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NPCA, PEER Voice Concerns Over Proposed Mountain Bike Rule Change In National Parks


Would a rule change allowing greater mountain bike access in national parks lead to more of these scenes? NPS photo.

Mountain bike accessibility in national parks could expand exponentially under a rule change proposed by the Bush administration, according to the National Parks Conservation Association.

While the current regulation largely restricts mountain bike use to designated trails in developed areas, NPCA officials said the pending regulation would, if approved, allow superintendents to "designate bicycle routes on:

1. existing trails within developed areas;

2. existing trails within undeveloped areas; and

3. new trails within developed areas."

"Under the proposal, if any trail designations within these three areas were considered controversial or would significantly alter public use patterns, then the superintendent would be expected to issue a special regulation," the parks advocacy group said in comments on the proposed rule change."

The comments came near the end of the public comment period on the proposed rule change. Also opposing it was Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the Association of National Park Rangers, the Tamalpais Conservation Club, the Bay Area Trails Preservation Council, Wilderness Watch, Wild Wilderness, the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, and Grand Canyon Wildlands Council.

In its comments, the NPCA said the proposed changes would increase "the risk for local stakeholder groups to unfairly influence local park decision making" because a park superintendent in many cases would have the final say on opening trails. The current rule-making process requires National Park Service officials at the regional and national levels to review any proposed changes.

Additionally, NPCA said that while "a special regulation issued in the Federal Register would still be necessary for uses of, or activities of a, 'highly controversial nature' or that would result in 'a significant alteration in the public use pattern,' it is unclear what conditions would need to be met.

"Guidelines are needed to both assist the public in making this claim and assist superintendents in supporting their decision," the group continued. "We believe the Federal Register should not be used as a notification tool, as this proposal would do, but rather as a public involvement tool."

NPCA also believes any rule change should include language specifically prohibiting bicycles not only in officially designated wilderness areas but also in areas proposed for wilderness designation by the Park Service as well as areas currently managed as “potential Wilderness.”

NPCA officials also voiced their opinion that while national parks exist for the public's enjoyment, not all forms of recreation are appropriate for the national parks.

"We understand that some bicyclists, especially mountain bikers, would like to have increased access to the parks. However, the national parks do not have to sustain all recreation; that is why we have various other federal, state, local, and private recreation providers to share the demand, and to provide for those types of recreation that generally do not belong in the national parks, or that must be carefully limited," the group said.

"The 1916 NPS Organic Act, emphasizing conservation for future generations, is substantially different from the organic laws of the Bureau of Land Management, the US Forest Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, or any other federal agency. The NPS mission is also different from that of state park agencies, or of county or city park agencies. Together, these agencies provide for many forms of public recreation, including single-track mountain bike opportunities—but not all forms of recreation are appropriate in national parks."

Meanwhile, the other groups also urged Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to withdraw the proposed rule change, saying it was "a late lame-duck Bush administration plan to carve mountain bike trails across the backcountry of the national park system."

In announcing their opposition, the coalition pulled from an "action alert" the International Mountain Bicycling Association sent to its members, asking them to file comments in favor of the rule change. In that action alert, PEER officials said, IMBA described what is at stake this way: "…over 170 forests and grasslands administered by the NPS [National Park Service] and a potential 130,000 miles of trails, the move is a mouthwatering prospect for cyclists."

Among the concerns raised by the coalition are:

* Increased User Conflict. Introducing mountain bikes on backcountry trails will drive off hikers, horseback riders and other users, as fast moving bikers, sometimes in large groups, whiz down narrow paths;

* Introduction of Extreme (BMX) Mountain Biking Trails. The wording of the proposed rule appears to endorse, for the first time, construction of trails designed specifically for high-speed, bicycle motor-cross (BMX) racing, to the practical exclusion of other uses; and,

* Aggravation of Maintenance Backlog. High volume biking on backcountry trails will multiply the demand on the Park Service for erosion control to keep unpaved trails functional. The agency already reports a $9 billion backlog in maintenance projects.

"While we endorse the use of bicycles through the developed areas of park units like the C&O Canal in D.C., these proposed rule are designed to facilitate mountain bicycles in undeveloped park areas - the backcountry, far from paved park roads," commented PEER board member Frank Buono, a former NPS manager. "This rule could not only negatively change the backcountry experience for park visitors, but would allow a non-conforming use in proposed and recommended wilderness."

Jeff Ruch, PEER's executive director, added that, "This mountain bike rule is a classic example of special interest influence over management of our national parks. There is no shortage of other venues for mountain bikes that would justify opening up the last, best places within our national parks."


I think the opportunity for everyone exists on public lands. Mountain biking is not dangerous impact to the NPS or any other backcountry pursuit. Mountainn bikers invest large amounts of time and energy into trail construction and repair. Why are limiting the backcountry experience to a handful of hikers? Mountain Bikers have a less physical impact on the trail than a hiker or horseman for sure. Look at any given trail system. The initial 1-3 miles are usually wide enough to walk side by side, which is typical of a normal hiker starting off. If you follow a typical Mountain bike trail you will notice that the tread is for the most part 6-8 inches wide. Who's impact is worse? Open access for everyone.
-Team Trail Monster-
Trail Builder and Adopt-a-trail volunteer!
Mountain Biker!

