Two men have been charged and arrested “for allegedly creating and operating an illegal mountain bike trail inside Fort Harrison State Park,” Fox 59 reports.
“Michael Hufhand and Jed Kidwell, both 54, were charged with criminal mischief and trespassing after a warrant was served online,” according to Fox 59.
The investigation lasted for months. Among other things, harmful chemicals were used to clear undergrowth along the trail, and in total the illegal trail build caused a claimed $50,000 in damages.
A key portion of the investigation consisted of authorities serving a search warrant for Facebook private messages after they allegedly caught the perpetrators on game cameras last May. One of the messages from Michael Hufhand obtained via the search warrant reads, “I’m starting a little maintenance fund to spray Sedona/Flagstaff so we can ride it all summer. Should just have to spray it once, but it does need to be done covertly!”
“In with funds and help,” Kidwell replied. (Source)
Unfortunately, this isn’t an example of desperate mountain bikers creating trails in an area where no riding opportunities exist. Rather, there are in fact bike legal trails in Fort Harrison State Park that have been legally built and maintained by the Hoosier Mountain Bike Association.
It’s also not an example of hiking being allowed and mountain biking being banned. “This area is closed off to any human traffic,” said Indianapolis Department of Natural Resources Capt. William Browne, on IndyStar. “It was built for wildlife. Any time you segment property like that, you invite in invasive species and create an environment that is not the best habitat for the wildlife and vegetation protected in the area.”
Restoring the nature preserve to its former status will take 5 to 7 years, if its possible at all. The soil composition and plant life may never be fully restored.
Local Riders React on Social Media
Local riders on the Fort Harrison Mountain Bikers Facebook Page appear divided on the topic, but a vocal contingent asserts that this is political maneuvering on the part of the DNR, and that the portrayal of Hufhand and Kidwell in the media (as outlined above) is yet another example of media bias.
Susan Brosmer Barrier has been very vocal on this issue. On February 15th, she posted this to the Fort Harrison Mountain Bikers Facebook Page:
If you are concerned about the criminalization of mountain bikers and the DNR turning 50% of Fort Harrison into a nature preserve to completely eliminate recreation in the largest state park available to Hoosiers in Indianapolis, then contact Governor Holcomb’s office. Not only does this affect runners, hikers, dog walkers and mountain bikers, but it also threatens a proposed Greenway to connect Geist with the existing Greenway system. Parks are for people! Hoosiers deserve better!! They are using birds as a weapon. Here is the letter I sent:
DNR stands for Do Not Recreate. The recent heavy handed land grab at Fort Harrison State Park is appalling. Making the largest state park that is available to urban dwelling Hoosiers 50% a nature preserve – is a travesty. It’s no wonder we are fat, out of shape and rank low on city livability when we don’t value green spaces for people. And now, they are prosecuting mountain bikers. Is that a good use of resources? My purse was stolen at Fort Harrison after someone smashed my car window. DNR said they couldn’t afford cameras at trail heads, but apparently they can afford 10 cameras to catch guys riding bikes in the woods. What is going on? They’ve lost their way! Parks are for people.
Paul Arlinghaus, President of the Hoosier Mountain Bike Association (HMBA), asserts that the quotation included from Susan Brosmer Barrier above was posted by her boyfriend Michael Hufhand via her Facebook account. Barrier has denied this.
Hufhand was the original president of HMBA and helped get the original trails approved and built in Harrison State Park, but according to Arlinghaus, Hufhand was never satisfied with the amount of trails that had been approved and built in that area.
Paul Arlinghaus issued a brief statement on behalf of the Hoosier Mountain Bike Association:
“The Hoosier Mountain Bike Association is dedicated to building legal and approved trails. We have 9 miles of legal and approved trails at Fort Harrison State Park. The activity in this matter was done outside of HMBA’s knowledge and is causing issues of the mountain biking community here and public relations for mountain biking in Indiana.”
Arlinghaus also noted that some of the numbers claimed as “facts” in the social media post above, such as the 50% nature preserve number, are simply not true. Fort Harrison State Park is over 1700 acres and according to Arlinghaus, just 36% of the park is nature preserves. However, the largest nature preserve, at 232 acres, actually allows mountain biking. That means “only 386 acres are off limits for mountain biking due to nature preserves, which is 23%,” according to Arlinghaus.
HMBA is expected to release a more detailed statement on this matter later this week.