Pictures: How digital rangers are keeping Peak routes open
Why mountain bikers are crucial information tools in our National Park.
The Keeper of the Peak would like it known he doesn’t see himself as a superhero (despite the name, the mysterious Keeper symbol and a tendency to wear shorts on duty, even in winter.)
“I’m just a bloke from Sheffield who rides a bike and lets people know when it’s muddy,” he claims.
Until last year the Keeper’s identity was a closely guarded secret. It was only after the latest of his three national cycling award nominations that his alter-ego was revealed as Rolls Royce communications manager Chris Maloney, from Fulwood.
“Friends who knew said I was like Batman.”
The Keeper of the Peak’s key superpower is a twitter account with over 2,000 followers and 32,000 impressions a month (and growing), ready to swing into action and retweet mountain bikers’ messages about conditions on Peak District trails. Less swashbuckling than a Bat Signal perhaps, but certainly more modern.
“The purpose is to help riders get out and have a good ride, but also to reduce mountain bike damage on sensitive areas,” Chris says. “We want to get people riding places that can take it.”
The ‘we’ is important, he explains, because every mountain biker is a source of information to every other mountain biker, not least because so many of them have twitter accounts.
So Keeper of the Peak asks riders to tweet about conditions, often with pictures, to help others choose where to go, while ‘resilient’ routes are promoted in the winter when weather is bad.
Apart from following @KoftheP on twitter, Chris advises beginners to consult MTB groups about poor weather riding, or try local routes like Froggatt, the Porter Valley or Houndkirk. And think twice about open moorland trails that hold water, he says, since after weeks of rain or snow, rockier routes are far more enjoyable.
The Keeper has also worked with local publisher Vertebrate on free downloadable all-weather routes on Kinder and the Eastern Moors.
“Mountain bikers are also walkers, and we all see the impact any of us have on the places we go,” says Chris.
“The Peak District has been here for millions of years, and I think we all have a responsibility to look after this place, no matter what we do.”
The Keeper of the Peak takes a simple approach to the tensions about some mountain bikers choosing to ride on footpaths and open access land. (Apart from cycle trails and tracks, bikes are only allowed on roads, byways and bridleways).
He only retweets about permissible tracks, and if a follower tweets about a footpath, he contacts them offline and explains why.
“I haven’t had a single user who’s had a problem with that. People are able to make their own decisions.
All we can do is educate them about what’s going on.”
He tries hard not to come across as the ‘fun police,’ and says offering a simple ‘this place is boggy, maybe try here instead’ service is a balancing act, but he believes the message is getting out.
For example, he says fewer riders are seen on the winter bogs of the famous Cut Gate route, which thanks to Chris and local advocacy groups, now has a British Mountaineering Council ‘Mend our Mountains’ fundraising campaign on track to improve parts of the surface and reduce damage to surrounding moorland.
The Keeper has come a long way since his story began in 2013 after leaving a message on an MTB forum suggesting a certain route might not be the best place to go after heavy rain.
“Someone posted back: ‘Who died and made you Keeper of the Peak?’ So I thought ‘I’ll use that,’” said Chris, who’s now also in the process of setting up Keeper services for the Lakes and the Downs.
In the Peak District, he’d like non-cyclists to post about trail conditions too.
“But please don’t rant, as no one wins with arguments on the internet.
“It’s about having a bunch of people out there acting as digital rangers.
“What I say is, you’re all keepers of the Peak.”
More information and route guides can be found at kofthep.com.