Hiking with Shawn, LLC officially supports and advocates mountain biking activities in the Shawnee National Forest and other recreational areas of private, state and federal entities throughout the region of southern Illinois. Mountain biking has been proven to provide economic boosts to areas in which it is actively designated and it promotes healthy conditioning for people of all ages. There are more benefits to officially promote and advocate mountain biking than there is to oppose it. In this article, I want to point out why mountain biking could benefit the Shawnee National Forest and how you can help. I want to state that I am not against any other user-group by making this official announcement and support for mountain biking. I believe in an open and fair-use Shawnee National Forest. The mountain biking community is being discriminated against and that has been proven time and time again in society to be bad for society. Why should some groups be privileged and other not? Please share this article and announcement to support the efforts of Hiking with Shawn and to advocate for fair-use in the Shawnee National Forest.

 

My Personal Story on Cycling Activities

I have done some mountain biking in my life. I have rode trails at Cedar Lake and Kinkaid Lake in the Shawnee National Forest and I’ve been to the very awesome and accepted designated mountain biking trails of Land between the Lakes. I enjoy mountain biking and would love to do more of it but I almost feel like I might be threatened or even physically assaulted for doing so based on some of the language I’ve seen used on social media by opposing groups.

I’m a cyclist. I’m more of a road cyclist than anything else. I also enjoy Rails-to-Trails like Tunnel Hill State Trail. It is a fact that Tunnel Hill State Trail is an economic boosting opportunity. For evidence of this, I suggest contacting the communities that the trail goes through such as Harrisburg, Carrier Mills, Stonefort, New Burnside, Vienna, Tunnel Hill and Karnak. Tunnel Hill State Trail is a significant step is providing bicycling trail opportunities to the State of Illinois. The state, even though it has financial issues, is doing their part in providing recreational opportunities to cyclists and therefore strengthening the cycling infrastructure. It is time for the federal land managers to get on board.

Cycling for me started in 2012. I reach a point in my 20s where I realized I was overweight, smoked too much and made very wrong decisions impacting my health. I was scared for my health. I attempted to be active in a gym and it was failure. I realized that when I knew I was working out, I would become unmotivated and go back to my old unhealthy ways. Then someone suggested that I buy a mountain bike. So I did. Then I found out about Tunnel Hill State Trail. It was because of Tunnel Hill State Trail and cycling that I found Heron Pond and it was because of Heron Pond that Hiking with Shawn was born. Because I fell in love with cycling, I biked so much that I burnt myself out with it. Hiking was a way for me to balance the activity and not abandon it. Without my cycling activities, Hiking with Shawn would have never existed. I lost weight. I quit smoking. I eat a lot healthier. I’m happier with my life. I feel healthier and young in my mid-30s than I did in my low-20s and that is because of cycling.

I ride anywhere from 60 to 130 miles a week. I strong, at a very healthy weight and my heart is extremely healthy according to medical professionals. Cycling opportunities expand to multiple disciplines. Not everyone wants to ride on the road because with texting and such, it has become more and more dangerous to do so. I’ve literally wrecked into ditches on purposes to avoid getting ran over by drivers who were too busy on their phones. Tunnel Hill State Trail provides an outlet where cyclists, runners and walkers can share the trails safely without worry of vehicles crashing into them. But Tunnel Hill State Trail isn’t for everyone, either. Some cyclists’ desire trails that is technical in nature. These trails would have roots and rocks, creek crossings, hill elevations and conditions to make cycling on such trails, a challenge. This is where mountain biking comes into play. Think of mountain biking as the cross-fit of cycling disciplines. It is rewarding what it can do for your health and unlike other forms of exercise, cycling is fun and adventurous and you really never realize you are exercising – instead, you get a chance at feeling like a kid again.

Cycling saved my life. Cycling led me to the creation of Hiking with Shawn. Cycling essentially connect you all, my awesome fans, my awesome FRIENDS to my videos, photos and content. I owe a lot to cycling and that is why I will always officially advocate it in our Shawnee National Forest because the Shawnee belongs to ALL of us, not just one user-group.

 

Shawnee National Forest should be a Fair Use Forest

It is important to understand the history of the Shawnee National Forest. Before and during the Great Depression era, National Forests and National/State parks were being established all across the nation. In southern Illinois, the rolling hills and erosion issues were presenting significant problems for farmers across the region. The National Forest establishments provided a way out for these farmers and residents of the area. The Shawnee National Forest creation was denied and rejected more than once. At that time, the government wanted to establish these forests around mountainous regions and while many of us local call these Shawnee Hills, mountains, to the government, they were useless. But we didn’t give us, we kept pushing and because of that, we finally got the Shawnee National Forest. The Shawnee National Forest was founded by people of all walks of life and recreational activities and these folks shared this forest with one and other the way it should be shared.

