Trail Redux: how to quiet dissent

Gnome’s post sure got a lot of Flagstaff attention lately, especially from people not usually associated with Drunkcyclist. It was clear from the moment i read it that it was going to get some panties in bunches, because he went right at a few topics all at once. and he didn’t flinch, blanch, or mince words. But in many ways, he was more generous than some of the responses he and Jonny drew.

As a former FBO board member myself, and a concerned cyclist, i would like to contribute my insight. This will not preclude Jonny’s post because Jonny has much to vent.

A paragraph so y’all in Toledo, Butte, and ‘Frisco are in on the story: The USFS closed (realigned) part of “Secret Trail,” one of Flagstaff’s more classic rides. Wahwahwah. We have plenty, don’t cry for us Argentina. We’ll get by without Secret, and if New Upper Moto is any indication, the new trail will be fascinating. Snap-crackle-pop goes the body. Personally, as a race weenie and hardtail XC freak, i was more sad about losing the barf-inducing old Sunset climb than Secret. But i got over that, and now do my hillwork on Brookbank and Climb3. Back to you outtatowners: we in Flagstaff have this thing called Flagstaff Biking Organization that does bike-related stuff. They do trail maintenance, group rides, kids rides, Bike To Work Week, bike safety workshops, and even host things like a bike-centric Town Hall Meeting. Oh, and they used to host New Belgium Brewing’s Tour De Fat, which was a 10,000 person party in 1.2 acres celebrating beer with a few bikes around. Hence Flagstaff is no longer a host city. But back to the issue at hand: FBO is run by a group of 4-10 people (depending on who shows up) who are lovely freaks and weirdos who care about cycling. Hardworking? Doesn’t begin to describe it. I was a grad student who had plenty of time for awhile, and i couldn’t keep up. I quit because i had to write a thesis. Stay in FBO? No thesis. it’s that hard. These people either don’t work, work part time, work nights, or work for FBO while attending their day jobs. Why do you care? You live in Toledo. Well, if you ride in Toledo, somebody likely works just as frickin’ hard to make sure that there are bike lanes, trails, helmets on kids, and bike-related gatherings. What you’re seeing spill onto DC is something that could happen in your town too. So please, follow along. Our misadventures are your opportunities.

Gnome hit on several topics. They got interwoven, and then the comments started. Let me break them out.
1) Mr. and Mrs. Owl move in above Secret, make w(hoo)pie, and family. USFS freaks. Wants to get people away. May (or may not) be basing their decision on science. The fact that the road 500m away gets to stay is an odd fact that appears not to be addressed by USFS. FBO’s Anthony steps in, negotiates a realign, and we get to keep something called Secret.

2) FBO did much of this work behind the scenes, in meetings, and without much awareness (save rumors) in the Flagstaff cycling community.

3) Anthony is a motorcyclist with a long history of bicycling credentials. As far as i know, he still rides pedal-bikes. Anthony has made efforts to combine the lobbying efforts of FBO and the Coconino Trail Riders (CTR) moto group. The FBO board voted to not ally with the CTR on this issue.

4) The moto/mtb split is an awkward and contentious one. People that started in the 80′s on motos are now mtb’ers. Language in the Wilderness Act prevents mechanized use. Pedal-bikes have much in common with motos – two wheels, chain, suspension, and speed. We don’t however, have much in common with horses (we don’t shit on the trail) and we access territory that most weekend hikers never hit. Are we brothers in arms or rival siblings? Or totally different beasts? See Mikey’s comment to Dave’s post. it’s a good one.

Anyway, Gnome voiced dissent to – well – everything. Re-read his post. He’s not thrilled with the realignment, and may think FBO should have done more to prevent losing the trail. He recognizes and is alarmed by the association of pedal-bikers with motos, which in Flag may be the result of Anthony approaching the USFS as a both a member of CTR and FBO. To some overworked and not-especially-impassioned USFS employee, the distinction may get a little ragged. Gnome thinks that if bikes align with motos, they will suffer their inevitable (as he sees it) fate: marginalization.

