I have biked and walked our state forest trails for decades with the common understanding depicted on the signage I encounter there: walkers yield to horses, bikers yield to horses and walkers. We share the forest paths in an egalitarian fashion.

But now, thanks to the efforts of the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, the eastern third of the forest has become a sports park for mountain bikes, replete with theme park signage for the trails that have been constructed: Tunnel, Twisty, Log Jam,Explorer,” etc. These trails have rollers to climb and descend in the form of logs stacked pyramidically along their lengths. They have the twists and turns and occasional switchbacks that add, I guess, to the challenge and rhythm and “flow” that bikers seek from their rides.

The new trails, at least those on the eastern side of the forest — the area I’m most familiar with — have all been cut in this manner. And several of the older trails have been retrofitted — their straightaways occluded with branches and logs and switched out for the twists and turns.

Pedestrians will not experience any “flow” in walking these trails. Hikers are used to walking, reasonably speaking, from one place to another in a fairly straightforward manner, with occasional digressions around obstacles or for a scenic view or other natural delight. They will find these bike trails confounding and ultimately unusable. So much then, for horses and bikes and walkers sharing communal paths. So much for the egalitarian approach. These new constructions have been made to serve the interests of one group only.

I can only speculate about how this came to be. I imagine that, under cover of trail maintenance, representatives of Sheriff’s Meadow gained the ear of the recently departed forest superintendent and were allowed to impose their private vision on public land. What’s more, the skirting of regulations speaks to a rush to complete these trails and to present them as a fait accompli. As a friend of mine says, on the Island, it’s easier to ask forgiveness than seek permission.

The Island is a small place, and our forest, large as it is, is small too. Surely a full third of it should not be a sports park. I hope the proposed mitigation plans will restore a shared-use trail policy that has served all constituent user groups reasonably well for a very long time now.

Bill McCarthy