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Mountain Bikers Encouraged to Seek Access to Rocky Mountain National Parks


Mountain bikers in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Coming to a Rocky Mountain national park near you?

The International Mountain Bicycling Association has a friend in the National Park Service's Intermountain regional director, Michael Snyder. In a recent memo to park superintendents in his region, Mr. Snyder says IMBA can provide "some great partnership ... that you may want to take advantage of."

This is just the kind of reference IMBA officials have been seeking in their continued efforts to gain more access to national parks, access that includes cutting single-track trails across the park landscapes.

It does seem kind of strange to me that the regional director would recommend that his superintendents explore possibilities with IMBA at a time when the Park Service is still working under a 5-year memorandum of understanding to test mountain biking in three parks. Of course, park superintendents all along have had the authority to approve or ban mountain biking inside their parks, so why there was a need for the MOU is equally baffling, unless it was merely intended to give IMBA some name recognition and legitimacy with the superintendents.

And really, there already are quite a few miles of mountain bike trails in the park. Across the park system hundreds and hundreds of miles of dirt roads are open to mountain bikers, ranging from the renowned White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park to backwoods routes in Mammoth Cave National Park. In all, 40-some parks already allow mountain biking to some extent. And there are thousands of more miles that range through U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands.

I've asked this before but will revisit it now: Why is there a need to cut single-track trails in the parks? Is that the best use of the resource at a time when there already are innumerable mountain biking opportunities? 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?

As I noted earlier this fall, mountain biking is a proposed centennial project at Big Bend National Park in Texas.

Roger Siglin, now retired from the Park Service, recently toured the site of that trail. Here's what he had to report:

My wife and I hiked a loop around Lone Mountain following the proposed mountain bike trail. The total distance can’t be much more than two miles. An extension of 1 to 1.5 miles leaves the north end of the loop and follows an old road which ends when it reaches the Grapevine Hills road. On the east side of Lone Mountain the proposed trail stays up on the mountain slope a short distance. This made the first half of the route unpleasant to hike. It is covered with lechugilla, cacti, sotol and other typical desert plants. The ground is very rocky, mostly because fragments of the hard lava capping the mountain have covered the slope.

Trail construction will be difficult and will leave a highly visible scar from the nearby highway north of the visitor center. The flagged route does not follow the contour, but zigzags up and down the slope short distances and skirts several large boulders. I suppose that is to make the route more interesting for bikers, but it would appeal less to hikers for that same reason. We continued on around to the west side of the mountain where flagging was no longer visible. More of the high Chisos Mountains is visible from the west side.

The entire route is north of park headquarters, with a proposed trailhead directly across the road from the concession gas station. A hiking or biking trail around Lone Mountain could easily be constructed below the base of the mountain on flat to gently sloping terrain and the views would be much the same. It would be a very easy hike and a constructed trail there would leave no visible scars from a distance.

Two more phases to the project would add five or six miles of bike trail with two loops that would basically parallel the upper end of the Grapevine Hills road.

I am not a mountain biker and at 71, don’t anticipate becoming one. But if I were planning a shared-use trail I would not pick this location. For children on bicycles, or anyone else for that matter, the east side of the trail would be dangerous because of the rocks and desert vegetation. None of the trails projected in the three phases of construction would be particularly attractive, but at least they are outside of potential wilderness according to the park's wilderness plan. Phases two and three near the Grapevine Hills road and the leg on Phase one, would be unattractive to hikers, and I do not think would appeal to mountain bikers. There is a horse camp at Government Springs with a corral, but it may be moved, so even horsemen would probably not use the trails.

It is difficult to avoid the thought that this project is being proposed primarily for IMBA to get one more foot in the door, the door being widespread creation of new bike trails, or the opening up of existing NPS trails to mountain bikes. The trailhead is already one of the centennial initiative projects. Apparently the trail itself may become a centennial project as the following quote from IMBA indicates: “IMBA is a member of several coalitions that are actively campaigning for increased NPS funding and a sponsor of a Centennial Initiative project for new shared-use single-track in Big Bend National Park.”


There are some shared-use single tracks where I live. Before they were opened to mountain bikers, it was a great place to go for a quiet hike. Now on those beautiful fall days when you want to get out the trails are swarming with mountain bikers, which makes it kind of hard to have a leisurely hike.

That's not to say the mountain bikers aren't entitled to the trail, because it was designed as dual-use. But the result is that mountain bikers are displacing hikers. Hopefully that won't be the case in parks that take up IMBA's "great partnership."


Why is there a need to cut single-track trails in the parks? - Will Kirk ever write a "why do we need any new hiking trails" post or is this a barely veiled attempt to disguise his contempt for bicycles?

Is that the best use of the resource at a time when there already are innumerable mountain biking opportunities? - Should we ever have more hiking when there is already a plethora of hiking opportunities?

Can hikers and mountain bikers satisfactorily exist on the same trail? - Can Kirk ever write an article that doesn't ignore the positive experiences of those who have already posted on his other articles regarding this topic? Or, do Kirk and the bike haters always run away at the first sound of a mountain bike somewhere in the vacinity?

Many mountain bikers love the thrill of zooming downhill. Think those in national parks won't seek that thrill?
- Is it possible to create a sustainable multi-user friendly trail of moderate speed with uphill portions like the majority of biking trails across America or does he always assume that all trails and bikers participate in X-Games style solely downhill riding at great speed?

