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The Attack on Michigan’s Right to Bike (and how you can fight back)

Senate Bill 1191 threatens mountain bike access to Michigan's vast trail network. Here's a breakdown of what's at risk and what we can do to fight back.

Expedition Detroit strives to achieve much more than becoming your go-to source for the Detroit region’s best outdoor experiences, trail routes, gear providers, or events. We are passionate about every aspect of our beautiful natural environment - the places we explore, the means by which we experience the outdoors, and creating opportunities for marginalized communities to engage with the wild. We will always advocate for the expansion, inclusion, and protection of outdoor recreation opportunities.


Which brings us to this article. A call to arms for resisting a legislative assault on Michigan’s “Right to Bike.”


On September 28th, Michigan State Senator Jim Runestad (R) introduced Senate Bill 1191 - the embodiment of the latest and most blatant attack on Michigan’s mountain biking community. This proposed bill represents the latest front of a long struggle between Michigan’s equestrian and other recreational communities, although tensions have flared the brightest between the equestrian and mountain biking communities.


Unfortunately, this bill escalates what had been considered a resolved issue. Back in 2010, a number of recreational advocacy groups - including the Backcountry Horsemen of America and the Michigan Mountain Biking Association - worked together in drafting and passing the “Right to Ride Act” of 2010 that served the interests of all stakeholders involved. In summary, the Right to Ride Act established that horseback riders were allowed to ride on designated trails in state parks and recreation areas. The legislation represented a reasonable resolution for all parties: access to trails in a fair, equitable, and sustainable manner in light of the science, sustainability, and volunteer contributions of each interested recreational group.

Maybury State Park Closed to Horses Sign
The Right to Ride Act established areas open and closed for certain activities.

Fast forward twelve years and we’re back in the trenches. Now don’t get me wrong, Expedition Detroit is not anti-equestrian. In fact, a future iteration of this platform may prominently feature horseback riding as an avenue for world-class outdoor experiences and conservation in the Detroit region. I’m personally a fan of the trail and facility maintenance that the equestrian community has provided at beloved destinations like Maybury State Park, Proud Lake Recreation Area, and Kensington Metropark.


But this bill…this just ain’t it.


To be fair, the majority of the proposed amendments to the Right to Ride Act are intended to lessen the current restrictions placed on equestrian trail access. Reasonable minds may differ on those revisions, and we at Expedition Detroit do not have the firsthand experience to comment on whether such amendments are warranted. We’ll let the legal team at the DNR weigh in there.


On the other hand, we’re vehemently opposed to two additional, damning sections that Sen. Runestad has proposed on the final page of his bill. Sections 72115(4) and 72115(5) - without precedent or rationale - prohibit bicycling on any trail that does not explicitly permit bicycling. In other words, the current legal presumption that you may bike a trail unless stated otherwise gets flipped so that you may not bike a trail unless clearly permitted. Additionally, the proposed bill provides the Equine Trails Subcommittee of the DNR, in their sole discretion and without recourse, to prohibit bicycling on any trail where bicycling is currently and expressly authorized.


Oh, and don’t forget that fun little aspect of new legislation which authorizes the prosecution of bikers for riding on these now-restricted trails.


There are obviously several glaring issues with this bill, but the most obnoxious and discriminatory aspect of the bill is that it solely and purposefully targets only bikers. Sen. Runestad’s bill not only restricts access to a sport that proved so vital in the mental health fight spurred on by the pandemic, but lawfully punishes one of Michigan’s most active trail construction and preservation communities. Better yet, this bill is entirely unnecessary - mountain bikers are already prohibited from riding on marked equestrian-only trails, and trailhead signs clearly instruct bikers and hikers to yield to horseback riders.

Trail Courtesy Sign Mountain Biking Hiking Horse-riding
Sample "Trail Courtesy" sign at the start of mixed-use trails.

In conclusion, this bill sucks. No other way to put it.


Fortunately, our representatives work for us - even though they sometimes need to be reminded of that fact. Especially if you live in Sen. Runestad’s district, we humbly ask that you join us in writing to him to demand the omission of Sections 72115(4) and 72115(5) from his draft bill. It’s no secret that a key election is coming up next month, so the ears of our elected officials are keenly aware of the voices and preferences of their constituents.


Our friends at the Motor City Mountain Biking Association have prepared the following draft communication that you can send to your Michigan State Senator:


Dear Senator _________________:


I, ____________________, am an avid mountain biker, and I am calling (or writing) to voice my concern over the proposed amendment to the Right To Ride legislation that is being considered by certain Legislators and state Senators. The proposed amendment grants too much influence to a special interest group (the equestrians) at the expense of other trail users. This legislation weakens the DNR’s ability to exercise responsible stewardship over state trails. The proposed amendment would shut access to biking on existing multi-use trails and possibly deny future access. In whole the amendment would provide a mechanism for a particular user group (the equestrians) through the Equine Trails Subcommittee (ETS) to deny access on Michigan trails to other groups such as mountain biking. The amendment is written so vaguely that it can be applied to popular local DNR trails throughout Michigan.


Please do not consider this proposed amendment: The DNR can manage trail access without the help of the ETS, and bicyclists should not be unilaterally denied access to Michigan’s grand non-motorized trails at the whim of one user group.


Thank You,


_______________________

 

Please join us in our opposition to this poorly-conceived piece of legislation. The great outdoors is not and should not be a zero-sum game - a situation where one group’s benefit must come at another’s expense. Nature is best experienced responsibly, equitably, and sustainably. Senate Bill 1191 represents a mockery of that belief, so we simply will not tolerate it.


We hope that you’ll stand with us as we fight for the protection of our Right to Bike.


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