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Lions, Tigers and Mountain Bikers, Oh My!

Geneva, you really need to loosen up a bit!

Shades of Altamont! By the tone of some of your over-the-top reactions you’d think those Hells Angels were taking up permanent residence in Wheeler Park. Why do I suddenly expect a group of downtown Genevans to break into a chorus from The Music Man?

Of course, something like that might make a heck of a lot more interesting.

And this time it’s ! I swear, some of you have way too much time on your hands. The next thing you know we’ll be taking on hippies and consarned rock 'n' roll music.

Though my June 11 presence at the County Board meeting was aimed at the outcome of the ages-old ethics ordinance debate, once that fandangle was finally settled, my good friend and Geneva businessman Rob Kelley convinced me to stay put for the Fabyan Task Force meeting.

That task force consists of members like Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns, Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke, and County Board member Mike Donahue, all of whom are charged with planning the redevelopment of the 750-acre which is bordered by the river, the Union Pacific tracks, and Kirk and Fabyan Roads.

And I gotta tell you, even though these meetings are more boring than our midsommar festival, I’m glad I attended this one, because that group has come up with a pretty exciting plan.

We’re talking a, some resort hotels, all sorts of park and athletic amenities, a golf course, a fishing pond, and, of course, mountain biking trails.

Ah! But we all know nothing good ever comes to Geneva without a boatload of the appropriate and unnecessary hysteria.

Both , home of the Kane County Cougars, and the were supposed to herald the end of western suburban civilization. I’ll never forget the resident who told an elected official that she couldn’t endure the horror of telling visitors they’d have to turn right at . We won’t even mention the South Street skate board park.

The public outrage at this particular meeting centered around whether those mountain bike trails would stay in Fabyan Woods or be moved to an adjacent open area. Of course, the mountain bikers prefer the forest, while the Fox Run subdivision residents don’t want to have to endure as much as an access trail through those woods.

While that kind of diametrical opposition is to be expected, just how far the subdivisionites were willing to go in depicting mountain bikers as godless barbarians was not. Their ringleader, Kathleen T. Valle, the kind of pleasant-looking little old lady you’d want to help across the street, made Karl Rove look like a rank amateur.

She painted mountain biking aficionados as an evil cabal of lawless thrill-seekers bent on running over as many small children and little dogs as they possibly could.

Ms. Valle complained that her preservation group had received a plethora of similarly worded online comments, which could only be the result of a high-level conspiracy. As one mountain biker put it, all it really means is they’re organized.

She went on to describe in detail the insistent raping, pillaging and looting of those woods, when the truth is these mountain bikers have been riding back there for the better part of two decades, and that proud old forest is still stands generally unscathed.

In fact, the cyclists have actually chased away some rather nefarious characters who tried to make that hidden area their home.

After she took them to task for their “choice of vocabulary,” Ms. Valle went on to say she didn’t include any of the positive mountain biker comments because “we are trying to save the forest from exploitation,” which is utterly disingenuous when you consider the construction of her subdivision has wrought more ecological damage than Fabyan mountain bikers ever have or will.

These stop-at-nothing homeowners went as far as co-opting the heart attack death of rider Rob Manderson, whom they fictitiously claimed died of a broken neck while riding those trails.

As anyone who’s ever seen me on my Trek mountain bike will attest, Ms. Valle’s final contention that mountain biking is an “extreme sport” is patently ludicrous. While you’ll find daredevils in any athletic endeavor, the only way you could apply the word “extreme” to me is if you put it before the words “slow” or “cautious."

The real irony here is, while my road-biking brethren are generally a surly, arrogant and obnoxious bunch, mountain bikers are the Zen Buddhists of the cycling community. They’re friendly, laid back, and very concerned with the long-term health of their prized woodland trails.

