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Sections of Pacific Crest Trail Poached by Mountain Bikers; Could Problems Arise in National Parks?


Mountain bikers have been poaching sections of the Pacific Crest Trail in California. USFS photo.

The Pacific Crest Trail ranges from Canada to Mexico, running through Washington, Oregon, and California along the way, traversing not one but seven units of the National Park System in the process.

On its way north and south portions of the trail touch or run through parts of Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, Devils Postpile National Monument, Crater Lake National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, and North Cascades National Park.

While mountain bikers are not supposed to use the Pacific Crest Trail, recently some have been poaching sections in California. While the poaching did not occur in any national park sections, some have concerns that a rule currently pending in the Interior Department could open more national park trails to mountain bikes and, in the process, lead to the following scenario.

In its February issue, the PCT Communicator, the magazine of the Pacific Crest Trail Association, reported on trail damage committed by mountain bikes near the Parks Creek Trailhead in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in California.

From Big Bear to the Tehachapi Mountains in southern California, to Donner Summit and the Sierra Buttes north of Lake Tahoe, to Castle Crags and beyond, mountain bikes on the trail are causing damage and creating a number of "PCT Places in Need."

According to the trail association, "under U.S. Government regulation, bikes are prohibited in the PCT. The rationale for the prohibition of bicycles is based on the "nature and purpose" of the PCT, as dictated by the intent of Congress with the National Trails System Act and subsequent regulations designed to protect the experience of the primary users. The Code of Federal Regulations (36 CRF 212) directs that "The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail as defined by the National Trails Systems Act, 82 Stat. 919, shall be administered primarily as a footpath and horseback riding trail."

"Unfortunately, however, U.S. regulations and regulators have not, thus far, been able to fully curb the illegal use of the PCT by mountain bikers," adds the article. "The resulting trail damage and user conflicts can't be taken lightly. To complicate matters, bikes are permitted on many trails that lead to the PCT, resulting in bikers reaching the PCT on such trails and then proceeding along the PCT to pick up another feeder trail. Given land management agency staffing and budget issues, policing and enforcement is sorely lacking."

The article goes on to point out the problems associated with mountain bikes on the Pacific Crest Trail: the trail was not engineered to handle mountain bike traffic, it can be easily and quickly ripped up by bikes riding in wet and muddy conditions, erosion problems can arise.

"I can't stress enough the importance of responsible trail users reporting illegal uses of the PCT," says Ian Nelson, the trail association's regional representative for northern California and southern Oregon. "It is crucial that we hear from concerned users so that we and our agency partners can strategize as to how to curb the illegal use."


This is not surprising to me, but what might be surprising to you is that I'm an avid mountain biker. I'm in my 40's and ride with dozens of other riders, they're all nice guys, however they just don't care about the environment. All of them belong to a local MTB association whose mission statement says that it is dedicated to promoting the recreational use of mountain bikes on trails, in a safe and environmentally sound manner. This is far from the truth. There are illegal trails everywhere, in fact most of the trails were illegal when they were cut and there are areas of the parks bikers have ruined because they like to ride all over everything that might be fun.

Most mountain bikers are out there to have fun, take risks/practice, and exercise. Not a bad thing unless it is at the expense of preservation for all to enjoy.

I can only hope that people do not allow mountain biking in National Parks.

I personally do not see the problem of sharing the trail, particularly if there are feeder mountain biking trails coming into the PCT. There is very little incentive to stop at the end of a feeder trail, whether you are hiking or biking, but especially biking. Maybe trail officials should re-engineer the trail sections inbetween mountain bike feeder trails to solve the problem.

Think on the bright side:
1. National Parks are so far not affected thus far
2. At least its not motorcross, ATV's, or snowmobiles sharing the trail

I think hikers and bikers should just get along


The right of the people to keep and operate mountain bikes shall not be infringed.

I'm sure some federal judge can be found to rule thusly.

I think there has to be some sharing of trails, especially non-motorized forms of travel - whether it be on foot, on horse, llama, or bicycle. I agree with the other comment that at least it's not motorized vehicles - that's where you have to draw the line. I believe the CDT allows bicycles on most of it's trail system and there's been no issue there.

PCT aka the Perfect Cycling Trail. Most parts of the PCT in northern Cal and the Pacfic northwest are barely ever used. The damage accusation is complete FUD. If it's too muddy, you should not be hiking the trail either. Duh.

Zebulon - not sure what parts of the "Pacific northwest" you're talking about, but it's clearly not Washington state.

And your comment on mud and hiking obviously shows that you don't hike in the Pacific Northwest. Otherwise you'd realize what a silly comment that was...

Kurt says "some have concerns . . . ." Talk about the ultimate voiceless passive construction, rather like "mistakes were made," or the Latin American torturer's remark "se me fué de las manos" ("the person left me from the hands") instead of saying "I killed him."

Also, I always mentally translate "concerns" in these contexts into "baseless complaints." "Concerns," like "appropriate" and "inappropriate," is a euphemistic buzzword that kills clarity of language, rendering it into a form of linguistic cotton candy.

Kurt, don't you realize how absurd these quibbles are? The tempest in a teapot you're talking about originated in a schoolmarmish scold handed down some months ago by the sometimes cantankerous and always doggedly opinionated Tom Stienstra, an outdoors writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, after he saw some mountain bike tire tracks on the PCT. The PCTA followed up by dredging up its sonorous indictment that you're now quoting. I wonder if future generations of true conservationists (as opposed to contemporary puritanical pseudoconservationist social control freaks) will marvel at the fact that, with ice sheets melting and smog blowing over here from Asia, people were clucking about a bicycle on a trail.

I don't have time to get into it now, but the regulation you and the PCTA quote is antiquated, outdated, and probably contrary to law. Even if the rule is legally tenable, it's a stupid rule. I've backpacked half of the Oregon stretch of the PCT. Because of a requirement that it have a 15% maximum grade and a certain width, it's no technical singletrack. For the most part it's relatively wide and relatively flat even in such Wilderness areas as Mt. Jefferson. There's no reason bicycles shouldn't be allowed on it. Except, of course, that "some" have "concerns."

Feel better?

Or would you prefer that in every post on this topic I point out that the American Hiking Society, the Wilderness Society, the National Parks and Conservation Association, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, and the Pacific Crest Trail Association all have concerns? Oh, and equestrian groups in the area of Mammoth Cave National Park have concerns, as well.

It's tough running this ship. You get criticized for taking a stand, and now, apparently, for not taking a stand. At least I don't do either one anonymously.

As for "true conservationists," are those the ones who voice their thoughts on many of the issues confronting national parks and public lands, or just the mountain bike issues?

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