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Share the slopes

Medford officials are moving ahead with plans to develop a network of mountain bike trails in Prescott Park on Roxy Ann Peak. It's a great idea, sure to draw many cycling enthusiasts, but the city should make sure non-cyclists have an opportunity to participate in the planning.

The trail system has been in the works for more than a year. City parks officials contracted with the International Mountain Bicycling Association to study the terrain and plan the work, and the organization has drawn up detailed instructions designed to account for slopes, drainage and preserving trees and vegetation.

That's a much better approach than leaving the area undeveloped and allowing riders to create their own routes down the mountain. In the Ashland Watershed, that has resulted in miles of "rogue trails," not necessarily designed to minimize erosion and resulting in conflicts with non-cyclists who don't appreciate bikers barreling down on them at breakneck speeds.

That's a major consideration on Roxy Ann as well, and one the city should take pains to head off before trail construction begins. Some users of Prescott Park already have expressed concerns about sharing trails with mountain bikers.

Parks officials stress that some trails will be built to appeal to bikers, and others will be built to discourage cyclists, with many switchbacks to accommodate hikers. All the trails, however, are intended for multiple use.

We suggest going a step further, and restricting bikers to trails designed for them. We see no reason why every trail must be open to all uses when there is such a potential for injury when walkers mix with riders. Why not set aside some trails for hikers, some for horseback riders and some for mountain bikers?

Certainly, it won't be possible to prevent all conflicts, because some users will choose the trail they want to choose regardless of its design. That's fine as long as the trails are clearly marked with their preferred use, hikers are warned to watch for bikers and bikers are admonished to sound audible warnings as they overtake hikers.

Most importantly, the planning process should include as much public involvement as possible so the concerns of all interested parties can be addressed before construction starts.

There ought to be room in a 1,740-acre park for everyone, no matter their speed or mode of travel.