What happens when you decide to have a pilot program, but your Guinea pig isn't interested?
That could soon be the question folks are asking at Big Bend National Park, where it seems those who are running the park don't want to expand mountain biking opportunities inside the park.
According to an internal memo to the park's top management, there is no support among the park staff for cutting single-track trails for mountain bikers.
Of course, I suppose the only question that really matters is what do the folks at National Park Service headquarters in Washington, D.C., think of that response? After all, it was NPS Director Fran Mainella who found it necessary for the Park Service to enter into a five-year-long pilot project with the International Mountain Bicycling Association to see how mountain biking could be expanded in the national park system. Even though many national parks already allow mountain biking, and even though park superintendents have the authority to permit such an activity.
Why is the staff at Big Bend opposed to expanded mountain biking in the park? There are myriad reasons. Here are some of the biggies:
* With ongoing cuts and recissions in the Park Service's budget, where will Big Bend find the money to pay for cutting and maintaining mountain bike trails?
* Single-track mountain biking in the park would carry additional maintenance, interpretation and protection work, additions that come with additional costs with no identified funding.
* Already park rangers have seen an increase in illegal mountain biking in the park, and they haven't been able to control that, so how could they possibly hope to monitor greater levels of mountain biking?
* How did the pilot project's ground rules morph so quickly from simply expanding opportunities along Big Bend's dirt roads into the need to cut single-track trails?
* Search and rescue operational costs could go up, as could the types and seriousness of injuries in the backcountry.
* Would trail building some day infringe on borders to the park's wilderness and wilderness study areas?
* Concerns were voiced over whether the biking community's willingness to help fund the environmental assessment examining mountain biking would set the stage for the day when the Park Service will only consider adding activities when their proponents pay for the requisite studies? In other words, will the national parks transform into the domain of the "pay for play" organizations?
* There's the question of why Big Bend officials have been asked to consider mountain biking opportunities within the park when there are ample opportunities just beyond the park's borders. Along that line, the 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?"
The memo's conclusion? Here it is:
"There is ... a great deal of worry, suspicion and outright skepticism about this proposal. While it is recognized that it does not set an outright precedent for other NPS areas if approved, it does make it much easier to propose in other NPS areas and more difficult to simply deny the request. The 'slippery slope' reference came up repeatedly in terms of the possibility and appropriateness of changing longstanding NPS policies with regard to wilderness use/management, motorized recreation, definitions of a "mechanized" device, agency control over examined activities, 'pay for play' implications, rulemaking and a host of other serious concerns.
"The current policies are strongly supported by all levels of the park staff and they see no good reason to change them simply to allow for expanding mountain biking opportunities in the park. In a word, the park staff's answer to the possibility of expanding mountain biking opportunities in Big Bend National Park is a resounding 'No.'"