This article is bit longer than the post. But there was a lot of ground to cover.
On May 8th, 2018 the Hopkins, MN Center for the Arts hosted and interesting group. Calling themselves Conserve Lone Lake Park, they hosted a meeting on why the citizens of neighboring Minnetonka should be opposed to the proposal for mountain biking trails in Lone Lake Park.
Who were the anti-mountain bikers?
The Conserve Lone Lake Park group, like a lot of anti-mountain biking groups are made up of older individuals, many that have been involved in the community for years. For the meeting, Heather Holm and Maureen Hackett directed. Mary Beth Pottratz, another leader of the Conserve Lone Lake Park, wasn’t present.
There were 35 persons in attendance. Most, save for a younger woman and man, appeared at least retirement age, if a bit older.
What did the group discuss?
The highlight of the evening was a presentation presented by Ms. Holm. Before the presentation was a free ranging discussion. Mostly, this discussion provided those in attendance an opportunity to ask questions about what exactly the plan was. After this warm up, there was the presentation presented by Ms. Holm. It was a pretty free ranging slide show with some interesting moments, but was largely interrupted by audience members free jazzing their thoughts.
What was so striking about the audience was their hostility to city staff. This seemed to be amplified by Ms. Holm and Ms. Hackett, who would mention a city personal’s name or department, pause, and let the audience do the Statler and Waldorf routine before moving on. (Staff and elected officals like Kelly O’dea, Mayor Brad Wiersum and Parks Board Member Ms. Peggy Kvam were singled out for special disdain by members of the crowd.)
The suspicion was that the presentation would attempt to give the same false narrative that most anti-mountain biking groups give. Instead, it was largely focused on the idea that emotions (specifically, of those in attendance) should override facts. This was explicitly mentioned several times. Ms. Hackett opined that, “pressure from all us [those in attendance] can override any data”. (Ms. Hackett ran for Congress in MN District 3 in 2010. Based on her opinion of data, it’s probably for the best she didn’t win.) Ms. Holms also followed in this regard, claiming “opinions are more important than facts when it comes to dealing with [city parks board and city council]”.
Interestingly, City MTB has been forwarded correspondence from Conserve Lone Lake Park by a friendly source and this same discussion of opinions over facts is echoed in their last email, dated May 28th, 2018:
The Park Board and City Council does listen to the residents of Minnetonka! They will make their decision largely on what they perceive to be the larger number of residents’ preferences. We must show them that there are more residents who oppose these trails than there are who want them. The more letters or calls they get from us, the better.
The other point was an extended discussion of getting more youths involved in the push to stop the trails. One target was a group of students from the high school which had a few days earlier presented a climate change report card to the City of Minnetonka. Spoiler alert: Minnetonka is not doing so great. The hope was that these students could be contacted and asked to join the group to have some young faces for public meetings. (This seemed odd, as vehicle exhaust is major source of greenhouse gases, which are responsible for man-made climate change. Why would a group of students, concerned about this issue, want to support a group who wishes to force current and future residents to further this problem with needless car trips to go ride a bike, when the ability to accommodate this activity in carbon free manner exists?)
Finally, there was some discussion on how the group would pre-write a set of comments for future board meetings to monopolize time in public meetings so to push out other speakers. This is a common tactic, one we will discuss in more depth in a moment.
About that presentation
As previously mentioned, the presentation was more about the emotional aspects of the argument than any attempting to twist the facts. However, when the Conserve Lone Lake Park did do this, it was a good demonstration of how far these groups will go to feed misinformation to those that join.
The first was the so-called shockingly low number of requests for mountain biking as part of Imagine Minnetonka community envisioning program. Ms. Holmes, with help from Ms. Hackett, mentioned that only 51 requests for mountain biking were gathered during that process. That seems low, but when the numbers for the No. 1 requested item (preserving more greenspace in a densifying city) and the No. 2 requested item (more sidewalks and sidewalk repairs) were presented, those were 100 and 72 requests respectively. What this means is that, unless there where a lot of requests that didn’t get mentioned, mountain biking trails were the 3rd most requested item in the city. Knowing the cost of purchasing land for parks (more greenspace) and the cost of sidewalks (which often require curb rebuilds and work to meet ADA requirements), 4 miles of mountain biking trails might be low hanging fruit financially.
Next was the discussion that Lone Lake Park was to have passive use recreation over most of the park. Some felt this was the silver bullet to stop the addition of mountain biking trails. There is, of course a problem with that argument: singletrack cross country mountain biking is passive use. As we have discussed before, a lot of anti-mountain bikers try redefining what passive use recreation means. So, lets cover it again, here is the definition from a legal dictionary:
A passive recreation area is generally an undeveloped space or environmentally sensitive area that requires minimal development… The quality of the environment and "naturalness" of an area is the focus of the recreational experience in a passive recreation area.