A good friend just reminded me of how Genevans love to think they’re a cut above the rest, and this anti-mountain biking effort is yet another fine example of this phenomenon. While Ms. Valle and her cohorts certainly have the inalienable right to raise their voices in protest, she came across as one of the more sanctimonious and self serving people I’ve ever met.

In the end, the Fabyan Task Force, and ultimately the County Board, will have to weigh the wishes of thousands of Kane County mountain bikers versus a vast minority of self-righteous homeowners who’d find something wrong with winning the lottery.

The choice is clear: Let the mountain bikers enjoy the venue they’ve already been using for years.

DG June 21, 2012 at 05:34 PM
If I may weigh-in as an informed, impartial citizen. I am aware of the area in the Fabyan Woods and agree that it is truly beautiful and unique. I have been back there and the MB trails in general are pretty unobtrusive and don't seem to be damaging the forest. BUT, there are some exceptions. There is some ramp construction that has taken place and chunks of lumber as well as small excavations detract from the appearance of the area. My feeling is that if the trails were properly managed with homemade obstacle construction banned, and littering policed - it would be a great asset and enjoyed by a lot of people. But the argument that the Fox Run folks damaged the forest by building their homes isn't really valid. Prior to that subdivision it was the State Industrial School for Girls - it hadn't been forest for many years.
Dan Baker June 22, 2012 at 01:23 PM
Bob, I believe Jeff Ward stated that one of the reason's he wrote his opinion piece was he "was stunned by her depiction of mountain bikers as well as her abject belief that she was entitled to that forest." It seems to me that the mountain bikers have this same sense of "entitlement" believing that just because they have been breaking the law for the last 15 -20 years they are entitled to have their trails legitimized. You also exhibit the same level of arrogance in your attacks on those that oppose it. I regularly hike those woods in the summer and snowshoe them in the winter. Yes, there is debris left over from the Fabyan Estate, but there is no sign that this valley was ever a dumping ground. Yes, the mountain bike paths have not harmed any trees, but you convientianly leave out all the damage caused by erosion. As far as waste blowing into the woods I find there are more water bottles littering the woods than anything else. What I am continually amazed at is the inablility of the MB crowd to compromise. No one is saying you cannot have a mountain bike course, we are asking that it not be built in the area of Fabyan that you yourself consider a "gem". The mentality seems to be all or nothing. Before you attack me, please note that I personally e-mailed the president of CAMBRi, suggesting we get together to work on a compromise. After a couple of e-mail exchanges he stopped returning my phone calls… Dan
DDW June 22, 2012 at 11:12 PM
You have a point, dan. I remember a few years ago after it had been raining for a few days and the trails were muddy, the kids went back there to ride. Someone who was working on the trails told them to stay off of them until they were dry otherwise they'd tear up the ground. So you're right, the real mountainbikers seem to be be pretty good stewards of the land.
Matilda B June 24, 2012 at 01:16 PM
I worry about a minority influencing that which affects the majority ( the music venue and trails). I wonder if perhaps it should be put to referendum. The Fox subdivision home owners were aware that the Settlers Hill property and Fabyan would be used for other purposes once the landfill closed. The homeowners were supposed to be made aware that the landfill and train tracks were not going anywhere. A Ravina type venue would benefit us all via revenues , jobs, and taxes. A mountain bike trail will not be used by hordes of people, I doubt it will damage the forest. I have seen other parks with this type of trail and it was peaceful.
John Stan October 08, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Thanks Jeff for a nice commentary on the subject. I ride in Fabian every couple of weeks or so in good weather. The trail system has been there for the 10 years I have been living in Geneva. I understand some people may not want a music venue in their back yard and this inadvertently ties into the existing mountain bike trails and new plans. But why anyone would want to take away someones right to use the forest preserve is beyond me. I regularly tidy up the trails and am courteous to hikers and nature lovers. I even do a little Morell hunting in the spring. If your hating mountain biking in the woods change your course. Go rent a bike and get out there and enjoy the fall colors. John....

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