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Mountain cyclists psyched over chance to fix own path

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"I think there's been a shift of perception in the city -- they see mountain-bikers as a positive influence," says David Biber.

Mountain bikes are officially forbidden but often tolerated on city park trails, says Biber, a Bellevue resident who co-founded Pittsburgh Trails Advocacy Group, the mountain-bikers' division of Pittsburgh Off Road Cyclists. PORC has 200 members; how many are mountain-bikers, Biber isn't sure. But based on sometimes-crowded local trails, he estimates there must be "thousands" in the area, and with good reason: Bike magazine rated Pittsburgh one of the top 10 mountain-biking cities recently for the number of trails within 10 miles of the city center. "It's almost a year-round riding area," Biber says, since such cyclists can handle up to 6 inches of snow.

But mountain bikes pounding the dirt cause trail wear, Biber notes, and mountain bikers haven't always had the best image among city officials in charge of maintaining our parks.

So, beginning in 2001, Biber's trail group offered to help with trail maintenance and improvements. Some trails were too steep to be safe anymore, or created easy paths for water to erode hillsides. The group also hoped to eliminate dangerous intersections of mountain-bike and general-use trails. But despite a few meetings with city officials, group members were never allowed to volunteer, he says.

Maybe it's got something to do with the city running out of money, Biber speculates, but the group has finally gotten the go-ahead to schedule a trail-renovation weekend in Frick Park, Dec. 4-5.

It doesn't hurt that the trails and off-road groups, along with volunteers from a locally produced mountain-biking magazine (Dirt Rag), have already proven their maintenance skills on trails in Moraine State Park (since 2002) and at Hartwood Acres throughout 2004. In Frick, these groups will be joined by members of Venture Outdoors, Downtown's promoter of all things recreational. They're also hoping trail-minded members of the public will volunteer each day as the group creates a sustainable switchback trail from a treacherous path headed straight down a hillside, making 1,200 feet of dirt useful for everyone, not just mountain-bikers.

Biber anticipates this will be the start of regular Frick Park trail maintenance by his group: "The city needs to see that mountain bikers care about it."

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