Advocating mountain biking in the Shawnee National Forest is important for fair use of the forest. Some horseback riders and organizations would love to ban mountain biking from the forest altogether or even just designate small portions of the forest for bikes and not allow them anywhere else. If this were to occur, what would stop them from targeting hikers, next? At this moment in time, hikers can hike any trail on public land whether it is a designated hiking trail or a designated horse trail. Some of the best features of the forest are on trails that are commonly used by horseback riders. Imagine if policies were created that bans hikers from these trails. Imagine only being allowed to hike on certain trails and being legally prohibited from other trails. That is what mountain bikers of the Shawnee could face if they banned or only allowed to ride in small designated areas. Now imagine if hikers were to receive that same fate? It isn’t a threat at this time to the hiker but it could be in the future if it proved to be a successful method against mountain bikers. We must protect our National Forest and keep it open to all user groups who non-destructive and non-discriminating.

 

Mountain Biking Promotes Stewardship, Fair Use and Maintenance of Trails

I encourage you to visit the Facebook page of SIU’s Touch of Nature program. This program is currently developing mountain bike trails on it property. The trails are being developed by volunteers. You should see some of the work that is being done to these trails. It is amazing and really shows true dedication of stewardship in trail and land management. But this is private property where it is not being dictated by people of a specific group who opposes it. Imagine what could be done the trails within the Shawnee National Forest. Because mountain bikers are gladly going to recognizer hikers and welcome you on trails they ride. They are not going to scream at you to stop, get off the trail and talk to their bike awkwardly so that it doesn’t get scared that your t-shirt is going to eat them! Mountain bikers are going to yield for you-be friendly and nod knowing that both you and they are out enjoying the forest together like civilized members of society where user-group discrimination isn’t an issue.

And on this note, I want to be clear that I am not alienating horseback riders. Many of the trails throughout the Shawnee National Forest were created by horses and mules. Many horseback riding organizations spend money and volunteer to maintain parking lots and trails used by horses. They should be doing it too because they are essentially maintaining their own use of such parking lots and trails. They’re fixing their own damage but that promotes good trail stewardship and the folks at Touch of Nature also volunteering are showing the same respect and stewardship for the trails. And many hiking organizations do this as well. In fact, I have personally witnessed hikers of the River to River Trail Society cleaning up trash not only obviously left by hikers but trash also obviously left by horseback riders. When we do our group hikes in horse country, we often come back with quite a few bags of trash. Everyone does their part-not just specific user groups; I have proof of that on photos and video.

 

Mountain Biking Promotes Health and Strengthens the Cycling Infrastructure

Imagine a 25 year old who smokes, drinks way too much, relies of fast food for dinner and weighs 300+ pounds. Imagine that 25 year old realizing he was out of breath after tying the laces his boot. That 25 year old was me. Before cycling, I was in the kind of shape and health that probably would have had a significant factor in causing my death at an early age. Now at 35 years old, I am at a healthy weight, I’m strong and fit, I no longer use smoking/vaping products and if I drink, it is very rare and socially! As I have already stated, I owe all that to cycling and hiking but likely would had never got into hiking without getting into cycling in the first place. I am proof that cycling promotes healthy living. Mountain biking sounds like a next step in making myself stronger!

The cycling infrastructure isn’t always advocated by people. Some folks do not like cyclists on the road for example but in the eyes of a healthy planet, many political entities, organizations and naturists-the cycling infrastructure isn’t going away anytime soon. Mountain biking can help improve it though. Look at gas prices and how they seem to be increasing in this state. Bikes don’t require gas and they’re dramatically cheaper than motor vehicles. You can also take them practically anywhere and down any road with the right bike. Imagine if you lived in a rural part of southern Illinois where the Shawnee National Forest stretches. Now imagine if a lot of that forest goes along a route that would get you to your job or friends and family members. Imagine if you have a mountain bike and you could ride the trail in the forest to get to these places. Imagine the money you’d save in gas and the health and strength that you’d be giving yourself. Cycling is going to increase and the more gas prices increase, the more of a norm cycling will become. Mountain biking will strengthen that infrastructure and give people more options to afford to live in these rural regions.

