Advisory board rejects adding gates at new bike trails
Ponca City Now - March 18, 2016 4:37 pm
By Beverly Bryant/News Director
The Ponca City Park and Recreation Advisory Board considered a proposal to place gates at both ends of the new bike trail at Lake Ponca Thursday evening, but a motion to approve the gates failed on a 3-3-1 vote with one member abstaining.
Wes Young presented a report from the board’s lake committee, which unanimously supported the proposed gate positions. The intention of placing the gate was to keep users of the trails and fishermen safe from traffic.
Advisory Board member Bill Wentroth, who was acting chair of the meeting, raised objections to the gates, however.
Wentroth objected to gates because of the number of fishermen who fish along that portion of Lake Ponca.
“That’s where the fishermen fish,” Wentroth said. “Wentz Cove is a highly fished cove. There is a parking lot there now and fishermen were walking down to the east bank.”
Wentroth, who is Regional Fisheries Supervisor and North Central Regional Supervisor at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, asked about the ratio of mountain bikers to anglers.
He said that in his work, he has built several fish locators in the area for fishermen and cannot be in favor of closing the area off.
Members of the Ponca City Mountain Bike Society, who have put in countless hours in creating the bike trail, have said that closing East Snake Road was intended for the safety and protection of trail users.
“Bikes and cars have encounters every day and it’s not a safety issue,” Wentroth said Thursday evening. “You won’t be surprised by a vehicle on that road. Bicyclists should be able to hear and see a car on the road. When you cross the road you look, don’t you?”
Wentroth did agree that the bike trail should be blocked off for races.
Discussion on the proposal continued for 30 to 45 minutes Thursday. Board members discussed concerns such as illegal dumping, vandalism, the amount of time that volunteers have put in creating the bike trail and keeping their morale going.
Board members also talked about the benefit of volunteers working on a public property. All board members agreed that the effort of bike society members has been enormous and appreciated.
Other community projects from the past were discussed, including how volunteer support for those projects diminished over the years until the projects were abandoned.
Wentroth said he was trying to look at the issue logically.
“I don’t see the overall benefit for the total community,” he said. “I know you guys are high on this, but I see it more as a negative to the general population. The Wildlife Department has put a lot into the lake.”
Board members discussed a pilot project to see how the gates may affect lake use, but dismissed the idea in light of the cost of putting in the gates.
Some board members expressed frustration that the bike society did not mention wanting to install gates at the beginning of the project.
Board member Jeremy Sackett said the matter was not decided very quickly at all.
“I’m not 100 percent for it either,” he said. “There need to be options but I don’t know what those would be.”
The bike trail goes around the proposed gates, which only stop vehicular traffic. Currently chains across the road are closed part of the year but are temporary. Emergency crews each have keys to the locks on the chain for emergency access to the area.
After much discussion, board members agreed their options were to keep talking about it, vote on a recommendation or send it back to committee. They opted for voting on a recommendation to establish permanent gates at the stated locations shown on the map, to protect the area from vandalism, drivers and other safety concerns.
Board members voted three in favor and three opposed, with one member abstaining. Since there was not a majority vote cast in favor of the proposal, it failed to pass.
Roy Pemberton with the Ponca City Mountain Bike Society expressed his frustration Friday morning. He said he and other members did not attend the meeting because they had been led to believe the matter was settled and no further input was needed from those who had put in the work on the new trail.
Pemberton said more people are using the are now than ever before, including families walking with young kids, mountain bikers, gravel riders on bicycles, runners, people walking dogs and others.
“We have offered to cut the trail down to the shoreline for the fishermen, where before they’d have to take a chainsaw with them to fish,” Pemberton said.
“I want the public to know that we’ve put in hundreds of work hours, used our own money to buy equipment and have tried to create something for the entire city to enjoy, only to have it derailed by the people who use it the least,” Pemberton said.
“We have cleaned the place up from what it’s been over the years – a dump site. It’s frustrating to say the least. The public needs to know that Bill Wentroth is the one more concerned with fishing that with Ponca families’ safety, even though we’re actually making it easier for them to fish.”
Pemberton added later Friday afternoon that a meeting is scheduled next week for further discussion on the matter.