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National Park Service Director Bomar Scheduled to Meet With Mountain Bike Community


How does NPS Director Mary Bomar see the future of mountain biking in the national park system? NPS photo.

When the International Mountain Bicycling Association holds its 2008 World Summit in Utah later this month, it will have a very special guest. National Park Service Director Mary Bomar apparently has agreed to deliver a keynote address to the industry arm.

By doing so, it appears that Ms. Bomar is giving implicit endorsement to IMBA's ongoing efforts to see mountain bike trails in general, and single-track trails specifically, cut through national parks. This is how IMBA announced the director's scheduled appearance at the summit, to be held June 18-21 in Park City:

One of the U.S. government's most senior officials charged with managing federal lands, Director Bomar's attendance will provide significant inspiration to IMBA's long-standing stewardship and advocacy work.

IMBA has worked hard on building biking advocates and also has worked diligently to assuage the concerns of those who believe mountain biking can hasten the erosion of landscape and can be incompatible with other trails uses.

But at the same time, the question of whether mountain biking is a good fit with all national parks remains. There are some areas in the park system where mountain biking is perfectly compatible. The White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park is one such example. Coursing along an old dirt mining road, the trail offers mountain bikers a multi-day trek through some incredible landscape. Mammoth Cave National Park also offers a fairly good network of dirt roads that serve as trails for mountain bikers, including one that's a 32-mile loop. Acadia National Park opens its 45 miles of carriage paths to cyclists.

There are other examples as well. In fact, 40-some parks already allow mountain biking in some form.

The question, though, is why does IMBA feel there's a need for new trails, including single-track, to be cut across national parks for mountain bike use? After all, the national forest system covers 191 million acres, more than twice what the national parks encompass, and a good deal of that landscape is open to mountain biking. The same can be said of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management landscape. And let's not forget all the state parks out there that are open for cycling.

Does IMBA feel there's a need to conquer as much landscape as possible?

Here's a comment that was made in another national park forum:

The International Mountain Bicycling Association is basically a trade group for the mountain bike manufactures and we should recognize that fact. They want more areas available to the bikers to sell more bikes. We have seen this act before - snowmobiles.

I have spent a lot of time on the trails of the Pacific Northwest which gave me an opportunity to observe how the park visitor uses the trails. Most of the visitors use the trails to get away from the mechanized world and related to Nature. They can hike at their own pace.


In non-wilderness areas, such as NRAs, there might be an opportunity to investigate the trail use. Two of the major problems with mountain biking are: 1) conflict with hikers and horsemen and women; and 2) damage to the trails from the bike tires by creating heavily worn spots on the corners and troughs for the rain. There is no justification for ignoring the fact that the majority of mountain bikers consider the trails as a challenge and to be cover as fast as possible. Basically, the mountain bikers are not in the parks to appreciate the flora and fauna. (emphasis added) There are a number of areas and trails which could be safely turned into mountain bike trails provided that the trails were policed to protect the hikers and horsepeople. What about mountain bikers using the sidewalks in some of our historic areas? Would the park visitors who are walking get out of the way and the bikers came tearing past?

The next ploy the bikers might take is that their mountain bikes are not "bikes," but "metal pack animals" which should be allowed in the Wilderness. I can't understand why there isn't more outrage over the inroads the IMBA have managed to create to move the Service towards acceptance. The next ploy for the IMBA is to offer free mountain bikes to Rangers in order to patrol the backcountry more efficiently.

Now, a popular rejoinder from the mountain bike community is that it should be able to enjoy the national parks as much as other recreational sectors and that to oppose that access is elitist or snobbish. But national parks are managed under distinctly different rules, and for a distinctly different purposes, than national forests, BLM lands and state park lands. Those points don't seem to hold much traction with IMBA. Here's a brief history that provides some insights into the organization's intent when it comes to national parks:

* In December 2007, Traveler learned that IMBA was quietly exploring a bid to change National Park Service rule-making policies with hopes of cutting through the bureaucracy to open up more park terrain to cyclists.

* In May 2005 IMBA signed a memorandum of understanding with the Park Service that called for two pilot studies into expanded mountain biking in the parks. Somehow after that MOU was signed a third pilot project was approved.

