WALLINGFORD — Unapproved mountain bike trails are again sprouting at Tyler Mill Preserve and the town Conservation Commission chairwoman hinted this week that the commission might seek a mountain bike ban at the town-owned land if the trail-cutting continues.
So called because they twist and turn wildly, the unapproved spaghetti trails connect some of the 15 miles of blazed trails at the 1,400-acre nature preserve near the Muddy River. The unapproved trails, and environmental damage done by a small minority of the bikers who use Tyler Mill, prompted commission Chairwoman Mary Heffernon’s warning.
“I am not saying that there aren’t a lot of people on the commission who don’t go to sleep at night and dream about doing [a ban],” Heffernon said Monday.
Town Council Chairman Vincent Cervoni questioned the notion of banning mountain bikes from Tyler Mill. Even if the council supported the idea, passive recreation — mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, hunting and fishing — has long been allowed on the preserve, he said.
With Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. and Police Chief William Wright in attendance, the commission discussed the possibility of pushing for a ban of mountain bikes on trails at its Feb. 11 meeting.
If a ban were implemented, it would complete a circle running through the history of the preserve. In 1993, Tom Dooley, the former Parks and Recreation director, created an annual
mountain bike race at Tyler Mill called Dooley's Run, which attracted roughly 300 people some years before it ended in 2004.
The increase in mountain biking activity took a toll on the land, from bike pedals that gouged trees to trails, stunts and jumps that were built in sensitive habitats.
Commission member Dianne Saunders suggested banning the bikes three days a week, according to meeting minutes.
Cervoni doubted whether the town could unilaterally ban any form of passive recreation in Tyler Mill without violating the terms of the state grants that helped create the preserve.
“I think that [biking] has to be left open there under the terms of that funding,” Cervoni said, “and I don't think it is appropriate to limit any passive recreational use.”
The commission appointed a three-member committee to study how to prevent spaghetti trails and other damage done by what Heffernon described as a small number of bikers who cut the unapproved trails. The great majority of mountain bikers behave well in the preserve, she said.
The results of the committee’s work are pending.
Some illegal trails cut through biologically valuable flora that is torn up by the bikes, said Heffernon and Erin O’Hare, the town’s environmental planner.
“We’re taking care of this resource,” Heffernon said. “We planned the trails in Tyler Mill to take account of critical habitats.”
The illegal trail cutting is inappropriate, but so is banning mountain biking, Cervoni said.
Mountain bikers and the more preservation-minded commission members have squabbled over various issues with Tyler Mill going back to the early 2000s, Cervoni said.
In May 2018, 15 months after a microburst forced the closure of Tyler Mill, bikers complained to the commission that the work repairing the trails was slow and inadequately publicized.
Members of the Connecticut chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association met with the commission in July 2013 to open a dialogue on several problems that commission members had with Tyler Mill riders.
Cervoni suspected that the latest trail-cutting incidents have gotten bikers and their opponents worked up.
“I just wish that both sides would work together more,” he said.