved to Pittsburgh to maintain the dirt trails in public parks once we have obtained land manager (city, county, state, etc) approval. We have been working on trails in the city, county and state parks since 2001. We annually put between 1500 and 2500 hours of manual labor into the local trails. We do this for free, because we love the trails, and not just for biking. We close badly designed or poorly placed trails, we rebuild trails to a set of standards agreed upon by the the land managers and if the managers want a new trail, we will work on that. We work with local environmentalists to make sure that we know what areas have endangered species, or fragile habitats and need to be avoided by everyone from bikers to birders and what areas can sustain trails. Many of the trails I have heard you talk about on the blog, we have had a hand in making or maintaining. We only work on the narrow dirt trails that are open to all users.

    We strongly encourage responsible trails stewards. We are not, however, the police. Just like you would find in any group, mountain bikers are a varied lot. I have gone on rides that have everyone from professionals (doctors, lawyers, and I am a microbiology professor) on $3000 bikes to people on bikes they have gotten for free, from lycra and Italian leather clad to blue jean and workboot clad and age ranges that span 6 decades. I am used to the notion that mountain bikers are “devil’s spawn” and have been yelled at in more park meetings by other user groups than you could imagine! I try to educate people on what we do and make them “see” that this 50 something year old is out in the parks both to work very hard on the trails and to having fun and I don’t fit their preconceived notions.

    Now for my wish….

    PTAG is an all volunteer group and we can only maintain as many miles of trails as we have people to help us. A group of 15 to 20 volunteers can do maintenance on about 1/4 mile of trail in a 4 hour workday, depending on what needs to be done and where the trail is located. The work is dirty and physical and working more than 4 hours is difficult. We regularly hold training sessions and work days. I would encourage you to check out our website and come join us on a workday in your favorite park. Get to know us, see how much we care and let your voice be heard so that we can help make trails that meet your needs, too.

    Best wishes,

    Nancy Trun

    PS. The mud hole in your picture is one we have not gotten to, yet. Please let me know where it is and if the land manager agrees, we can fix it. There are a number of great ways to alleviate erosion on the trails. My favorite trail was built 40 years ago by the CCC and because it was well designed and built, it needs minimal maintenance – it is possible!

  11. Nancy, so glad to hear about your organization! The place I visited was Barking Slopes along the Allegheny River, owned by the Allegheny Land Trust:
    I access Barking Slopes via the little town of Barking, PA across the river from the Cheswick Power Plant. The description of the site clearly states that motorized vehicles are prohibited on the property. They can use the lock & dam gravel road but they have made many off-road trails.
    Contact the Allegheny Land Trust for more information: 412-741-2750

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