PS...I want Wilderness Access as well for bikes! If it's good enough for a 1000lb animal packing a horseperson, then the trail is suffiently built to safely allow passage of 24lb bike with 150lb rider!


If mountain bikes don't impact as much as hikers, why do mountain bikers invest large amounts of time and energy into trail repair?

Also, keep in mind that most trails in parks are designed for walking beasts. Thus they have waterbars and other trail structures that are inconsistent with the needs and expectation of bikers.

You mentioned the gradual narrowing of trails. That is often due to the large amount of use those trails receive. Another thing that causes that is multidirectional travel. A third thing that causes trails to widen is multi-use. People don't like to walk on horse manure so they move to the side (as would bikers), fast hikers have to move around slow hikers... and the list could go on. Each combination of users creates its own trail impacts but also their own social impacts and conflict.

Parks and Wilderness are not protected simply for our pleasures. They are there for much more important reasons.

In regards to your PS, please read the Wilderness act (you will see that Wilderness was created to secure a place for unmechanized travel) and while you are at it read the Organic Act (NPS) (and you may understand why open access for everyone is not an option).

I do what to say there is something you said I that agree with. Horses make one heck of a mess of trails. If they are not beating the trail to dust, they are filling it with manure and causing major erosion problems. BUT, the one benefit of the horse it that it allows some people who are not into bipedal motion to access some very inspiring places!

Jeff Ruch, PEER's executive director, added that, "This mountain bike rule is a classic example of special interest influence over management of our national parks. There is no shortage of other venues for mountain bikes that would justify opening up the last, best places within our national parks."

Essentially, the argument is that the "best places" in national parks should not be available for mountain biking because a different set of "special interest" groups got there first.

Not a good enough reason, in my book. The NPS has concluded that the impacts of bicycling are equivalent to hiking, and less than those caused by horse travel. Therefore, protecting the integrity of resource can not really be the issue.

Additionally, there are successful examples from around the world -- including national parks in cherished, pristine places like Canada and New Zealand -- that are almost too numerous to count. So much for the idea that people are incapable of enjoying shared-use trails

It's time to help our U.S. national parks find appropriate places to enjoy similar successes, and to provide channels to bring them online in a more efficient manner. That doesn't mean every backcountry trail should be opened to bicycles, but it's well worth improving the options for cycling where NPS staff identifies good opportunities to do so.

There are always a few in any group who choose to abuse or misuse trails. Mountain Bikers tend to groom the trails more, not repair them, because it helps prevent abuse by other users, even Hikers. If Equestrians, Hikers and Bikers will follow basic Leave No Trace rules, then the trails require minimal repair and the impact is minor. Most of the problems are caused by people using the trails when they are wet. I live in a State Park which has trails specifically for Hiking, Biking and Horse back riding and you can see 3 foot trenches on the horse trails because even after a heavy rain, the parking lot is full of trucks and trailers. Some people, i'm sure are just uneducated on trail etiquette, but others just don't care. The first step is to police each other, say something to your fellow trail users, but be nice about it and if that don't work then help the park officials enforce the rules. There's room for everyone out there.

To set the record straight, IMBA is well aware that the US Forest Service, not the NPS, manages forests and grasslands.

IMBA never issued an alert with the claim that mountain bikers are "salivating" about access to 130,000 miles of trails in national parks. We count about 12,000 miles of trails in the NPS system.

A simple web search reveals that this phrase was generated by a UK-based mountain bike site, which seems to have confused their US agencies. Like so much of the PEER assessment, their statement is factually wrong.

I have been following this rule change proposed by the Bush administration closely. I am an avid hiker that has had some bad experiences with mountain bikers. All rules state bikers are to YIELD to hikers and both to yield to horses. I am deaf and have had harrowing experiences with speeding bikers going side by side that I am unable to hear coming up behind me. I usually jump off of the trail to let these maniacs pass. I actually try to find hiker only trails if possible. The out of control bikers and dogs off leash really create major problems for those of us that just want to hike and enjoy the great outdoors. This can be a frightening experience for those of us that do not hear.

Why don't people just say it? We (hikers, equestrians, whatever) don't want to share the trails funded by the taxpaying public and would like to keep the trails to ourselves. Instead, they make up all kind of illogical arguments to support their claim. It's rather pathetic. I'm a mountain biker, proud of it and hate hiking (but certainly don't hate hikers). One day, we'll reclaim our birth right to pedal in wilderness. We just have to wait for the current generation of ecotrailnazis to die off. :)


Those who argue against mountain biking due to "trail damage" should be fighting tooth-and-nail to get horses off of the trail. In my neck of the woods, the horses leave the trail looking like it's been carpet bombed after they ride through. Our mountain bike club has to work continuously to undo the damage they cause to prevent serious erosion problems.

I've been involved in hundreds of hours of trail maintenance over the years, and I can count on one finger how many times we've had assistance from equestrians (or hikers for that matter). They contribute very little from what I have seen other than clipping overhead limbs and leaving them in the trail for others to pick up.

Nonetheless, I don't see any mountain bikers trying to kick them off of the trail.

Let's be honest, this is all about the fear of user conflict and nothing more. Most hikers and equestrians simply dislike mountain bikers.

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