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Lions, Tigers and Mountain Bikers, Oh My!

Geneva, you really need to loosen up a bit!

Shades of Altamont! By the tone of some of your over-the-top reactions you’d think those Hells Angels were taking up permanent residence in Wheeler Park. Why do I suddenly expect a group of downtown Genevans to break into a chorus from The Music Man?

Of course, something like that might make a heck of a lot more interesting.

And this time it’s ! I swear, some of you have way too much time on your hands. The next thing you know we’ll be taking on hippies and consarned rock 'n' roll music.

Though my June 11 presence at the County Board meeting was aimed at the outcome of the ages-old ethics ordinance debate, once that fandangle was finally settled, my good friend and Geneva businessman Rob Kelley convinced me to stay put for the Fabyan Task Force meeting.

That task force consists of members like Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns, Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke, and County Board member Mike Donahue, all of whom are charged with planning the redevelopment of the 750-acre which is bordered by the river, the Union Pacific tracks, and Kirk and Fabyan Roads.

And I gotta tell you, even though these meetings are more boring than our midsommar festival, I’m glad I attended this one, because that group has come up with a pretty exciting plan.

We’re talking a, some resort hotels, all sorts of park and athletic amenities, a golf course, a fishing pond, and, of course, mountain biking trails.

Ah! But we all know nothing good ever comes to Geneva without a boatload of the appropriate and unnecessary hysteria.

Both , home of the Kane County Cougars, and the were supposed to herald the end of western suburban civilization. I’ll never forget the resident who told an elected official that she couldn’t endure the horror of telling visitors they’d have to turn right at . We won’t even mention the South Street skate board park.

The public outrage at this particular meeting centered around whether those mountain bike trails would stay in Fabyan Woods or be moved to an adjacent open area. Of course, the mountain bikers prefer the forest, while the Fox Run subdivision residents don’t want to have to endure as much as an access trail through those woods.

While that kind of diametrical opposition is to be expected, just how far the subdivisionites were willing to go in depicting mountain bikers as godless barbarians was not. Their ringleader, Kathleen T. Valle, the kind of pleasant-looking little old lady you’d want to help across the street, made Karl Rove look like a rank amateur.

She painted mountain biking aficionados as an evil cabal of lawless thrill-seekers bent on running over as many small children and little dogs as they possibly could.

Ms. Valle complained that her preservation group had received a plethora of similarly worded online comments, which could only be the result of a high-level conspiracy. As one mountain biker put it, all it really means is they’re organized.

She went on to describe in detail the insistent raping, pillaging and looting of those woods, when the truth is these mountain bikers have been riding back there for the better part of two decades, and that proud old forest is still stands generally unscathed.

In fact, the cyclists have actually chased away some rather nefarious characters who tried to make that hidden area their home.

After she took them to task for their “choice of vocabulary,” Ms. Valle went on to say she didn’t include any of the positive mountain biker comments because “we are trying to save the forest from exploitation,” which is utterly disingenuous when you consider the construction of her subdivision has wrought more ecological damage than Fabyan mountain bikers ever have or will.

These stop-at-nothing homeowners went as far as co-opting the heart attack death of rider Rob Manderson, whom they fictitiously claimed died of a broken neck while riding those trails.

As anyone who’s ever seen me on my Trek mountain bike will attest, Ms. Valle’s final contention that mountain biking is an “extreme sport” is patently ludicrous. While you’ll find daredevils in any athletic endeavor, the only way you could apply the word “extreme” to me is if you put it before the words “slow” or “cautious."

The real irony here is, while my road-biking brethren are generally a surly, arrogant and obnoxious bunch, mountain bikers are the Zen Buddhists of the cycling community. They’re friendly, laid back, and very concerned with the long-term health of their prized woodland trails.

A good friend just reminded me of how Genevans love to think they’re a cut above the rest, and this anti-mountain biking effort is yet another fine example of this phenomenon. While Ms. Valle and her cohorts certainly have the inalienable right to raise their voices in protest, she came across as one of the more sanctimonious and self serving people I’ve ever met.

In the end, the Fabyan Task Force, and ultimately the County Board, will have to weigh the wishes of thousands of Kane County mountain bikers versus a vast minority of self-righteous homeowners who’d find something wrong with winning the lottery.

The choice is clear: Let the mountain bikers enjoy the venue they’ve already been using for years.