Is Dave (Gnome) clairvoyant? Is he right on all counts? Probably not. Is he wrong? Not really, either. Dave stirs the pot well, though, and that’s for sure. I’m not here to argue owls, motos, or wilderness (totally unrelated). I am here to argue for the right and wrong way to run an organization.

As a former (and hope to be again some day) advocate of cycling within my community, I am alarmed by the response of FBO, including those of some of my friends. Dave’s post invoked a blistering series of attacks from FBO board members on the integrity of Dave, Jonny, DC, and weblogs in general. Relevance to the above topics? None. Drama? Priceless.

Dave, a heads up: FBO does not represent anyone but FBO. They don’t even need to represent their members (and make little effort to know what their members desire) for membership contributions contribute less than 30% of total FBO income. The money to do all that shit? 50 cents on the dollar used to come from you, me and our 9,998 ASU frat hounds who were thirsty enough to drive up the hill and shell out at Tour De Fat. So governance it’s not. It’s an advocacy group that has the resources to advocate for whatever 8 people believe is right and can fund. The membership is also declining, and the board spent many hours and dollars mailing renewal letters: what was never discussed during my tenure was WHY was membership declining? Is this a symptom?

Dissent from the party line? Not allowed. We all take the red pill. Take the blue pill? Uh-uh. I tried, twice, and got so many emails from one of the board members that i eventually just stopped responding, because i didn’t have the time or energy. Jonny calls it the Brute Force technique. Witness the comments. They’re petty, and draw out petty responses from Dave and Jon. Then the commenters have ammo, and use that against Dave and Jon. It’s clever, but unfair. Dave was kind in his post, in many ways, even if he did not like the move FBO made: He gave credit to Anthony as the Hard-worker (Absolute-ly true) and called the FBO report on the project “Diplomatic.”

Should Dave be allowed to disagree (however vehemently) with the FBO position on trails, motos, or monkeys? Should Jon be allowed to comment on the FBO website, ad infinitum? Yes, and yes. Does FBO have the right to respond? Yes. Did they? No. They appear to have taken the criticism personally, and assumed battle positions. Their “responses” are simply attacks laced with “Don’t like it? Participate” clauses. Well, we did! All three of us, me, Jon, and Dave. Two of us were board members, Dave designed the site, and here we are, out of your gang because we were either attacked, worked to death, or just ignored.

(Full disclosure: I have seen the wrath personally – in my one FBO interaction since leaving the board, i was excoriated for abandoning them. While i did abandon my post, i did so with a heavy heart and with two months till my thesis defense. I am not proud of my departure from FBO, but i am still a contributing member, like any other Joe. That’ll have to do right now, until i can sort my world out. According to FBO’s logic, since i am not actively participating, this means i should not open my mouth. And all i wanted to do was donate $20 because i couldn’t make it back from a race in time for a fundraiser.)

You want people to participate? Welcome input, good or bad.

Flagstaff (or Topeka, for that matter) can use an organization that advocates for cyclists, be they mountain bikers, road bikers, commuters, or children. That organization has to make decisions about its relationship to other recreational organizations. If Flagstaff cyclists are not happy with that organization, nothing prevents the establishment of a new one. The one thing that the FBO-posse is right about though? It’s hard, and the work is often criticized from all sides. It’s not a way to make a lot of friends.

FBO: (to paraphrase Melissa) pay heed to your minions or get the organization you deserve. You have the time and energy to approach government. That’s why you’re an organization. We feeble folk who can’t keep up with you rely on your efforts. Demanding our input is not only futile, it harkens to anarchism. Besides, you get input you don’t like, you reject it, and call the writer a hippie. Speak with a clear, conscious voice. I don’t care that you helped the Secret re-route, but i care that you smack down people like you did and Dave and Jon when we speak up. That’s no way to operate. The USFS doesn’t want 3,000 Flagstaff mountain bikers with different opinions on motos, roads, owls, or boo. That’s why they rely on NGO’s like FBO. I know how it goes. I work in forestry. You think they read all those opinions during public comment? No way! They’re too busy trying to not to have their office shut down or trying to keep some fire from burning out of control. But a few clear voices from umbrella groups and they’re paying attention.

