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Mountain Bikers to Seek Access Through Listening Sessions


    How naive could I have been? I thought the upcoming "listening sessions" being staged by the Interior Department were intended to help DOI and Park Service officials identify "signature projects" that would go towards celebrating the Park Service's centennial in 2016.
    Others, though, see these sessions as an opening to pressure the Park Service to allow more recreational opportunities in the parks, opportunities that might not be in the best interests of the parks.
    Doubt me? Check out this release from the International Mountain Bicycling Association.
    IMBA urges mountain bikers to attend the listening sessions, in order to strengthen the productive relationship that mountain bicyclists have forged with the NPS, and to ask for increased bicycling opportunities in national parks.

    IMBA likes to tout its "productive relationship" with the Park Service. I guess how productive that relationship is depends on how you measure productivity.
    Does having to dodge mountain bikes on hiking trails make you want to head out for an afternoon hike? That's the situation at the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. Under an experimental plan launched last summer hikers get the area's trails exclusively on weekends, and have to share them with mountain bikers on weekdays. Who wins in a collision between mountain bikers and a hiker?
    I've long been uneasy with IMBA's desire to open the parks to mountain biking. As I've previously pointed out, there are hundreds of miles, if not thousands, of already existing dirt roads that mountain bikers can access in the parks. And I have no problem with that. My concern is what's already happening at Big South Fork, and what could happen down the road at other parks.
    As I've already reported, IMBA has its sights set on cutting single-track trails in the parks for mountain bikes, trails that not only leave little room to avoid collisions between hikers and bikers but also would increasingly slice up the parks' landscape.
    And now the group figures the centennial listening sessions are the perfect opportunity to push its agenda. In its release, IMBA even provides "talking points" mountain bikers can use at the listening sessions.
    Why do we need mountain-biking single track trails in the national parks? Aren't there enough miles of trails on other public lands, lands that have different management missions than NPS lands? Must every recreational opportunity on U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands be permitted in the national parks?
     I would say no.


Let's see. The "listening session" will revolve around a series of little tables supporting poster displays focusing on different topics, all of which will somehow be related to strengthening the "productive relationship." The gullible public will walk from table to table, filling out little 3X5 index cards at each on which they will write out a sentence or two expressing their thoughts on the various "issues." At the 12th, and final, table, they will get to greet an agency grand poohbah, who will shake hands and thanks each and every person for coming out. Coffee and fingerfoods will be served over in the far corner, the java underwritten by REI and the food by Trek bicycles and Volkswagen.

Hell, don't diss the coffee and fingerfoods; that's the only reason to go to any of these things; in this town, if you wear a suit, trust me, you'll never go hungry. All you need is a daybook and an appetite for BS. There's no real reason to have these sessions anywhere near the big parks; that would only give them even more of a veneer of legitimacy. As for mountain bikes...I agree with you Kurt; everyone feels they are owed more and more; I'm tired of it. I don't mountain bike myself; I love touring and road biking. When I was in Big Sky for work last summer, I was a little overwhelmed by all the bikers who go up the gondola just to crash down it in full gear. I guess I don't understand it; there's so much erosion all over the place from the skiing and the biking. I just don't get it. I looked at that 9-mile road, though, down the hill, and I thought, "Wow, I wish I had my road bike to go up this thing." I don't know - aesthetics is a strange thing...but this entitlement...that I don't understand. In Rock Creek Park, we can't get the cars off the roads here so that bikes can have more space - only part of the park on the weekends. Last year, we had some flooding, and they closed the road for about a week to cars through the park, and it was divine. But, it's all so complicated.

Single track is attractive to mountain bikers for the same reasons hikers prefer it. Delegating "cyclists" to dirt roads reeks of a system of class whereby hikers get the choice trails, and cyclists get something less. Egocentric logic if you ask me. Share the trail people.

Your criticism sounds oddly familiar to that espoused by snowmobilers, who would have you think snowshoers and cross-country skiers also are elitist or "egocentric," as you put it. But under your logic, the parks' trails should also be open to dirt bikes, ATVs and ORVs, and their lakes to personal watercraft and ski boats. I think you have to remember that there's a decidedly different management mandate for parks than for Forest Service and BLM lands. Those agencies actively manage for recreation much more than does the Park Service, which has a primary mandate to preserve the landscape. There's only 84 million acres of national parks, versus what, 191 million acres of Forest Service land and another 264 million acres or so of BLM land. Is it too much to hope that those 84 million acres could be preserved as much as possible, or should that, too, be given over to every form of recreation under the sun?

I don't agree with lumping off-road cyclists with ATV, dirt bikes, and snowmobilers. These users burn fossil fuels, make a lot of noise, and generally cause heavy damage to trails. Any damage done by cyclists is comparable to that of equestrians and hikers. However, I agree with your point regarding the duty of the NPS to "preserve the landscape". Nonetheless, considering one of your arguments against off-road cyclists in the NP is "having to dodge" them, it makes one wonder if this preservation includes a hiker's right to have the trail to themselves? Does it? If not, I think it would be prudent to simply present facts that prove off-road cycling risks the true "preservation" the NPS must maintain.

