“FROM MY COLD DEAD HANDS”

Don Amador’s photo from Dirt Rider Magazine

My birthday party at Carnegie

“Viewed from a jetliner at 35,000 feet Carnegie is indistinguishable from other geographic features like farms, shopping malls, housing tracts, and the military installation across the road from us.” (Dave Duffin). Not-withstanding Dave’s observation, Carnegie has changed a lot since I began riding there in the 1970’s. But let me say first that I am not quote – unquote a Carnegie rider.

Limey

I did not grow up riding at Carnegie. I grew up on the East Coast riding horses, sailing, bicycling, skiing and climbing. I also participated in epic back-packing trips throughout New England. You could say that I loved nature and the outdoors. This is not a trait that is considered compatible with off road riding. This perception is totally wrong. Let me explain.

I didn’t discover off road motorcycling until the relatively ripe old age of twenty-seven when I purchased a Yamaha dual sport DT-175. One of the first places that I took that bike was Carnegie. This was in 1978 when the park was privately owned. I thought that I was hot stuff jumping my bike a few inches into the air flying over a small lump of dirt in the canyon.

“Getting air” on my Yamaha DT-175

Now, over thirty years later, I am intimately connected with Carnegie. I started riding there almost exclusively starting in the 1990’s after I tapered off my amateur racing and trials competition program. That is when the changes started happening. The closure of the hills facing Tesla Road was one of the first big blows. At that time I was climbing those hills almost every week-end. I say “climbing” in the sense that I was attempting these hills. I wasn’t always successful. Still big fun… Coming back down was one of the first big challenges to overcome.

Then favorite trails became off limits as whole areas were fenced off. Slowly single track trails were lost, and whole areas like Waterfall Canyon were fenced off, but until off road riding blossomed at the turn of the century it was not too much of a problem. There were still plenty of challenging trails for the limited number of people that came to Carnegie. My buddy and I used to joke that they kept Carnegie open just so we could ride particularly in the summertime.

My bike at Carnegie

That changed as a strong economy increased the purchasing power of ordinary citizens and more and more people bought off road bikes and flocked to Carnegie.  About that time the rate of trail closures started increasing dramatically. Even then there were trails that were basically unpopulated probably due to their difficulty and the lack of experience of many of these new riders.

In 2009 when attendance figures at Carnegie were at all-time highs some pseudo environmental groups used the courts to try to shut down Carnegie. Although they were not successful in closing us down due to an appellate court decision that overturned a lower court ruling, the park’s department started a whole new policy of closures that fenced off the few good trails and hill climbs that were still available.

Trials at Carnegie

The perception has become that the danger lies not so much that the environmental extremists will close us down outright. Now it appears that they are trying to take little chunks out of our riding experience bit by bit until we finally leave of our own accord. Behind the scenes the rangers are taking action based on various provisions of California Code and related regulations. The politicans and their allies (the extremists who hate OHV recreation) have been hard at work enacting legislation designed to harm our sport.

Carnegie has always been promoted as an extreme terrain challenge. Now it looks like the extreme terrain is being made off limits. The single tracks have been extensively graded. The rest of Carnegie (the extreme terrain) is being fenced off. In effect they are making changes that will force riders onto the a few easy trails and are putting up barriers so that riders cannot ride the single tracks and steep trails that branch off into the hillsides. Starting from Kiln Canyon and spreading to the other side of the park hill climb trails are being closed and the hill sides are being renovated. This pleases our enemies but is hated by long time Carnegie riders.

In effect the rangers are putting up more fencing and constructing trails that are finely graded and almost flat. These new trails pose no challenge to experienced Carnegie riders. Some say that the many blind corners, easy terrain and increased speed pose a safety hazard on the narrow two-way trails. “The “improvements” will add a new component to many unskilled riders’ experience – SPEED!!! This will result in accidents.” (Dave Duffin).