Colin C. June 20, 2012 at 12:02 PM
I am disappointed at the lack of imagination and creativity shown in the plan that has been proposed. In addition to the mountain bike trails, resort hotel, and music venues about all they added was an expansion to the existing golf course. There are nearly 100 golf courses within 25 miles of Geneva. They are going begging for business. A "resort hotel"? A copy of the Comfort Inn a few blocks away? There have been several "Ravinia" style music venues that have tried to make it in the greater Chicago area. None have succeeded. I have suggested something a little grander and different. A hotel in the southern part of the woods built to blend in; maybe tree houses and bungalows that look like caves or something really unusual, attractive, different, and fun. Create an adventure park. Something entirely different instead of a copy of what everyone else has. Use the trash mountain as a base for a water park, zip lines, those coster rides that look like mini bobsled runs. Keep 9 holes of golf but add winter stuff also. Sledding, ice skating, tobogganing, an outdoor, year round swimming pool that looks like a mountain lake. Nature trails, a Native American and a Pioneer village. All the deluxe amenities, of course; a spa with all the luxury anyone could ever wish for. A "local and native prairie life" zoo. A place for families to come with kids year round. A REAL getaway 40 miles from Chicago and easy to get to from anywhere within a hundred miles.
Mike Bruno June 20, 2012 at 02:55 PM
Not a fan of committing that much acreage to yet more golf to serve a segment of the public for only seasonal use. I am hopeful that the Ravinia-style venue can self-sustain. I they can get Steely Dan out here once, it will have been worth it!
Jeff Ward June 20, 2012 at 03:11 PM
Mike, The proposed trails would be multi-use. And I concur on Steely Dan as long as they stop gouging their fans. Jeff
Mike Bruno June 20, 2012 at 03:23 PM
I'm only concerned with the *golf* acreage. ...and what band doesn't gouge their audience? Steely Dan, to their credit, are totally up front with the profit motive. When new music media formats were introduced, they were asked if they supported the new format to which they replied "We support any technology that mean our fans might re-purchase our music." ...And I have gone through my share of $35 Steely Dan t-shirts!
Dan Baker June 20, 2012 at 04:15 PM
Jeff, I am an avid cyclist and a Fox Run resident. I find your depiction of the opponents of the mountain bike course as well as the residents of Fox Run to be just as disingenuous and self-serving as you claim Kathy Valle to be. For years now, mountain bikers have been breaking the law and creating mountain bike trails throughout the Fabyan Forest Preserve. Most of the trails created were done so without any "Zen like" concern for the environment. All you have to do is walk through the forest to see that the opponents of the course have legitimate concerns. The part of the forest where they would like to build the course is one of the most peaceful places around. According to local conservationists there is no other place in our county with the same type of topography, fauna and wildlife. Destroying it would be a travesty. With that said, I am 100% behind having a mountain bike course built on both Midway & Settler's Hill. I would think the terrain of Settler's Hill would make for a much more exciting and challenging ride. I am also not against a multi-use trail connecting the Fox River trail with the mountain bike course. Building it this way would protect the forest while also providing a great asset for the community. Dan
Jeff Ward June 20, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Dan, The difference between what I did in may column and what Ms. Valle and her cohorts did is, I had some fun with it. As I sat there listening to her I was stunned by her depiction of mountain bikers as well as her abject belief that she was entitled to that forest. Yes! There are bad apples in every group. I take on road bikers all the time - and will do so again in the Courier-News on Monday, but for God sakes, argue this thing based on the merits and not that mountain bikers are heralding the end times. Jeff
Dan Baker June 20, 2012 at 09:56 PM
Jeff, As is typical of most public discourse these days, there seems to be a bit of hysteria on both sides of this issue. If you visit the petition created on Change.org (http://www.change.org/petitions/kane-county-board-members-save-fabyan-forest-preserve-develop-settler-s-hill-only) you will find thoughtful arguments and comments that are a better representation of those opposed to development within the Fabyan Forest preserve. Please rest assured that the residents of Fox Run do not have a problem with the Hells Angels, as long as they stay in Wheeler Park... Dan
DAVID TOMELL June 21, 2012 at 12:39 AM
i remember when we were told that cougar fans were going to maraud through geneva after games if you let them drink beer and marklund clients would lower home values.....oh the good old daze
Keb June 21, 2012 at 04:45 AM
Jeff, as usual you took a circuitous verbal path in trying to make your point, with the obligatory stops along the way to cast stones at road-bikers, Republicans, etc. But if I understand you correctly, the residents of Fox Run are taking issue with mountain bike trails at Settler's Hill? Maybe I'm missing something (didn't feel like re-reading the column for the third time) but wouldn't a designated area at Settler's Hill take the MB crowd out of the old forest behind the Fox Run homes? Personally I'd rather ride on some the single-track through the woods than on a 'park district approved' path, but I don't understand why the Fox Run folks aren't embracing it. (And yes, we are already waaaay overbuilt on golf courses.)
Jeff Ward June 21, 2012 at 12:04 PM
Ken, Though I can get wordy and tangential, I thought I was pretty clear that the task force had, at least for now, moved the mountain bike trails out of Fabyan Woods and into an adjacent open area. That seemed to somewhat satisfy the Fox Run folks, but the mountain bikers will likely work to get the proposed multi-use trails back in the woods. As for road bikers, the fact that I am one especially gives me the right to call them out. It's really sad when the police chief of Campton Hills calls and asks you to do a column on it because those citizens are so fed up with road bikers who don't begin to understand the phrase "common courtesy." Jeff Jeff