 

Mountain Biking is good for the Economy

I am a native of southern Illinois. I was born here and have lived here all my life. I don’t ever plan to move. My parents were also born here and their parents, too. There many generations of my family in southern Illinois and based on my ancestry, many of them of the past may have actually been among the pioneers who founded this region. So I can assure you that I understand the local economies of this region and I know how the past was as my family through many generations before me had witnessed the region and its economic stabilities. Southern Illinois is not rich. Many mom and pop businesses suffer and forced to close down. I try to shop local as much as I can spending my money at places like Garden of the Gods Outpost, Rim Rock Dogwood Cabins, the gas stations on the way to Garden of the Gods and Ned’s Shed. I want local business to succeed. I feel that more needs to happen and the region need to better promote tourism to more different types of folks to better the local economies of the region.

Mountain biking has proved to be a booster of local economies. Don’t let people fool you on this. I encourage you to contact small communities along the Tunnel Hill State Trail and ask them how cycling has impacted their local economy. You should also ask where the business in coming from – it is coming from all over the country because people love rails-to-trails and want to come visit to ride our wonderful trail. The same can be possible with mountain biking in the Shawnee National Forest because mountain bikers are not going to stick to certain camps specifically designed for bikes only. They are going to shop at gas stations to drive all around the forest to bike all the different trail spots. Mountain bikers are going to eat at mom and pop places and tell other cyclists why they need to go eat that special burger. Mountain bikers are going to camp at our campgrounds, rent our cabins and stay at our B&Bs because that is all a part of the experience. Mountain bikers love our wineries and craft brewing facilities. Mountain bikers will spend money in southern Illinois. Find and contact other communities in the US where active mountain biking is occurring in National Forests and ask them how mountain biking is helping their local community. Don’t rely on someone on Facebook who says the same thing without actual facts.

 

Mountain Biking is Safe and Family Friendly

There is a misconception and false rumor being spread to users of the Shawnee National Forest that mountain bikers are these young and disrespectful users who have got horseback rider and hikers hurt over the years. In my research, I have found no accurate or official reports of incident involving mountain bikers injuring horseback riders neither in the Shawnee National Forest, nor with hikers as well. This leads me to the question of how significantly safer a mountain bike is than an animal with a mind of its own. While hiking along horse trails, I’ve seen horseback riders’ frantically panic because their horse couldn’t recognize that I was a human and would freak out and jump and stop and stop being under control by the person on the horse. This was not my fault. Horseback riders are take responsibility of getting on a horse as it is their choice. Proper training of horse could also prevent that from happening. Talk to horseback riders out west who deal with mountain bikers, hikers, guns, off road vehicles and such and many of them will tell you how they’ve trained their horses and mules to cope with such things. That needs to happen more within the Shawnee National Forest so horses don’t harm other user groups who are innocent bystanders. I’ve had to jump off the trail to avoid being ran over by a scared and out of control horse with a panicking rider on its back and did everything that you are supposed to do when encountering horses.

A mountain bike can stop on a dime and usually can be controlled completely by its rider. Mountain bikes don’t have minds of their own, obviously. As a parent, consider this situation: You are hiking with your small child and a mountain biker comes riding up quickly. They notice you and slow down, maybe even come to a complete stop and you all safely continue on. Now imagine a horse, an animal riding towards you and your child and freaking out, the rider losing control and the horse quickly riding towards your child. What would be more of a scarier situation? Now I don’t want people to think I’m specifically trying to pick on horseback riders with paragraph. I’m using them as an example because many of them claim that mountain bikers are dangerous to horseback riders and hikers and I feel the need to compare the actual danger of a controlled mountain bike verses an animal that has a mind of its own. Logic and common sense comes to play in this scenario.

 

Mountain Biking is Affordable and Appropriate for Everyone

Mountain biking can be as cheap as you want it to be. A mountain bike is easy to take care of and keep maintained. A mountain bike doesn’t require extra land to be housed. A mountain bike isn’t a living thing and will gladly accept chain grease as a meal (and apparently, so does my leg, LOL). The price of a mountain bike is affordable by most people and especially as a family activity. Mountain biking is appropriate for all levels and skills of people. When I first rode on the trails, I weighed 300 pounds. I now weigh less than 200 pounds and trust me, it is a lot easier. Mountain biking is great for kids, in fact, even the scouts added a very special patch for mountain biking. Mountain biking could actually be a good method to help control juvenile obesity and prevent a child from suffering later on as an adult. It is active and it is fun! I don’t see a lot of kids on mountain bikes in the Shawnee National Forest. Most age groups are 30s to 40s and up. I know people in their 60s and 70s the ride mountain bikes and because of their biking activities, they feel more like my age. I wish more younger children were riding-parents, go for it; you can be out biggest advocates out there.

