The Trail Ahead

Courtesy Erik Hultgren

Charting a viable path for Mint Springs development.

Residents in and around Albemarle County are blessed with amazing outdoor recreational resources. As a mountain biker, trail runner and outdoor enthusiast, I find the availability of trail to be pretty darn good. As a relatively recent resident of Crozet, I love being able to pedal my way over to Mint Springs, drop a few PSI from my tires, and climb up and down that mountain a few times before returning home. Its a wonderful out-and-back workout. I regularly encounter trail users of all kinds…hikers, dog walkers, cyclists…we exchange pleasantries and go about enjoying the great outdoors.

Make no mistake: Mint Springs is a treasure.

It has history, wildlife, and plenty of rocks and roots to keep everyone on their toes. Some of us in this community are aware of the expanses of the park beyond the existing, marked trail system, and given the elevation and acreage, we’ve always had an itch for more. Runners, hikers and cyclists alike all seem to want to go higher, travel further and see more. I’ve engaged with fellow cyclists, runners, hikers, and County officials off and on for the last several years in discussion about this topic. We’ve done some discovery hikes, studied maps, and drawn squiggly lines from point A to point B, but we’ve made no real progress.

Ah progress…a double-edged sword.

The counter-point to any further development often centers on protecting the wilderness. And given my love of nature, I can sympathize with those on that side of the fence. I’ve encountered a decent sized black bear head-on while riding on Fire Trail, and it was awesome! But I can also zoom out, both figuratively and literally (in Google Earth), and see that there is no shortage of wilderness surrounding Mint Springs. I hear and value conservative approaches to protecting wilderness, but I also believe that we can find a better balance at Mint Springs.

I’ve recently discovered that some have taken to carving their own, new “rogue” trails at Mint Springs. I quickly engaged the County to ensure that this wasn’t a planned activity (which I was fairly sure it wasn’t), and of course, it is not. This approach will not win any favor with the County. In fact, they will now likely dedicate resources to closing these trails and “restoring” nature. I find this all very unsettling. I ask that anyone that is actively venturing off the marked trails to cease. Mint Springs is not your personal playground. You want more. I want more. Many of us want more. So where do we go from here?

Historically, we have been a fragmented user-base.

We approach the County with small numbers, with small ideas, and we get brushed aside. I propose that we attempt to unify. Let’s get the Crozet Trail Crew, the Charlottesville Area Mountain Bike Club (CAMBC), the #runCrozet folks, the Crozet Cycling Club, and all other interested parties to come to the table and voice their ideas. Let’s develop our own “master” plan, unify our resources, and take it to to the County. Based on my experience to date, this may be the only way we are able to get traction.

Your neighbor and lover of all things outdoors,

Kevin Murray

P.S. While I have your attention, let me also say that Mountain Bikers can get a pretty bad rap. We can be portrayed as reckless trail hogs, blasting down the mountain with reckless abandon, destroying trails as we drag our wheels through switchbacks. And I know that this contingent exists…I see it on TV and on very rare occasions, I see them on the trails. But let me assure you: it is not the norm. CAMBC represents an outstanding group of trail stewards, backed by the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA). They build and maintain lasting trails. And the vast majority of the bikers I know are responsible trail advocates that understand trail etiquette. Additionally, the youth mountain bike scene is exploding in area High Schools, being taught by folks I respect that I know will put these kids on the path of responsible trail use. More kids outdoors: that is a win. Let’s work together to keep outdoor recreation awesome for everyone.


Courtesy Erik Hultgren
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7 Replies to “The Trail Ahead”

  1. Interesting article that at least, I hope, starts a worthwhile discussion. Surely we can agree the County can do a better job to 1) Maintain the existing trails, 2) Establish, post, and enforce park rules with regards to use of the park, on and off published trails, 3) Establish a plan for expansion of trail network, as the community is demanding, and 4) Mark the park boundaries so private land uses don’t infringe public spaces.

    Regarding stakeholders, I am surprised you left off of the user base the Charlottesville Area Trail Runners (CATs) whose membership is vast and who even sponsor a trail race series that includes next month’s Crozet 5K at MSP. I’d bring in the owners of Crozet Bike Shop and Crozet Running, because those folks (and surely, many of the customers they serve) are personally invested, and are going to be major users of park trails and affected by any changes. Perhaps even the Three Notch’d Trail planners, to the extent that MSP can be included in the proposed greenway connecting Charlottesville and the AT/Skyline/BRC.

