The trails themselves never closed during the shutdown of public spaces amid the coronavirus pandemic, so in reality, little ever changed for mountain bikers in Central Oregon.
And now that the U.S. Forest Service has reopened many trailheads on the Deschutes and Ochoco national forests, we can even go back to parking where we used to before the pandemic brought restrictions in late March.
But in much the way that society and businesses are reopening with cautionary measures, mountain bikers should continue with the same cautionary measures to which we have grown accustomed the past two months.
Open trailheads should not be read as an open invitation for large gatherings in the parking lots or groups of a dozen or more riders on Central Oregon’s pristine singletrack.
The Central Oregon Trail Alliance (COTA), the volunteer organization that builds and maintains singletrack in the region, developed its own suggested best practices for mountain biking during the pandemic even before the governor’s executive order in March.
“Those included making sure you’re keeping a 6-foot distance from other riders,” says Woody Keen, trails program coordinator for COTA. “Ride alone or ride with people from your household. No hanging out in the parking lot in big clusters. Go explore forest roads — you won’t see a whole lot of people.”
The specific status of each trailhead, day-use site or campground in the Deschutes forest can be found online at www.fs.usda.gov/main/deschutes/home. Their status will be updated daily. Many of the closed sites still have hazardous trees or significant snow.
The sites reopening in the forests will not have regularly cleaned or maintained restrooms and will not have garbage services, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Users should alert other trail users of their presence and step aside to let others pass and pack out trash and belongings that were brought in.
Mountain bikers should always yield to the uphill rider, and always yield to hikers, runners and equestrians.
Maintaining that 6-foot distance can be a challenge on narrow singletrack when encountering other riders or passing other trail users.
“Make these passes as brief as possible, and be even more courteous than normal about yielding trail,” Keen notes in COTA’s best practices during the pandemic. “If you see another rider and are in a good spot to stop and give a wide berth without off-trail impact, take that initiative even if they are not right on you. Off-trail impacts can be repaired and are minor compared with spread of the virus. Protection of human life is more important than vegetative life. Do everything you can to maintain 6-foot distance.”
While fewer tourists are traveling to Central Oregon, locals are hitting the trails in larger numbers, according to Keen. He suggests riding at off times to encounter as few other users as possible.
“Go ride at night,” he says. “Go ride early morning when it’s cooler because you won’t see a lot of people then.”
The majority of singletrack trails in Central Oregon are two-way trails, but a few trails are one way, including sections of Ben’s, Phil’s and Lower Whoops trails in the Phil’s Trail network west of Bend, as well as sections of Funner and Tyler’s Traverse in the Wanoga network southwest of Bend.
One-way trails, designated as such by the Forest Service, make it possible to avoid encountering oncoming riders.
“The concept of one-way trails was always about social distancing, before we even knew what that was,” Keen says. “They enhance the user-experience. The fewer users you see, that will enhance the user experience. But they also help with social distancing. We know two-way trails will have higher traffic counts, and it just means you’ll have to be on your game more.”
Keen makes it clear that COTA is not recommending that mountain bikers use only one-way trails.
“Going for a mountain bike ride, no matter where that mountain bike ride is, is safer than going inside of a store,” he says. “That’s just a no-brainer. We feel the benefits of exercise are still very important. Exercise and fresh air are good things, but we have to be smart about it.”