In short form, to qualify as passive recreation, an activity would need to fit the following criteria:
The big supposed “gotcha” moment was when they showed pictures gleaned from local trails’ Facebook pages. They presented these as pictures as being “what mountain biking trails look like”. However, there was a clear issue with these pictures: everyone was taken during trail building activities, not on day-to-day trail usage. Why does that matter? Because as anyone that had done trail building knows, when you build a trail, it looks like a bomb has gone off. These trails are benchcut, meaning that as they are constructed, vegetation is removed and soil is redistributed, often obscuring plants adjacent to the trail work. But, depending when you do this work in a growing season, within weeks the area revegetates. In Minnesota, the Department of Natural Resources requires erosion control features (biorolls, etc.) to remain one full growing season after any trail construction. Why only one full season? Because the disturbed areas of trail construction revegetates so quickly, there is not a need to keep these erosion control products around.
Below are some of the Facebook photos they used:
Here is what the trails actually look like:
It’s clear that by doing this, the presenter, Ms. Holm, was being misleading and intentionally so, as she had to pick through the Facebook photos to find the ones that seemed to show the most "damage".
The last interesting bit of the presentation was about “sustainable trails”. Before you get excited, it was about how “sustainable trails” was a catchphrase designed to sound good, but is completely meaningless. This, of course, would be a shocker to the International Mountain Biking Association who codified what we now call sustainable trails. It would even be a greater surprise to American Trails, who has hundreds of hours of training courses about these sustainable guidelines. Let’s not forget the United States Forest Service that adopted 100% of IMBA’s guidelines in 2007, making them the standard for all trails nationwide. More importantly, at least in the context of Minnesota, in 2007, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources also adopted these guidelines and expanded them for use on every type of trail to be built, including ATV trails. So how can these sustainable trails be a meaningless concept when guidelines exist and are adopted nationally?
Tactics Used by Conserve Lone Lake Park
Remove context/mislead on context – The correct context of a subject really matters, especially in this type of situation. To understand why context is so important, take a look at this picture:
What do you see? Well, without context you might have all sorts of ideas. If you were told that those persons where at a rally at a church, that changes the context too. Its likely most individuals would assume this picture has something to do with the Klu Klux Klan, especially if you used the word “rally”. By either removing context or giving misleading context, it causes your audience to make assumptions about what they are looking at. (The correct context is Easter Celebrations in Spain, by the way.)
Time and time again, the leaders of the Conserve Lone Lake Park removed or mislead on context:
The goal here is three-fold: 1) wear out all other speakers who have to wait their turn, 2) blast a single viewpoint at the board and 3) give a small group with time to burn power over much larger groups with commitments. Its effective, especially if the essay writer is smart enough to make it sound personal to each speaker.
Think about this for a second: for the sake of argument, let’s say that in Minnetonka there are 500 persons that mountain bike and want trails in town. It’s likely that many of them have families, kids, jobs, etc. Let’s pretend that 50% of them come to the meeting. Let’s also pretend at this same meeting 100% of the Conserve Lone Lake Park group shows up. Let’s be generous and say there are 250 of them. If each of them took an allotted 2 minutes to speak, as a group, it would take over 8 hours to go through all the commentators. Even with a minute a piece, its 4 hours. How many families can sit through that rambling? How many school kids? Who wants to stay up till midnight and public meeting with speaker after speaker droning on if you have work the next day? Suddenly, a bunch of folks, who have none of these commitments can wear out a group multiple times their size.
There are legitimate concerns, though
The public outreach by the City of Minnetonka hasn’t been award winning. If you look at the newspaper articles in sequence ( 1, 2, 3, 4 ) you see the same theme repeating itself: citizens feeling like the city isn’t speaking to them, its speaking at them.
It’s easy to blame staff or process here, but its likely neither are specifically at fault, it’s a combination of factors. Those factors are common to many cities in the United States.
Minnetonka used to be a sleepy little town outside of Minneapolis. In the post-WW2 period, it became a suburb and a quickly growing one. Like a lot of small towns in America that became suburbs, saving land to become parks and natural spaces wasn’t high on the list, leaving little natural space. Add to this the fact that the Minnetonka Parks Department adds active uses, like pickleball or hockey rinks, without letup, further making every inch of natural ground that much more valuable.
It’s hard to stress exactly how current parks planning in America makes these types of dustups almost inevitable. Nearly every city in the United States does not charge developers enough for park fees. If they do attempt to charge appropriate fees, often developers argue for reduced fees, claiming that the fees represent a “make-or-break” cost for the development. Then, these same parks departments try to add active uses (ballfields, courts and rinks) to these parks. Active uses are some of the most expensive ongoing budget items for a city. Just mowing a few ballfields, for instance, can be thousands of dollars a year in fuel, payment of staff and equipment maintenance.