Martha Hanna June 21, 2012 at 01:37 PM
How about an indoor lap pool and track. A ping-pong hall. And a rental facilitly where you can rent scuba gear for scuba lessons, swim gear, cross co skis, golf gear, bikes, skates and so on...A convention center, really?? for whom? Jeff, Kathy Valle is talking about CAMBr and their lingo, and do we really want them riding on an all purpose paths in the woods. They will be tempted to go off the paths and make more extreme paths for their adrenaline rushes. We know you are too old to be extreme...
Dan Baker June 21, 2012 at 04:05 PM
Keb, Just south of the Fox Run subdivision in the Fabyan forest preserve is this beautiful valley that runs from route 25 to the golf course. Since it was untouched by the prairie fires it has trees (some over 200 hundred years old) and fauna that are unique to this area. According to historians, the Potawatomi used to camp here and local conservationist say that there is no other place like it in our county. This is what the Fox Run residents and other concenred citizens are trying to protect. For years now, mountain bikers have been creating paths, building obstacles, and really beating the valley up. When the Settler's Hill planning commission came out with their first draft, they proposed to build the mountain bike course right in this valley. Those of us who know this part of the forest were outrage and have worked hard to protect it. Our argument is why destroy this small unique valley when we have this vast track of land (Settler's Hill & Midway Hill) where you could be a build a phenomenal mountain bike course. There is already an underpass that goes under route 25 and a large trail that heads east towards Midway Hill. These could be used to build a multi-use trail connecting the Fox River Trail with the mountain bike course. This plan would protect the woods while enhancing the biking experience in our area. It seems like a reasonable compromise and I am not sure why the MB crowd isn't embracing it. Dan
DG June 21, 2012 at 05:34 PM
If I may weigh-in as an informed, impartial citizen. I am aware of the area in the Fabyan Woods and agree that it is truly beautiful and unique. I have been back there and the MB trails in general are pretty unobtrusive and don't seem to be damaging the forest. BUT, there are some exceptions. There is some ramp construction that has taken place and chunks of lumber as well as small excavations detract from the appearance of the area. My feeling is that if the trails were properly managed with homemade obstacle construction banned, and littering policed - it would be a great asset and enjoyed by a lot of people. But the argument that the Fox Run folks damaged the forest by building their homes isn't really valid. Prior to that subdivision it was the State Industrial School for Girls - it hadn't been forest for many years.
Dan Baker June 22, 2012 at 01:23 PM
Bob, I believe Jeff Ward stated that one of the reason's he wrote his opinion piece was he "was stunned by her depiction of mountain bikers as well as her abject belief that she was entitled to that forest." It seems to me that the mountain bikers have this same sense of "entitlement" believing that just because they have been breaking the law for the last 15 -20 years they are entitled to have their trails legitimized. You also exhibit the same level of arrogance in your attacks on those that oppose it. I regularly hike those woods in the summer and snowshoe them in the winter. Yes, there is debris left over from the Fabyan Estate, but there is no sign that this valley was ever a dumping ground. Yes, the mountain bike paths have not harmed any trees, but you convientianly leave out all the damage caused by erosion. As far as waste blowing into the woods I find there are more water bottles littering the woods than anything else. What I am continually amazed at is the inablility of the MB crowd to compromise. No one is saying you cannot have a mountain bike course, we are asking that it not be built in the area of Fabyan that you yourself consider a "gem". The mentality seems to be all or nothing. Before you attack me, please note that I personally e-mailed the president of CAMBRi, suggesting we get together to work on a compromise. After a couple of e-mail exchanges he stopped returning my phone calls… Dan
DDW June 22, 2012 at 11:12 PM
You have a point, dan. I remember a few years ago after it had been raining for a few days and the trails were muddy, the kids went back there to ride. Someone who was working on the trails told them to stay off of them until they were dry otherwise they'd tear up the ground. So you're right, the real mountainbikers seem to be be pretty good stewards of the land.
Matilda B June 24, 2012 at 01:16 PM
I worry about a minority influencing that which affects the majority ( the music venue and trails). I wonder if perhaps it should be put to referendum. The Fox subdivision home owners were aware that the Settlers Hill property and Fabyan would be used for other purposes once the landfill closed. The homeowners were supposed to be made aware that the landfill and train tracks were not going anywhere. A Ravina type venue would benefit us all via revenues , jobs, and taxes. A mountain bike trail will not be used by hordes of people, I doubt it will damage the forest. I have seen other parks with this type of trail and it was peaceful.
John Stan October 08, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Thanks Jeff for a nice commentary on the subject. I ride in Fabian every couple of weeks or so in good weather. The trail system has been there for the 10 years I have been living in Geneva. I understand some people may not want a music venue in their back yard and this inadvertently ties into the existing mountain bike trails and new plans. But why anyone would want to take away someones right to use the forest preserve is beyond me. I regularly tidy up the trails and am courteous to hikers and nature lovers. I even do a little Morell hunting in the spring. If your hating mountain biking in the woods change your course. Go rent a bike and get out there and enjoy the fall colors. John....

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