* Initially IMBA officials talked only of gaining access to dirt roads in the parks. But a few months later IMBA Communications Director Mark Eller told the Traveler the group really did have some single-track thoughts in mind when it reached agreement with the Park Service. "We feel comfortable, the NPS feels comfortable, with looking at the potential for trails to be opened. Those all require the environmental assessments and rule-making procedures," Eller said in January 2006.

* When Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and Park Service Director Bomar last summer announced 201 projects eligible for centennial funding), a dual-use, hiking and biking trail in Big Bend National Park was among the group. While that project was not funded in the initial round of Centennial Challenge projects, it remains on the park's planner.

* In November 2007 IMBA gained the support of Mike Snyder, the Park Service's Intermountain regional director, who sent out a memo to superintendents in his region to say IMBA can provide "some great partnership ... that you may want to take advantage of."

And now Director Bomar is planning to deliver a keynote address to IMBA.

IMBA can be a worthy ally of the National Park Service. But where should the line be drawn when it comes to mountain biking in the parks? Is there a need to cut single-track trails in the parks? Is that the best use of the national park resource at a time when there already are innumerable mountain biking opportunities outside the parks? Can hikers and mountain bikers satisfactorily exist on the same trail? Many mountain bikers love the thrill of zooming downhill. Think those in national parks won't seek that thrill?

Hopefully Director Bomar in her keynote address will provide answers to those questions.


First of all, I am not a mountian biker. I wasn't born with the coordination needed to ride a regular bike on flat concrete, let alone a mountain bike on a rugged trail. However, I have done a lot of hiking over the years with mountain bikers in the National Forests of Colorado and I am happy to report that we've never had any sort of problem with mountain bikers. They have been very respectful, we've never felt as though we were going to be run over, and contrary to popular belief, they do actually stop to take pictures of awesome views and wildlife. They stick to the trail, don't make their own "short cuts" which is the primary cause of that erosion, and really have seemed to enjoy their time in nature. Because of my personal experience with the bikers, I am all for adding in a few bike trails through the National Parks. There are a surprisingly large amount of people who would prefer to see the parks by bike and I am all for people getting to experience our Park System. I would also be willing to wager that the bike clubs would help sponser the building of trails if the National Park system would allow such trails to be constructed, which would greatly help the burden of the cost to the N.P.S. I think it's an idea that at least should be explored.

I am in my 40s and have been a bike rider since I was VERY little and a mountain biker since the mid 80s. I would have to agree with Marylander that most of us are very respectful of hikers, in truth most of us still hike on ocassion. There are places within National parks that I have dreams of returning to, yet haven't been able to because of time constraints. If I was able to ride my bike I would be able to triple my mileage for a given day and enjoy some of the places I enjoyed in my youth.
The forum response is ludicrious, of course industry does support IMBA, but it is a user group. Who would work for a Mountain bike company without riding a mountain bike?? Have you looked at the supporters of the Sierra Club lately? I bet there is a backpack company listed. I will not deny that bikers do add wear and tear to trails, but I have been part of trail building workshops and when done properly trail design eliminates this problem.
IMBA is truely a stewardship organization with an under-tapped work force to create, maintain and improve trails within the national parks system.

If you read IMBA's materials you'll find that they do not espouse adding new singletrack to "all national parks." Mountain bikers and National Parks are working together cooperatively to add shared-use trails only in places where park officials see good opportunities for them. The "Traveler" seems to think that singletrack mountain bike trails are an affront to National Parks and should be relegated to other public lands. However the public -- even many Traveler readers -- does not agree. Director Bomar's appearance at the IMBA World Summit is a good indication that mountain biking opportunities in National Parks should see continued, and very welcome, improvements for years to come.

Once you head down this slippery slope, how do you reverse course? How many single-track trails are enough? How many are too many?

There already are hiking trails in the parks. Should biking trails parallel them or dart in another direction and further fragment the landscape? How can dual-use trails safely be managed? I was on one the other day and nearly run over by a mountain biker, who grinned and praised his brakes as I jumped aside. Is that what we can expect in the parks?

