Marin County bicycling boosts economy but locals worry about impacts
Thousands of cycling tourists flock to the trails and roads of Marin County. And while they pump dollars into the tourist economy, unauthorized use of protect nature areas, blocked trails and riding at unsafe speed are leading bike tour companies and cities to look for solutions.
“Marin is very impacted when it comes to accessing bike trails. We don’t go somewhere unless we’re authorized to be there. For example, we don’t ride in Marin Headlands because it is an ecologically sensitive area,” said Craig Wilson, owner of EcoBike Adventures, a Redwood City-based business. He brings riders from San Francisco, the peninsula, and the South Bay to Marin County for three to four-hour tours on electric bikes.
Sam Bolster, general manager of the San Rafael branch of Mike’s Bikes, a local bike store, said Marin County considers itself “the birthplace of mountain biking.” Fairfax is even home to the Marin Museum of Bicycling and the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. Yet there’s a high number of residents who cycle do not often welcome visitors.
“Our stores offer a number of free group rides. The Sausalito branch of Mike’s Bikes has a 26.5-mile group ride every Wednesday called “Col de Pantoll.” The group goes up the coast and up Mount Tam. We typically hold a little BBQ after the ride. I’ve seen between 50 and 100 people at a group ride during summer months,” said Bolster.
Cristina Torresan, communications manager for Marin County Parks, said there have been concerns about out-of-area visitors blocking driveways and failing to abide by local parking restrictions.
“In many of our Marin County Open Space District preserves where people like to mountain bike, there’s no off-street parking. The reason we don’t market or promote cycling tourism much is because there is limited parking. We want to discourage mountain biking on social trails and other trails not signed for bike use. In most instances there are erosion and safety concerns, as well as habitat to be protected.
Juli Vieira, president and CEO of the Sausalito Chamber of Commerce, said Sausalito sees approximately 200,000 cycling tourists a year.
“The high season is April through September, with July and August being the months where we see the most riders. Cycling tourism has a significant impact on our infrastructure, including our first responders,” said Vieira.
She said a high number of cyclists rent the bikes in San Francisco and travel to Sausalito over the Golden Gate bridge. Most do not stop to buy more than an ice cream cone.
There are a number of areas where out-of-the-area cyclists are welcome.
Stafford Lake, a 139-acre county park in Novato, is home to the Stafford Lake Bike Park. The Bike Park, which is in the first phase of construction, consists of a Wilderness Trail Bikes Perimeter Trail, the Mike’s Bikes Progression Zone, with beginner, intermediate, and advanced trails, a maintenance trail that allows access to the upper areas of the park, and the Kid’s Learn-to-Ride Zone.
The Bike Park will eventually expand to 17 acres in the northwest segment of the 139-acre recreational property.
“We actively promote visitor use of this park. We always encourage visitation and there’s ample visitor parking. The track has expert-level jumps and allows kids to grow into features,” said Torresan.
ENSURING A SMOOTH RIDE