    Regarding certain unpublished trails in the park that you have described as “unsettling,” really what you’re seeing is the community attempting to meet a demand that the County has taken no initiative, and demonstrated no tangible interest, in serving. While not the best practices for a central planning approach, I’m not so sure the folks you so strongly condemn – who, fundamentally, are just trying to share neat places they’ve discovered in the park on their own off-trail explorations with the rest of the community – deserve the full brunt of vitriol you have sent their way. Frankly I find there to be far more “unsettling” uses of the park than those worth ranting about: hunting, drug dealing/use, and unlicensed fishing to name a few. Prospectively, imagine Bucks Elbow Mountain scalped for hardwoods being extracted through the park, and a few un-mapped trails will seem like a minor annoyance. This isn’t a fictitious possibility.

    In that regard, while I hope we can protect what MSP is, I also hope most folks can agree that MSP candidly is not, and should never be considered, “Wilderness.” This is a park with man made, commercially managed and stocked ponds, a pay beach, volleyball courts, picnic shelters, fishing, bike uses, and a giant plastic playground. Paved roads, large parking lots, and even some 24 hour lights. While the park is certainly pretty and covered mostly in woods, those woods were not so long ago orchards and clear cut farmland. Logging easements – if not for timber, for access to timber on adjacent land parcels – may still exist on portions of the park, and there are several logging roads that lead right up to and into the park in different places that support very un-wilderness activity. In other words, this isn’t pristine old growth back country, and the park’s trail uses should reflect that reality. Besides, SNP and the AT very adequately serve a wilderness function for our community just a few miles away.

    Personally, I’m all for a concerted effort and plan to expand the MSP trail network, mark the park boundaries, and post, and enforce usage rules. Trail expansion doesn’t need to be a zero-sum game, where we have to choose between flowy, IMBA-approved MTB trails and more rugged, technical trails that reflect the rocky and often steep terrain of the mountain. It’s a huge park, we can have both, and by doing so we can increase everyone’s access to nature, fitness, and fun. But respectfully, the community effort starts with embracing the frequent and passionate users of the park, not telling some of them that they are wrong merely because you are right.

  2. There are words being thrown around regarding this issue that are self serving at best. “Stake Holders” are all the taxpayers of Abemarle County. That is who payed for this natural wilderness to be acquired, not just the self-serving groups
    that want to convert for their own agendas. Who is the Community that is
    demanding anything?? The trend now is for natural areas to stay natural, Man
    made trails are not natural. There are already plenty of game trails up there.
    It appears to me that this is just another case of people trying to take control over something that is not their’s. If they want a natural wilderness to take over and convert they should go out and buy one. I suggest that people actively resist the
    further erosion of the natural beauty and resources of Crozet…

    1. No one is suggesting “erosion of the natural beauty and resources of Crozet.” What is being advocated is in line with the actual trend for the last 80 or so years, which is making natural areas more accessible to more people – especially younger generations – so that more folks, having been exposed to these areas, will value them and in the future, protect them. That is in fact the whole point of the greatest man-made trails on earth, like the AT and the John Muir Trail (and to a degree, roads like Skyline Drive, and the BRP): to get folks to those amazing natural places in the least disruptive way to the natural landscape as possible. Indeed, forest trails are far less damaging to “the natural beauty and resources” than any other kind of actual human development, like the rampant clear cutting currently going on in at least half a dozen sites across Crozet. And certainly you can agree that folks walking, running, or riding a bike on dirt paths has less impact on nature than the bear, deer, and turkey hunting that goes on in so many of the privately owned natural areas in Crozet and surrounding parts.

      Regarding community demand, I invite you to visit the Albemarle County Parks and Recreation website, which calls for citizen volunteers to “help us build trails for the community,” and specifically includes a link to the Crozet Trails Crew (who are, at least in the eyes of our government, “stakeholders,” whether you choose to mock that term or not). Indeed, community demand for trails and recreation in natural areas is there, and growth to the existing trail network is promoted and sanctioned by the County. (That demand should only grow as more residential development bring more residents to the area, many of whom have chosen access to natural area recreation as a reason why they have chosen to live in Crozet instead of somewhere else in the first place). The gripe from current MSP trail users (hikers, runners, and cyclists) is that the necessary effort and resources from the County to centrally plan and manage the rising community demand is not there. To the extent you are advocating doing nothing, then you’re likely advocating spending more tax payer money to enforce that position than you would if you tried to intelligently meet recreational demand instead.