If more biking trails are threaded through more and more national parks, how do you tell proponents of Segways that they can't have their own trails? After all, the footprint isn't any bigger and there are quite a few proponents of Segways in the parks. Would IMBA support Segway trails, and if not, why not?

As more and more user groups demand access to the national parks, how do you conserve the parks as they were intended? How do you keep national parks special, and not simply another public, multiple-use landscape akin to the national forests and BLM lands?

Those who object to the raising of these questions on occasion dub those who ask them "elitist" and "snobs." That's not the case at all. Rather, these are questions that spring up from the national park values established by the National Park Service Organic Act

The Traveler would be interested in hearing IMBA's response to these questions and would be happy to provide editorial space.

Of course, if you can ask how many mountain biking trails are enough, one can also ask how many hiking trails are enough? Some people would happily do away with maintained hiking trails - be they boardwalks or maintained trails into the backcountry.

One of the criteria that the National Park Service itself uses for recommending the establishment of a Park is the presence of "superlative opportunities for recreation for public use and enjoyment..."
So, why shouldn't mountain biking be one of those "superlative opportunities"?

And finally, its worth pointing out that we already have Segways in at least one National Park - you can get a Segway tour of the National Mall, for example.

"Superlative opportunities for recreation for public use and enjoyment..."

Where do you draw the line for what's appropriate in a national park, for which the National Park Service has considerably different management mandates and responsibilities than does the U.S. Forest Service for national forests or the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for its empire?

Some find ORVs and dirt bikes to be superlative modes of recreation and enjoyment. Should we build trails for those, too, in the parks? What about Jet skis and power boats? Each carries a threat to the resources, and, of course, the Park Service is mandated to "conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." (emphasis added).

Indeed, many courts have ruled that the Park Service's main directive is to conserve the resources, not provide "superlative opportunities" for each and every mode of recreation.

Hiking trails long have existed in the parks, and while there might have been a few added in recent years, I can't recall any substantial trail additions. And I think it can be argued that a mountain bike trail and use of it lends more impacts, both actual and aesthetic, than a hiking trail.

As I've noted before, that's not to say there aren't already existing opportunities for mountain bikers in the parks and opportunities yet to be examined in terms of existing dirt roads that wind through many parks. But does the Park Service need to examine cutting new single-track trails in places like Yellowstone, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain, Great Smoky Mountains, Acadia, Voyageurs and on and on?

Perhaps if there weren't countless opportunities for mountain biking throughout the national forest system and the BLM landscape, not to mention state parks, it would be easier to justify greatly expanded mountain bike opportunities in the parks.

As for Segways on the Mall, they're running primarily on concrete sidewalks and pathways, no? Do they carry the actual impacts of cutting new trails through a forest or across a meadow and then the resulting use?

@Sabattis: "I have a general sense of a descending order of protection from National Park Service to Fish & Wildlife Service to US Forest Service to Bureau of Land Management".

In my book the FWS has the highest standard of protection, before the NPS. USFS and BLM have very different levels within their jurisdiction, but in general I'd put some BLM lands, that have some kind of protection, over those of the USFS. FWS wilderness areas for example have no access to visitors, the FWS National Monument, Hanford Reach NM, has parts set aside for research, with no access for the public. But it is more difficult: On Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument (USFS), the main blast area can only be accessed on a handful of established trails, straying beyond them is forbidden to protect the recovery of nature after the 1980 eruption.

This kind of protection is rare in the National Park System. Another volcano comes to my mind: In Sunset Crater National Volcanic Monument the cinder cone must not be climbed. Recreation is a huge part of the NPS mandate, if ecological research and really undisturbed nature is wanted, it looks like other agencies are better equipped.

MRC - you make some good points. I hadn't thought of actually considering National Wildlife Refuge to be a higher level of protection than a Naitonal Park. I had ordered them the way that I did because the National Wildlife Refuge rather famously can allow oil drilling under at least some circumstance - something that seems almost unthinkable in a National Park. I think that's yet another example that various levels of Federal land classification are very poorly defined, and really aught to be clarified.

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