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The Politics of the Fells, in a Nutshell...

Over one hundred years ago, the Fells was set aside as a state owned park. The state agency that runs the parks has changed many times. Most people know the agency as the MDC, but the MDC has been merged into the DCR (Department of Conservation and Recreation).

At it's closest point, the Fells is less than 5 miles from downtown Boston. That means the Fells gets more than its fair share of users. And it also gets more than its fair share of passionate users who have turned the Fells into a political hot-spot, as far as Parks go anyway.

There are many user groups in the Fells. Because it is such a crowded area, the users don't always play nice. Though confrontations on the trails are very rare, once people get home and get on the internet, it gets very ugly.

The primary user groups in the Fells are:

  • Mountain Bikers
  • Casual Walkers
  • Hikers
  • Trail Runners
  • Dog Walkers

Other secondary user groups in the Fells include:

  • Horseback Riders
  • Fishermen
  • Gay Cruisers
  • Party Go-ers
  • Paintballers
  • ATV & Dirt Bike Users

(Primary & Secondary groupings are based solely on my own observations, not any official numbers)

Most people are in agreement when it comes to some of these user groups. Most would agree that ATV's, Paintballers, Party-ers and Gay Cruisers should not do what they do in the Fells.

However there is much contention over some of the others groups.

Most dog walkers let their dogs run free off their leashes in the Fells. For friendly dogs this isn't a problem, but for aggressive dogs, it can create quite a problem.

There are very few horseback riders in the Fells. But for the few there are, the Fells are filled with trail users, and overgrown fire roads that lead to blind corners. It is very easy for a horse to get startled, and when they do, both users tend to blame each other.

Last but not least, we have Mountain Bikers. In the late 80's, very restrictive regulations were put on Mountain Bike access in the Fells. Bikes were limited almost exclusively to fire roads, and denied access to the narrow color coded marked trails, known as singletrack trails. Since that time, Mountain Bikers have been trying unsuccessfully to get that access back. Mountain Bikers have put in hundreds of man-hours maintaining and repairing the trails, but still all requests for equal trail access have been ignored. The primary organization that is trying to work with the DCR to better Mountain Bike access is NEMBA (New England Mountain Bike Association).

So what is the problem? The Friends of the Fells. Nearly every open space has its own "Friends" group. They look out for the interests of the park, and the interests of the park's users. But the Friends of the Fells are a special case. Many people have used the term "Extremists" to describe them (and I'm not just talking about Mountain Bikers either). The Friends of the Fells are extremely anti-mountain bike. Not only do they want to prevent any expansion of mountain biker access in the Fells, but they even try to take away what little access we currently have. They ignore scientific studies, and the word of experienced trail designers, and instead use their own observations and anecdotal evidence as "proof" that Mountain Bikes cause significant damage to the trails. For the record, it has been proven in many scientific studies, that Mountain Bikes are no more harmful to the trails than hikers.

Now, back to the DCR. Like most state agencies, they are under funded and under staffed. So the DCR relies on their "Friends" groups to help them make policy decisions. This gives the Friends of the Fells a significant amount of power. And this puts user groups they don't approve of, at a huge disadvantage.