Skip’s Hillclimbe at Carnegie

“They act like we are riding on their front lawn not in our off road park.” (Mark Martinez). It is being said that someone is trying to turn Carnegie into a kind of safe amusement park like the snow coaches in Yellow Stone. Long time riders did not start riding here because they didn’t like challenging terrain. Now some of them are abandoning Carnegie because the challenging terrain they like to ride is quickly being fenced off.

Some might say good riddance, but I for one am especially alarmed by this trend. Some are friends and most of them are longtime Carnegie enthusiasts. Then there are some champions, both hill climbers and off road racers, who are not coming back. We are losing some (although not all) of the best and brightest.

The original plan for the east side of the park to be an open riding area has been modified. Some of our favorite trails are being fenced off and we are being relegated to finely groomed novice trails. The restoration  originally started above Kiln Canyon and is spreading across the park. On the east side of Kiln Canyon even before the lawsuit was filed a fire roared into the the park causing the closure of all the trails. Recently a trail has been opened in that area called the SRI loop. Riders are prohibited from riding anywhere besides this new  trial.

I rode that trail before the fire. I didn’t like it then and never went back. I didn’t mind them cutting the trail because I thought that it would be good for some people, especially novices. I never imagined that they would take away all of our other trails on the east side. Some people speculate that that area was closed first because it borders on Connolly’s ranch.

In 2012 the rate of trail closures has increased dramatically. They are moving across the park (east to west) and closing areas where we enjoyed climbing steep hills and renovating those areas to please our enemies and make them palatable to people who savor the fake sculptured look of a golf course, and who hate the dangerous looking terrain that is the meat of our sport. Of course everybody knows that the west side of the park has had its share of trail closures and new fencing has gone up everywhere.

It is like falling in love and loosing a lover. So many good times… It’s like nothing can take its place.

Captain America Jumping the chain at Redwood

Been there, done that. We lost Red Wood Road (Red Wood) on January 12, 1986. That date is indelibly etched into my memory. We owned that park too. We didn’t lose it like Carnegie a little bit at a time, but in one fell swoop. One day families were enjoying its challenging terrain and the next day it was closed forever.

Like at Carnegie, life-time relationships were formed at Red Wood even with people who don’t ride any more. The loss is a lot more than just loosing a riding area. There are real live relationships that have been lost.

A trails at Red Wood

Red Wood had been a gathering spot for riders and families of all types. Trail riders and off road racers used that park as did trials riders who for years put on a trial on every third Sunday.

Trials riders also put on regular Pacific International Trials Society (PITS) events at Red wood. The terrain was so extreme that it attracted luminaries from Southern California like National Trials Champion Lane Leavitt and Debbie Evans whose amazing trials riding skills were showcased in On Any Sunday Two, a classic off road motorcycle movie.

On any given weekend the parking lot was full of motor-homes, trailers and pickup trucks. It was a gathering place for people of all ages; mom, dad, the kids and grandparents who came to Redwood for riding and/or socializing. It was where our daughter got her first taste of off road riding. In its day Red Wood road was a popular gathering spot for East Bay residents. Even non riders would stop by to shoot the breeze and watch riders conquer impossible terrain.

Lane Leavitt

Bobby Caswell

Although we attended public hearings to defend our park, Red Wood was closed with practically no notice. None of their false arguments were needed because someone high up in a certain organization got on the East Bay Regional Park District board of directors and made deals with the other board members to close Red Wood. Other city officials including the local police supported our park, but in the end their voices were ignored.

Keeping the event clean

Red Wood was a present to the East Bay community to give people a place to ride and stop motorcycles from riding on local trails. When they closed Red Wood they told us to ride at Carnegie. Like Red Wood, Carnegie was created to control and manage off road riding.

They breached the contract. We didn’t. Fat lot of good that did us… I will move on and survive because nothing will stop me from riding. NOTHING. As Skip said, “I knew this day would come.”

If they want to stop me from riding they will have to pry the bars “from my cold dead hands”.

Old water color

My better half

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