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Indiana mountain bike trail to be in place for a year

State experiment at Huntington Reservoir being closely monitored for signs of erosion.

By Kyle Niederpruem

A 12-mile trail on state property at Huntington Reservoir is the site of an experimental project that has attracted more than 500 bicyclists. It's the first time the Indiana Department of Natural Resources has opened a trail to mountain bike use. On Thursday, the Natural Resources Commission voted unanimously to extend the project for another year on the 8,500 acre reservoir property in northeast Indiana.

"There are people coming from all over the state, and the word is getting out," said Otto Jose, state trails specialist. Once a month, trail specialists monitor tread depth, soil compaction, surface erosion and vegetation.

Jack Costello, a deputy director in the agency, said the project will require more scrutiny before the state decides how many state properties should provide this new recreational opportunity. "There hasn't been damage that we can see, but it's a little inconclusive. Generally, the DNT has had hiking trails for hikers," Costello said. "There are vehicles out there that state parks should not be expected to accommodate," he said.

The Indiana Bicycle Coalition, a statewide advocacy group of 1,000 members, has been trying to get the state to open its properties to biking for years and lobbied for the experimental project.

Peter Robertson, the coalition's chairman and owner of Crown Point Bicycles, said his membership believes state officials have been reluctant to change trail use in Indiana. It's resistance to change," he said. "It's a little on the conservative side not to extend it to other facilities. But they're not slamming the door." State rules prohibit vehicles on trails, which lumps together motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles and bicycles.

Robertson believes that definition unfairly lumps bicycles in with other vehicles that would have a more significant impact on trails. With advances in the development of mountain bikes, a rider can handle a variety of natural surface terrains. And mountain bikers aren't inclined to take their treads to asphalt, Robertson said.

Gary Zeissig, a maintenance technician for reservoir property, said the trail has been popular and is holding up well with little evidence of erosion or damage. "It's open year-round, weather permitting," he said.

Jose said only a few isolated complaints have been logged, including one from a hunter who said the cyclists were too friendly and had scared off a deer he was tracking. Half of the trail is in a safety zone where hunting is not allowed.

The trail also was underwater several weeks this year due to flooding, which contributed to the inconclusive results of the first year study of the project, Costello said. The state hopes to consult with federal officials who recently began allowing mountain bikes on trails at the Hoosier National Forest in southern Indiana.

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