A column that appears this week at DirtWorld.com suggests that the five-year-long pilot project between the International Mountain Bicycling Association and the National Park Service is "relatively simple and complimentary."
I think there are many out there, including the staff at Big Bend National Park, who would disagree.
While Leah Greenstein offers in her column that "IMBA's goal is to create and maintain mountain-bike access throughout the world," and that the "National Park Service was created to manage lands and preserve them for the public," she falls a tad short of explaining how those two missions are complimentary.
But she gives it a shot.
In the guts of her column Ms. Greenstein reiterates that that IMBA's "ultimate goal is to protect mountain-bike access," and she concedes that the prospect of wilderness designation on national park lands that don't already carry that designation "prevents that access."
That's where her point begins to weaken, and she furthers its demise but acknowledging that mountain bikers already have national park access via biking trails in Mammoth Cave National Park, Redwoods National Park, and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. And there are other parks that welcome mountain bikers, too, such as Canyonlands National Park with its renowned White Rim Trail, Cape Cod National Seashore, which boasts mile after mile of paved rail trail open to bikers, and dozens of other NPS units that allow mountain and road bikes on dirt roads and roads in general.
In fact, when the IMBA first announced its agreement with the NPS, it said it was only interested in gaining additional access to dirt roads in the parks. There was no mention of cutting single-track trails through forests or along red-rock. That only surfaced after the ink was dry on the memorandum of understanding.
So should it come as any surprise that, according to Ms. Greenstein's column, IMBA officials now are suggesting ways to prevent NPS units from expanding their current number of acres that are officially designated as wilderness?
"... IMBA seeks alternatives to wilderness designation that still offer environmental protection to lands" she writes. "They propose national recreation areas, national conservation areas, and national scenic areas. When mountain biking trails aren't part of the mix, IMBA supports wilderness designation. The organization isn't against land protection, but doesn't feel the timing is right to take on the Wilderness Act as a whole.
"Instead, 'we act as good faith negotiators,' says Mark Eller, IMBA's communication's director, 'protecting more access by offering alternatives. Our stance is more nuanced, but more successful.'"
Good faith negotiators?
In light of IMBA's initial stance that it only wanted access to more dirt roads in parks, Bill Wade, chair of the executive council of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, put that claim under the microscope in late January after Jenn Dice, IMBA's government relations director, told a coalition member that IMBA's members want single-track trails in the parks because a majority of the membership finds dirt roads "boring and mind-numbing, and not the kind of fun they are looking for."
In fact, IMBA's official stance when it comes to developing mountain bike tourism is that "single track is essential."
In summing up her article, Ms. Greenstein touches on part of the problem mountain bikers must overcome to further their access in national parks.
"Like oft-maligned skateboarding, mountain bikers have earned a bit of a reputation as inconsiderate of other trail users," she writes. "Changing that image, supporting trail care crews in your area and encouraging more research and compromise mean better access. With a little work and community support, there may come a day when a ride in the wood might just include your favorite national park."
What Ms. Greenstein overlooks, or perhaps minimizes, is that there already are plenty of places in national parks where mountain bikers can take "a ride in the wood."
The above-mentioned White Rim Trail offers a multi-day excursion, there are times in early spring when Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks open sections of road only to non-motorized travel, and both parks offer miles of dirt roads for riding. The list could go on, including all the parks mentioned above and more.
The difficulty is that IMBA has its collective heart set on cutting single-track trails in national parks, trails that some quite frankly believe are unnecessary. As I noted last week, the Big Bend staff wonders why it has been asked to consider mountain biking opportunities within the park when there are ample opportunities just beyond the park's borders?
Beyond that, the staff's memo asks, "Is expanding this activity something an agency with a very clear preservation mandate should even be considering, especially since it is readily available on other multi-use public USFS and BLM land?"
No, I don't think the IMBA-NPS pilot project is as simple and complimentary as Ms. Greenstein might suggest. It is, as I noted back in early January, a particularly prickly issue.
It's not an issue about national park access, for that already exists for mountain bikers. And it's not an issue about trying to get more park visitors to pedal away from their cars, for that possibility also already exists.
Rather, it's an issue that goes back to the core of the National Park Service Organic Act. It's an issue about preservation.
In a day and age when there are more than 450 million combined acres of BLM and Forest Service lands, most of which are open to mountain biking, and when sprawl is not only encroaching upon, but wiping out, the waning vestiges of the natural landscape, why is there a need to cut down more forests in national parks to increase opportunities for mountain biking, when there already are plenty?