By Ryan Cornell
The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation has decided to close the "off-trail" bicycle paths at the Third Winchester Battlefield, starting Jan. 1, 2014.
Mostly used by mountain bikers, the trails cut into the battlefield's terrain and destroy its historic resources, said SVBF Executive Director Denman Zirkle.
He said the decision was made after "numerous visits from historians, Civil War students and the National Park Service."
"I think everybody agrees with the position," Zirkle said. "We reviewed it with the Winchester Wheelmen and Frederick County Parks and Rec."
Mike Perry, vice president of the Winchester Wheelmen, said he sent a message to members of the club notifying them not to use the trails any longer.
"We used to clear all the trails," Perry said. "I guess since we're not going to ride there, we're not going to do it anymore."
He said the club will start clearing the bike trails at Sherando Park.
"We've lost probably the most convenient trail that we have," Perry said. "Now we have to go further to find a place to ride a mountain bike."
Perry recommended the Vance's Cove Trail east of Wardensville, W.Va., Fort Valley and 'Andy' Guest State Park as other mountain biking destinations.
"They'll be more opportunities to come along, I'm sure," Perry said about future mountain bike trails being built.
Zirkle said the SVBF will start posting signage this fall, indicating the historical value of the area south of Redbud Run, and will post notices of the trails' closure on mountain biking blogs. He said jogging and bicycling still would be permitted on the battlefield's authorized gravel trails.
"We are now in the education phase, trying to get people to understand that just because something has been going on for almost 10 years, it is not necessarily right," Zirkle wrote in an email Thursday. He added that the foundation hasn't yet discussed enforcing the rule or establishing a penalty.
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org