Ellis, I guess for me it comes down to the simple aesthetics of national parks, being able to enjoy nature and the natural quiet of the landscape. There are many times when I've come upon moose or bison or elk or deer in the parks while hiking thanks to the quiet nature of hiking. Would that still be the case if trails were opened to mountain bikers, many who head to single tracks for speed and thrills they can't seem to find on dirt roads? Regarding thrills, there are plenty of places to get an adrenalin rush in national parks: Climbing the Grand Teton or Mount Rainier, caving in Mammoth Cave, paddling Yellowstone's lakes, sea kayaking Acadia. Why do we have to introduce mechanical thrills? Beyond that question, how would you propose that mountain bikes be managed in national parks? Would you opt for an even-odd rotation with hikers on existing trails? Perhaps something similar to what they're testing at Big South River? If so, should that also be the rule of the land across Forest Service and BLM trails? How would you keep mountain bikers out of wilderness areas? Would we have to put rangers on bikes to patrol? Would you prefer that a whole new series of mountain-bike only trails be cut throughout the national park system? Where do you draw the line? If mountain bikers can have trail access in the parks, why not snowmobiles? After all, the folks in Yellowstone seem to think snowmobiles are compatible with the park. Why not give them more places to play than simply the Grand Loop? Why not expand personal watercraft use in the parks? Sure, you and I might consider them polluting, obnoxious machines, but some park and seashore officials have allowed them in. I've heard of the studies that mountain bikers cause no more damage to trails than equestrians and hikers. And that may be so. But national parks carry a very different management mandate than national forest and BLM lands, which as I'm sure you know are more focused on multiple-use thrills than parks are. Too, as I noted in the post that started this thread, there are already hundreds, if not thousands, of dirt roads open to mountain bikers in the parks, and many times that many miles of two- and single-track trails in national forests and BLM lands. Why must we introduce more trails in the parks? More than likely we'll never see quite eye-to-eye on this issue. But when you take the existing opportunities into consideration, and the management mandates, I just don't see why there's a need to expand mountain biking throughout the parks.

Thought you might like the follow-up on your "dodging bikes" comment at Big South Fork. I hate to disappoint you, but mountain biking was apparently a success:

Shared-use Big South Fork trail deemed a success

By Morgan Simmons (Contact)
Sunday, October 7, 2007

An experiment to permit mountain biking on a trail in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area previously designated as hiking-only has come to a close, and the result is good news for mountain bikers.

For the past year, the National Park Service has used the Grand Gap Loop Trail to test a shared-use management strategy that allows mountain biking and hiking during the week, and only hiking on weekends.

Big South Fork spokesman Steve Seven said the pilot project brought no negative comments from hikers, and that the only complaint from mountain bikers was that the trail was closed to them on weekends.

“Based on the feedback we received from hikers and mountain bikers, we made the decision that the testing phase was over, and that the project was successful,” Seven said.

The Grand Gap Loop Trail, in the heart of the 125,000-acre park, is seven miles long and features numerous dramatic overlooks into the main river gorge. The trail is single-track, and rated moderately difficult for mountain biking. Some sections of the Grand Gap Look trail skirt the edge of the bluff line, while others pass through boulder gardens and rock shelters carved out of sandstone.

While “user-sharing” trails are not new — the Tsali Trail system along North Carolina’s Fontana Lake designates alternate days for mountain biking and horseback riding — this is the first time the Big South Fork has put the concept to the test.

Now that Grand Gap Loop has passed the experimental phase, managers at Big South Fork can designate more trails as shared use between mountain bikers and hikers as directed in the park’s new general management plan.

One candidate for inclusion into the time-share system is an extension off the Grand Gap Loop that leads to Station Camp, along the Big South Fork River. When this trail opens, the seven-mile Grand Gap would expand into a 16-mile loop, with 13 miles of that being single-track.

The park’s general management plan also calls for portions of the John Muir Trail and the Rock Creek Trail to be opened to hiking and mountain biking on a time-share basis.

Big South Fork is one of the few national park units that allow mountain biking. Congress authorized the park in 1974 to protect the Big South Fork and its tributaries and to provide a variety of recreation opportunities ranging from hunting and fishing to hiking and horseback riding.

A key player in promoting mountain biking at Big South Fork is the Big South Fork Mountain Bike Club. In addition to building and maintaining mountain bike trails, the club patrols the park to aid and assist mountain bikers. The Big South Fork has about 400 miles of trail overall — 130 miles for hiking, and about 160 miles of multiple-use trails that allow horseback riding, hiking and mountain biking.

In addition, the park has three dedicated mountain-biking trails (open to mountain bikers and hikers but not horseback riders) near the Bandy Creek Visitors Center. These are the Collier Ridge Trail, West Bandy Trail and the Duncan Hollow Loop.

The park’s new management plan calls for the mountain-biking trail system to expand from eight to 24 miles, with the potential for more trails in the future.

Joe Cross, president of the Big South Fork Mountain Bike Club, said he is not surprised that the Grand Gap Loop experimental project received such positive feedback from mountain bikers and hikers alike.

“Most hard-core hikers are bikers, anyway,” Cross said.

Morgan Simmons may be reached at 865-342-6321.

I think that this is a great success story. I believe that it is long overdue for the Park Service to realize that hikers and equestrians are not the only valid trail users in the parks. What many of those who would like to lump cyclists in with ORV users do not realize is that there is a much clearer distinction between motorized and non-motorized recreation, rather than mechanized versus non-mechanized. It was stated in the above article that “most hard-core hikers are bikers, anyway,” yet I would flip this around to say that most mountain bikers are hikers and understand well the need to co-exist on the trails together. Those of us who like to ride on trails do so primarily to visit our favorite places and enjoy the scenery and natural elements that are found there, albeit via our bicycles.

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