  3. “intelligently meet recreational demand instead”. Genius, except , that you want things your way. The natural areas of Crozet are accessible to anyone that
    wants to visit them. They are not made in your image though. A natural area is just that, a natural area. Not one designed by someone else but by nature. The
    examples you use are twisted your way. Blue Ridge parkway and Skyline drive
    were work projects during the depression that displaced a lot of people and
    caused a lot of harm and has recently been the focus of studies that show the
    true price of reconstructing wilderness. Even your example of community support
    is skewed. The whole County is the community not just the relatively few that visit a web page. You want your way which, is something for nothing. I suggest
    that you buy your own wilderness and do what you want with it. The current trend
    is to leave wilderness alone whether that suits your pitch or not…

  4. Of course I want things my way, and so do you. Folks like us advocate for what we want to see from our government, and that’s how policy is made in a democratic society. Duh.

    While the crux of your argument seems to be “I don’t acknowledge the evidence that there is demand for more trails in the community, therefore do nothing” that’s a heck of a position to take in light of two decades of community and county initiative to build and promote trails around Crozet (and other natural places throughout the County). You can also choose not to acknowledge evidence that your car is about to run out of gas, and I hope you at least end up with a great view from the side of the road when the inevitable happens.

    Additionally, what I (and the original author) are advocating for just happens to be in line with recreational uses in a public park managed by the County Department of Parks and Recreation. That Department’s public position promoting trails and recreational uses of parks flows from the longtime, bipartisan direction of our elected officials. You are advocating for the County to reverse course entirely, take a land resource long designated for these specific delineated purposes and convert them into a protected wilderness use that the County is not, and has never been in the business of doing. Actually a step beyond wilderness use (as that term is understood by the Wilderness Act of 1964 and subsequent Federal regulation), as even wilderness areas have and promote trail use. Good luck with convincing the electorate that that kind of boondoggle is a more efficient use of taxpayer resources, or even a proper function of municipal government in the first place.

  5. Ok, I’ll bite. You don’t acknowledge that this not about a small group of people and what they want. All county taxpayers have a stake in Wilderness purchased with Taxpayers money. If doing nothing is what the majority wants then that is it.
    there is no moral high ground in this. There are County rules that protect the higher elevations that this wilderness is part of. There are also plenty of game trails in the area that you want to change. So you want to take something that is not yours and convert it to something that you want. Luck has nothing to do with this. Claiming that your ideas have majority Community support is not valid if you can not define what the Community or the actual numbers are. I think the County understands this and would rather maintain their elevated wilderness as is than
    to turn it over to the thinking of people that want to transform it into want they want. Preservation of natural resources is not about change rather it is about protecting what can only be destroyed by the wants and needs of a few. Just because you have air in your tires does not give you the right to change the view… Again, buy some wilderness property and do what you want with it.

  6. Email comment:

    Dear Kevin:

    Your desire to add trails to “wilderness” does not just represent a local movement. There is now a desire among many mountain-bike enthusiasts to change The Wilderness Act of 1964 to allow trails into public-land areas set aside for wildlife and wildness. When is enough, enough?

    Intense development (read “an abundance of people”) is not only destroying small-town life for what had been the village of Crozet, but totally pushing out wildlife that now has very few places left to go!

    You say that, “given [your] love of nature, [you] can sympathize with those” who want to protect wilderness, but you “also believe that we can find a better balance at Mint Springs.” There is no such thing as “a better balance” for our wildlife.

    Is it not enough that providing homes for so many people has destroyed an incredible amount of habitat in our area? Now you want to destroy more habitat—upon which animals depend for their very lives—just so you can play?

    You may heatedly deny that you are being selfish, but in the big picture, it is unbelievably selfish and short-sighted to insist that people should take yet more land than they have already grasped. You may not believe it, but if you don’t save land for wildlife—the cogs in the machine of life that keep it running—the future of mankind is in peril.

    Your request might be viewed differently if most folks provided habitat and lived in agreement with nature on their own properties, but we both know that they don’t.

    Please enjoy Mint Springs and other sites as they are and stop asking for more and more.


    Marlene A Condon

    Marlene A Condon, Author/Photographer, The Nature-friendly Garden: Creating a Backyard Haven for Plants, Wildlife, and People (Stackpole Books)
    Nature Newspaper Columnist
    Crozet, VA 22932-2204

    E-mail: [email protected]
    Book website:
    Article website:

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