 

Mountain Biking is good for the Forest

Have you seen the damage that mountain biking causes? Occasionally, someone drops a bike and the handlebar might put a hole in the ground that is an inch in diameter. So maybe a barefoot runner might accidentally break their toe if they get it caught in that hole. Yes, that was sarcasm! Mountain bikes do very little in terms of damage and leaving a carbon footprint as long as riders stay on established trails. When a rider gets to a spot on the trail that is impassable, those dismount, lift their bike and move over or around the spot. Riding off trail could end in hitting a thorn and losing an inner tube. But for me, riding off trail or “creating a trail around the problem” might harm precious plants and flora or even a critter. I think about those things because I’m a nature lover. Mountain bikes really don’t have much of a carbon footprint than we have as hikers. I mean, have you ever went to a trail that gets mountain bike use and told yourself that maybe there is too much mud and holes and that it is unsafe? Go hike the main trail to Indian Kitchen-but be careful, I’ve fallen on it a few times. It is extremely muddy and damaged by horses and it stays like that all year long because of the canopy of trees that keep it cool and moist. That area needs some good, let the Sunshine in! Hint, hint, Forest Service Timbering Unit!

Another awesome thing about mountain biking is the fact that it requires little trail maintenance. In fact, most of the time, when volunteers show up to maintain the trails, they’re usually adding something to make it better or making more trails. It doesn’t require a huge amount of gravel or countless volunteer hours to make it usable again. I’m sure the forest service would be overwhelmed with volunteers willing to help, me being one of them, every chance I get but even if they had to maintain a mountain bike trail, I bet it wouldn’t cost a whole lot or require a lot of equipment.

 

Mountain Biking is everywhere else around the Shawnee National Forest

I have a homework assignment for you. Go to the Forest Service website for the forest in Missouri and look for mountain bike trails. Now do the same for the Forest Service website and look for mountain bike trails. Finally go to the Forest Service website for the forest in Kentucky and look for mountain bike trails. You can see that all three of these official National Forest websites list trails that are actively used by mountain bikes and each one has miles upon miles and many of them share with hikers, horseback riders and even other groups. Now go to the Forest Service website for Shawnee National Forest and tell me how many mountain bike trails area listed – NONE. Every state around us that has a National Forest caters to mountain bikes – why can’t the Shawnee?

 

A Final Note to Forest Management and Horseback Riders

Hiking with Shawn officially supports and advocates Mountain Biking in the Shawnee National Forest. It supports it so much that it will continue to promote it and educate the public on facts around it. This does not mean that Hiking with Shawn doesn’t support horseback riding. I know many people who ride horses, some who are fans, some who I would trust to show me how to ride a horse and I know that their access to the forest is important. But to oppose an entire user-group and make up false information is not only an act of discrimination but it’s selfish and I won’t stand for it. Everyone I know who mountain bikes are civilized folk who respect and care for the forest and the region. Many of them are active member of their community, teachers, firefighters, police officers, religious leaders and families trying to live a healthy lifestyle. And when I see them being attacked with undocumented lies and false rumors, I must step up and defend them. That is why Hiking with Shawn is taking this position.

I have nothing against horseback riders who believe in fair use. We all have to work together, get along, befriend one and other and share the forest in a responsible and bipartisan manner. There are way bigger threats and issues that face our forest than this disagreement that is long overdue to be stopped. I picked up trash the other day around Bell Smith Springs and picked up exposed hypodermic needles. That place is a haven for young children. For those of you, who have children; think about that for a minute. Those are issues that need to be addressed. The trash is a real issue. If we keep fighting one and other about use and we don’t agree to be fair, what is going to come of our forest? How can we do this to those who fought to get the Shawnee National Forest established in the first place? Together, hikers, bikers, equestrians, other groups and the Forest Service should work together on making the Shawnee National Forest one of the best National Forest in the country and then maybe we’ll get more to improve it. One group can get some things done but multiple groups working together can get a lot more things done.

 

Thanks for reading this official advocacy and support announcement on the position of Hiking with Shawn, LLC and mountain biking activities within the Shawnee National Forest. You are encouraged to share this article with others, especially to other mountain biking and cycling communities in and around the region. The more support gained for this initiative will mean the stronger the cycling community in southern Illinois can become. You can also do your part by writing to local political entities and groups, the Forest Service and the media and telling them that you wish for mountain biking and all groups in general to be fairly treated when it comes to using our National Forest. Everyone deserves to be Shawnee Proud.

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