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SORBA Responds to Georgia’s State Parks User Fee for Mountain Biking

Georgia’s State Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites Division has decided to implement their proposed plan to charge mountain bikers an additional $2 fee to ride their bikes at Unicoi, Fort Yargo, and Hard Labor Creek State Parks. SORBA’s leadership would like to officially state their position on this issue. This position was discussed and developed by your duly-elected SORBA Executive Board, with input from SORBA’s staff (Darryl Glascock, President; Paul Farrow, Vice President; Angela Allen, Treasurer; Tom Sauret, Executive Director; Walt Bready, Program and Events Director; and Robin Allen, Communication Director).

SORBA does not agree with the decision to single out mountain bikers for this discriminatory user fee on mountain biking, and we do not approve of the method employed to enact the fee. SORBA was neither informed nor consulted about this fee before it was proposed. SORBA did attend the public meetings at Yargo and Unicoi, going on record with our thoughts on the issue. Despite our efforts (by “our” I mean all who attended the meetings and wrote comments), the fee has been adopted, and the fee, as with all fees, will most-likely stay in place.

The story doesn’t end there, though. SORBA’s position before the public meetings and adoption of the new fee was that we should engage GA DNR and reach a positive outcome. SORBA hoped some good would come out of this process, and we still hold that hope. We are aggressively acting on that hope. SORBA is an advocacy organization, and working through situations such as this is what advocates do. SORBA has a vision bigger than the current state of mountain biking in Georgia’s State Parks. We want to share that vision; we want the GA State Parks Division to embrace and develop that vision, so that mountain biking in GA State Parks becomes the best darn mountain biking experience in the State. We believe that with our help, working together in a partnership, they can do it.

After the public meetings, and before GA DNR handed down their decision, Tom Sauret wrote a letter to Tim Banks, Operations Manager for Georgia’s State Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites Division. In response to SORBA’s public input and this letter, Mr. Banks has scheduled a meeting with Tom. The letter asks for a partnership with DNR in regards to creating and managing mountain biking in Georgia’s State Parks. We want a strategic plan and a Memorandum of Understanding to cover mountain biking in all state parks. The letter is posted towards the end of our message, as we have a few other things to say before you read that letter.

While SORBA works with DNR to improve the State of Mountain Biking in Georgia’s State Parks, there are things you can do, should do, and definite things we believe that you should not do, in regards to the new fee. Voicing your concern over this new fee is important, and your concerns should be channeled to the proper people. Don’t flame and lash out, please. Be respectful, and make your points in a way to win your argument, not in a way to alienate the recipient. If mountain bikers don’t show a united front, we lose. Keep that in mind as you compose your remarks.

Address your remarks to the right people. Your elected officials need to hear from you, as does the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Board of Directors. Find your Georgia General Assembly Senator and Representatives online, http://www.votesmart.org/officials/NA/G, and send them an email asking for a partnership between SORBA and the State Parks Division.

Send your remarks to the GA Department of Natural Resources Board, as well. Their contact information is online, http://www.gadnr.org/board.

Advocacy takes time. We will not see results overnight, but your voice will be heard, and we can make mountain biking in Georgia State Parks excellent. To borrow from the American civil rights struggle, keep your eyes on the prize. Stay focused, and work to make a brighter future for mountain biking.

Please let your SORBA Board and staff know if you have any questions or comments. We work for all our members, for all who want to see more and better mountain biking opportunities in the Southeast. Email comments@sorba.org or sorba.staff@sorba.org.

As promised, here is Tom Sauret’s letter to Tim Banks:

January 14, 2012

Tim Banks, Assistant Chief of Operations & Law Enforcement Georgia Department of Natural Resources
2 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, S.E. Suite 1352 East
Atlanta, GA 30334


Dear Mr. Banks:
RE: Mountain Biking Policy in State Parks

I want to thank you and State Parks for giving mountain bikers the opportunity to respond to the proposal to implement a new fee structure for using mountain bike trails. SORBA is not against pay-to-play as long as the system is fair and treats all users in an equitable fashion. SORBA has a keen interest in Georgia State Parks and would like to see them thrive. We understand in the current climate, State parks will make a change to its fee policy. However, we are concerned that the policy as you proposed, singles out mountain bikers, as other users on the same trail will not have to pay the new fees.

Although the main thrust of this letter is not to catalog and repeat specific comments made at the two public meetings, a suggestion regarding the new DNR policy did come our way. The proposed DNR policy would award a State Park Annual Pass to volunteers that have completed a certain number of hours of work on a trail. Why not base the value of the worker’s time on the same scale used by the Georgia Trails and Greenway Office scale when they calculate the value of volunteer labor tied to in-kind contributions for Recreational Trails Program (RTP) grants? This seems fair.

However, I did want to take this opportunity to remind you that SORBA desires to work more closely with Georgia DNR on mountain biking policy, as it does in several other states where we operate. Presently relationships between State Parks and bicycle advocates in the state are on a park-by-park basis, and no strategic collaboration or process has been established between SORBA and Georgia DNR. SORBA believes that collaborative strategic planning between SORBA and Georgia DNR will allow both organizations to more successfully allocate their resources to create excellent mountain biking in the State.

With nearly 1,500 members in Georgia, SORBA is in a unique position to offer volunteer help and expertise in regard to mountain bike trail. In addition SORBA has merged its operations with the International Mountain Biking Association, the world’s leader in all things mountain biking, and we now have support from the world’s best mountain bike trail designers. This support would benefit Georgia State Parks as the need for more and improved mountain biking destinations grows in the State. A closer working relationship between Georgia DNR and SORBA would result in a common vision, a strategic and coordinated approach to the development of off-road cycling in the state. SORBA recognizes that we can achieve more by combining and focusing our efforts towards the accomplishment of mutually beneficial programs and projects.

I am available for further elaboration at your convenience. Thank you again for your time and consideration.

Respectfully,

Tom Sauret
Executive Director, SORBA Regional Director, IMBA