Contrast this with passive use parks, where nature can do its thing (for free). Other cities in Minnesota keep pretty good records on the cost of multi-use trails like those proposed at Lone Lake Park. A typical park with these type of hiking/biking trails costs the city between $0 and $500 a year in direct costs. Wild (or more accurately more wild spaces, these are in a city after all) can help the city with everything from air quality, heat island effect and stormwater management. Also, plenty of studies show that property values rise if the property is next to a natural park with some type of nature based amenity, like multi-use trails.
What you are left with in Minnetonka is the same one in many places in America: a city that needs to invest more of its park’s money into gaining land for passive, nature based uses, and a group of people who don’t understand (or want to understand) that to make that happen, you need a big tent of supporters that includes groups like mountain bikers.
Good wrong people?
Conserve Lone Lake Park (Ms. Holm, Ms. Hackett, Ms. Pottratz) may not seem like bad people, per se. They have concerns, a few of which are legitimate. They really want the best for their community. Those are laudable traits and goals. However, just having those goals and traits isn’t enough. History is rife with good people, with real concerns, thinking of the community and yet, being wrong.
It’s tempting to view the Conserve Lone Lake Park group as good people, who on this issue, at least, are wrong. But is it that simple?
It is easy to see how a group of older citizens would have some trepidation about mountain biking. Combine that with a city that seems to base its public outreach on scenes from the movie Death of Stalin, and being opposed to a mountain biking proposal might be the defendable default. It would be good people being wrong. Yet, we are now past the point of a lack of information or the initial trepidation. By now, even with a minuscule amount of intellectual curiosity, they could have learned what sustainable trail guidelines are, what passive use really is, and what mountain biking in an urban park looks like. It’s become increasingly hard to square the idea of Ms. Holm and Ms. Hackett being “good people who happen to be wrong” if they create presentations that, at best, are misleading and, at worst are flat out falsehoods.
Where is the line? How long can a person remain “good” if they purposely misinform and misrepresent? What is the border between defensible negative belief and indefensible negative beliefs? If a person, or in this case, a group of people, refuses to learn the facts about a subject, or knows what they are spouting is false, how can they be defended as good people?
The sad reality
There are some sad realities here.
The first is the downstream effect of older neighbors on Lone Lake Park, a park they claim to love. Because no matter how this turns out, it will be become casus belli for one group's supposed or real disenfranchisement from the park, depending on if the trails are approved or denied, respectively. Disenfranchisement, real or imagined, isn't what Lone Lake Park and the city of Minnetonka needs. Its needs a broad based coalition of its citizens to put pressure on the city to live up to the goals mentioned in the Imagine Minnetonka survey.
The second sad reality occurs with the people who believe Conserve Lone Lake Park’s narrative. There will be some people in Minnetonka, who actually are good people, that think they are listening to neighbors who are telling them the truth. And in trusting them, they have found themselves being led down a primrose path.
Conserve Lone Lake Park might have started with people who have some legitimate concerns and some legitimate trepidation. But the legitimacy starts to drop off when one starts playing fast and loose with the factual truth. Is there a factual case against mountain biking at Lone Lake Park? Honestly, there likely is. But that isn’t the case Conserve Lone Lake Park is making. Its one based on tuthiness, because things aren't quite what they are telling their neighbors.
What Ms. Holm, Ms. Hackett and Ms. Pottratz didn’t mention at this meeting and avoid discussing is that they have been approached multiple times by the advocates for this trail, Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists (MORC), professional trail designers, environmental engineers and others to help them understand this topic or help understand the real impacts to the park. They have consistently turned down those offers.
Why would they refuse to learn about the very subjects that are supposed are at the heart of their opposition? Why wouldn’t you talk to the trail advocates to see what types of trails and features they had in mind? Why wouldn’t you talk to MORC to learn how they manage the dozens of trails they care for? Why wouldn’t you talk to trail designers about methods to reduce construction impacts? Why wouldn’t you want to ask environmental engineers about the real flora and fauna impacts and methods to reduce those impacts? Why wouldn’t you want to know these things? The only reason to not to want to talk to these individuals is because your arguments don’t require facts.
Ms. Holm, Ms. Hackett, Ms. Pottratz aren’t ignorant rubes. They know what they are doing and are freely participating in the misleading of their own neighbors. Why make a factual case against mountain biking when what you feel is so much more important? Who cares if you have use misleading pictures or lie about trail guidelines? So long as you can get enough people to believe what you believe, who will write those comments to the parks board or that letter the editors. You don't need facts to convince your neighbors, they just need to feel like you have facts.
Maybe that is the saddest reality of all: Conserve Lone Lake Park, despite their name, will be remembered as a group who valued conservation so little that they were willing to force Minnetonka residents to do harm to planet, just to ride a bike in the woods. They will be remembered as a group who respected their neighbors so little that they couldn't be honest about the subject of urban mountain biking. Lastly, they will remembered as a group that only sought to conserve their version of the status quo.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.