Good luck y’all. Thanks for reading, as always. And Anthony, thanks for the pace on LMR during SSC. We chased your lead moto like dogs, and the minute we had at the bottom of Marshall was ’cause i was chasing you, not worrying about the racers behind. that’s how races are won, or taken second in. Cheers. I’m a concerned, not ungrateful, sonofabitch.

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About the sullied cycologist

"measures, daily, just how quickly we are destroying our atmosphere. thinks riding bikes might just help this problem. tapes his middle finger to the handlebar (unsuccessfully represses rage). mountainbikes in lycra. Tomac did it. he does it. he's not Tomac." Missoula, Montana, USA

4 thoughts on “Trail Redux: how to quiet dissent

  1. first of all, when (or if) fbo (or its agents/representatives) was asked (or tapped due to an absence of alternates) to be involved in the “secret” secret trail discussions, it was only as a matter of inheritance… this project has been burning on the back of the usfs stove for a long, long time… nothing more than a few years of drought and some big regional fire seasons gave us an extended reprieve from this otherwise inevitable death sentence…

    here’s the truth: it’s popularity as the world’s worst kept secret trail notwithstanding… and despite the dubious lack of any legitimate scientific evidence demonstrating the presence of any real spotted owls (or my ignorance of such evidence)… SECRET TRAIL HAS BEEN NOTHING MORE THAN A GHOST DANCE FOR YEARS. it’s been a goner since long before many of its most ardent fans ever got to town. it’s a phantom trail and its fading into the mists of memory has been inevitable since the mid 1990s, if not before. everyone but you (and me and all other cyclists) hates the very idea of such a trail. the mere suggestion of such a trail being allowed to persist causes foam to form at the corners of a HOHA member’s mouth.

    i remember sitting, along with a few others, cyclists, equines, and HOHA (Hateful Old Hikers Assn.) members alike, thru several longish evening meetings in the ratty old usfs building at least 13 or 14 years ago talking with their resources managers and an in-house owl expert (her name escapes me… two last names; noted for her hooting ability) about obliterating secret trail and orion springs. even then, we proposed a reroute. the difference was, back then the idea of a reroute was not well-met by the noncycling membership of our little invite-only trail user coven. they wanted no trail in the vicinity. period. we reached such an impass the meetings were finally suspended.

    so, whatever fbo got out of the usfs, an agreed upon bypass or reroute, was something we couldn’t get out of them then. which makes me, for one, grateful to them for whatever it is the accomplished, however it is that they got it done.

  2. Guess I’m pulled back into this.

    Ben, you hit the nail on the head about FBO on several points. Sorry our lunacy, misguided mailings, incessant e-mails, and incompetence drove you away. On others, I think you miss the boat by miles. Things have changed a bit (if not enough) since you attended board meetings. I’d be happy to discuss anything to do with FBO with you, preferably in person.

    Regarding who’s attacking whom in this thread and all the others entangled with it, I have to wonder whether you’re reading the same things I am. It looks to me like Anthony is getting pounded, and that he’s not the one who digressed from discussion of the issues into personal attacks. Whether Anthony’s double-agent involvement with CTR and FBO represents a conflict of interest is a subject open to discussion… and as a FBO board member, I’m open to whatever conclusions that discussion may reach. There was a discussion of these issues starting on the FBO site and then veering onto Drunkcyclist and elsewhere… but (in my opinion) Jonny took it off track. Again, I’d be more than happy to talk about this and any other issue, but I think it’s better and more effectively discussed in person. I’m sure at least some other board members feel the same way and would be happy to talk and listen about these things.

    This ties into my seeming digression on blogging that you refer to. I was pointing out a cultural dichotomy I think is highly relevant here: most people don’t get their information OR discuss important issues on weblogs. Those who do are a minority. A very cool minority, for sure, but most people exchange their opinions and ideas in person, over the phone, or via e-mail.

    So consider this an invitation: Ben, please let me get you a cup of coffee or a beer or dinner and you can tell me what you think is wrong with FBO, how it’s run, what we’re doing… and how we can improve. Dave, same thing, or let’s get our toddlers together for a play date while we talk. Anybody else who has something constructive to say, same thing. My e-mail and my peronal phone number are easy to find on the FBO web site.