Contact: Bonnie Strawser - 252-473-1131
May 7, 2006
MOUNTAIN BIKING ON THE OUTER BANKS?
Many Refuge roads are similar to the road pictured here, except slightly wider, with the overstory more cleared (our roads double as fire-breaks). All Refuge roads are unpaved. Any roads open for public access are open for riding bicycles. However, walking trails are closed to bicycles. Visitors are especially encouraged to observe wildlife along the Wildlife Drive using bicycles. Maps may be obtained from the refuge web site http://www.fws.gov or by stopping by the refuge office in Manteo.
When one thinks of mountain bicyclists on their fat-tired, shock-mounted bicycles, a vision of narrow trails in mountainous terrain comes to mind. Dodging boulders; swerving to avoid trees; sliding down a steep, muddy, winding trail in a rainstorm; and even avoiding mountain lions are experiences not to be found within hundreds of miles of the Outer Banks. Those experiences are common fare to expert mountain bikers. However, off-road bicycling can be just as much fun, and a lot safer, on flat terrain.
Hundreds of tourists bring mountain bikes to the Outer Banks each year, hoping to find some challenging and enjoyable off-road bike path on some surface other than pavement. Most of them are greatly disappointed to find so few such opportunities. Many Dare County residents also own mountain bicycles, but they ride mostly on the bike paths and multi-use paths on the Banks, along with pedestrians, joggers, and skateboarders.
There is only one practical and legal place on the Outer Banks itself to enjoy dirt riding on bicycles – Nags Head Woods. Bicycles are not allowed on the walking trails in the Woods, but the road is open. Its hard sand surface sometimes presents a challenge, but it is only a couple of miles long. Cycling is not allowed on the public sand dunes. So where else is one to go? No mountains within sight – the highest thing within 100 miles is a bridge.
For all mountain bikers and other bicyclists looking for a place to ride in the dirt – the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge on the Dare County mainland offers you the opportunity to volunteer on the refuge and enjoy a nice ride at the same time! Recreational bicycle riding in refuges is not an "encouraged" activity, and bicycling off designated roadways is prohibited. However, the Alligator River Refuge does want to provide better information for observing wildlife by bicycle. There are dozens of miles of unpaved roads in the Refuge, just waiting for eager cyclists to "RIDE THE REFUGE" on mountain bicycles to evaluate their usefulness and attractiveness to bicyclists. The Refuge’s wide expanses present the opportunity to become quite lost, because a lot of the area looks much the same and can become a bit disorienting to the cyclist unfamiliar with the territory. All of the roadways are unpaved, and vary in surface from dirt to light gravel to large gravel. Some are real roads, quite hard-surfaced, well-marked, and very rideable, but some of them are hardly more than narrow and rough paths, overgrown with weeds and saplings. Most of them are family-friendly, as well.
The best times to see wildlife are early in the morning and in the late afternoon, so bicyclists are encouraged to ride the roads during those times for best wildlife viewing.
The refuge is home to a variety of wildlife, such as birds of all kinds (waterfowl, owls, harriers), foxes, raccoons, bobcats, possums, red wolves, snakes, and even an occasional bear or alligator. Cyclists can expect to see some of that wildlife. In the fall, an occasional hunter may be seen.
The Coastal Wildlife Refuge Society, along with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wants to make information about cycling on the refuge more available to make riding more enjoyable and safe for people looking for places to observe wildlife while on their mountain bikes. Refuge visitors are reminded to observe from a distance that is safe, both for the observer and for the wildlife. The Refuge has a new volunteer opportunity to survey raods on the entire Alligator River Refuge early this summer to analyze which roads are suitable for cyclists and to identify routes which are not appropriate or safe for bicycling.
After the survey data are gathered and evaluated, the Refuge will include information for bicyclists on the refuge map, as well as for other refuge visitors. These maps are be available free of charge and will assist all refuge visitors in finding their ways around the maze of refuge roads. As much as space will allow, an effort will be made to mark varying degrees of difficulty for bicyclists. Cycling volunteers are needed to "RIDE THE REFUGE" in order to help with the survey.
Pairs of volunteer cyclists would be assigned a sector of Refuge roads to explore and to later be analyzed for their bicycling potential. Each sector would contain perhaps four or five miles of various kinds of roads. Bicycle pairs would be given their choice of several dates to allow for weather conditions. Rides may take place either during the week or on weekends. Some of the roads are not very rideable for several days after a hard rainfall.
The bike-riding part of the survey is scheduled to begin about June 1 and end by June 13, covering two weekends. Bicyclists would be responsible for transporting themselves and their mountain (fat-tired) bicycles to the Refuge, checking in at a designated loaction, conducting their ride, and checking out before leaving the refuge.
Current maps of the Refuge are available free of charge at the Refuge Headquarters in Manteo, 708 N. Hwy 64, (across the street from the old Manteo Elementary School) and at www.fws.gov/alligatorriver (click on publications button).
Bicyclists participating in the survey and map project must sign up in advance, prior to June 1, by contact Ann Marie Salewski (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Susie Ahlfeld (email@example.com) at the Pea Island Refuge office at 252-987-1118. For the survey, each pair of cyclists must bring all of their own riding equipment, including helmet, water or sports drink, snacks, tools and tire repair kit, bug spray, sun block, at least one cell phone, brightly colored shirt or jacket, and several ball-point pens. Skinny-tired road bikes are not recommended. Bicyclists will receive a briefing at check-in and be provided with a Refuge map and emergency telephone numbers.
The Refuge is open during all daylight hours for cycling, hiking, and other approved uses. Cyclists can either pair up ahead of time on their own, or the Refuge representatives will assign them to a pair.
Bicyclists are encouraged to spread the word about this volunteer opportunity among their cycling friends. The more bicyclists who sign up, the more fun it will be, the more details the Refuge staff can gather, and the better the new map will be. For more information, call the Wheels of Dare Bicycle Club at 252-261-3068 or the Refuge Headquarters at 252-473-1131, ext. 230.