The relationship between the Mystic Ranger District and bicyclists has come a long way since 2016 when a red line was drawn in the Black Hills National Forest.
But it has been a challenging and difficult ride.
It got real bumpy in April 2016 when the district ranger at the time decided the best way to respond to mountain bikers who created and maintained unauthorized trails was to threaten to prosecute them, which could have led to six months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
In April 2017, that same district ranger, Ruth Esperance, announced she was canceling popular mountain bike and trail-running races, including the Black Hills Back 40, which raises money for local charities while attracting visitors from across the country to the Black Hills.
In both cases, the parties eventually decided it was better to work together to find a solution than be in irreconcilable conflict over how to share a public resource. They talked and began working on a plan to allow more mountain-biking trails and the decision to cancel the races was rescinded.
Now and without the drama that highlighted the process before, the Mystic Ranger District is working with fat-tire bicyclists so they too can enjoy the beautiful Black Hills of western South Dakota.
On Sunday, the Rapid City Journal reported that after some tense exchanges last year over trail usage, the Forest Service has identified trails and roads in five areas that could be groomed for fat-tire bicycles, which allow riders to navigate terrain that is muddy or snow-covered.
In doing so, the Forest Service hopes it will keep the bikes off trails now used by snowmobiles and off-limits to wheeled vehicles. Those groomed trails are supported by snowmobile licenses and fees.
Mark Van Every, the supervisor of the Black Hills National Forest, said representatives from several trails and recreation groups met with state and local land managers to discuss the issue and then preliminarily identified trails and roads for fat-tire bikers.
While there is still work ahead and certainly more discussions before any plans are finalized, the process this time around has certainly been smoother.
The Forest Service, bikers and others have shown that it is possible to find equitable solutions once the position of no compromise is dismissed and the red line is erased. After all, the national forests belong to all of us.
It's a lesson that those in elected office and party loyalists can learn from. We can work together in this country and often that is the best course to take.
— Rapid City (S.D.) Journal