Kirk, I appreciate your other efforts and posts regarding actual detrimental activities in our parks like ORV's and drilling in ANWR, and yes my post is a little on the sarcastic side, but your disdain for mountain bikers is misguided.

I'm with Ed Abbey. Close the parks to vehicles, give everyone a bicycle, and bus the suitcases in.

Ooops, replace every Kirk with Kurt.


Thanks for eventually getting the name right;-) But why do you hide your reply behind anonymity?

Now, to your points:

* I can't recall the last time there was a proposal to cut new hiking trails in the parks. But that's not the point.

* I don't profess a hatred of mountain bikes. There are two in my garage. But I do prefer my road bike.

* The majority of mountain bike trails go uphill? What goes up, must come down, no? But regardless, mountain bikes carry much more speed on flats and downhills than hikers. Especially if the hiker has a 40-50 pound pack on their back.

* Mountain bikers aren't thrill seekers? Perhaps not all, but take a look at the accompanying picture. Those are IMBA reps kicking it in Hawaii Volcanoes NP.

* And really, as much as IMBA lobbies for single-track trails in the parks, shouldn't someone offer a counter argument?

My bottom line is that I am not convinced the national parks need to be, or should be, open to every form of recreation imaginable. Forest Service and BLM lands are more focused on such multiple use. Perhaps if there weren't already thousands of miles of mountain biking opportunities on those lands I'd be persuaded about the need to open more land in the national parks to mountain bikes.

And really, there already exist more than a few mountain biking opportunities in the parks. If single-track usage is approved under the "dual-use" premise, and it's found not workable, does that mean bike-only single track should be cut across the parks? Or should wider footprints be cut? And if wider footprints are called for, should they be hard-packed or paved so Segways can travel them as well?

God bless Ed Abbey.

Mountain bikes/bikers are a cancer in National Parks. The chemotherapy is convincing superintendents and the NPS itself that mountain bikes are an inappropriate method of access to National Parks. We're not talking about limiting access, we're talking about limiting the *method* of access - similar to the snowmobile issue in Yellowstone.

Do bikers want to see the parks or do they want to ride their bikes? Which is it? If bikers want to see the parks, they can lock their bikes up and walk in. If they want to ride, like Kurt mentioned, there's many, many miles of bike trails on other public lands.

A poll was recently taken in the mountainous west and not a single tourist came to see mountain bikes, gas or oil wells, clear-cuts or cattle crap. >Big smile<

I see no need to cut any new trails (hiker or biker) in any of Our National Parks.
In fact I believe there is way too much time and money spent on maintenance of trails already established.
When I visit I like nature to be wild, free and spontaneous (to borrow from Mr. Abbey) which must be hard for her as we endlessly cut, gouge, pave, fence, sign and bridge.

Kurt, I'm with you on this one. Many times when I take to the coastal foothills for a good days hike, I prepare myself for the weekend yahoo boys with their mucho trail bikes screaming OUTA MY WAY bellow... and blasting by me with a curse look in some cases. In all fairness, there's many well meaning and polite trail bikers that maintain a decent code of mannerism in "share-the-trail" guide lines. But, in my opinion, trail biking is something that parallels with dune bugging, snowmobiling, and off the road SUV touring that creates one the most distructive forces to nature in the National Parks. Sports utility trucks ripping up the terrain around famous legendary petroglyphics, dune buggies ripping up the cacti vegetation in the fragile desert ecosystem, and snowmobiling sprewing gas and oil along with there whining obnoxious noise, and there's the trail bikes that leave deep ruts into the soil that creates massive erosion (and water run-off)problems during heavy winter rains.

Why is it that we can't enjoy the simple things in life anymore. Why does it have to be this thrill seeking avenue of enjoyment...always has to be this adrenaline rush? Trail biking to me is another extension and example of bringing another piece of junk from your backyard, and to take it with you to the hills, the mountains or to the desert...and everthing but the kitchen sink. Give me my fifty pound pack and a silent trail, and I'll show you how not to destroy a trail with two feet...tread softly biker!

@ 1st Anon Poster-

I love mountain biking, I mountain bike all the time. I don't wear the downhilling gear and pads and can't ride the obstacle courses, but I am on the bike getting dirty at least 2 X a week. And I have to say, with a dual suspension bike with disc brakes, I HATE having to slow down and let a hiker, their dog and whatnot safely pass. I do it anyway, of course, because that's the way to keep mountain biking legal on trails, but in the parks, where you have all these people visiting to "test themselves against nature" you have a recipe for disaster. Even if you have a bell on your handlebar! ;)

Let's be realistic, the NPS can barely keep up with maintaining trails used by hikers, I'd hate to see mountain bikes come in and muck up the trails even further.

No one is advocating more trails. I think we'd all like to see more *maintenance* on the trails that exist and I personally don't see mountain biking positively contributing to the health of the trails I ride and I tend to have pangs of guilt when riding because you see the damage that occurs. Hikers cause damage to trails, I don't have my head in the sand, but trail bikes are far worse. Not that I'm going to stop, however, it is too much fun! But I would never ride in a NPS unit. USFS and BLM yes, but ride in NPS, no.

The photo of mountain bikers descending on a wide dirt road doesn't sound any alarms for me. It looks they're having fun, are riding in a safe situation, and are enjoying their visit. Aren't those things appropriate for a national park visit?

I'm a fan of mountain biking in national parks. Today's park managers have a better understanding of trail designs that work for all kinds of shared-use traffic. They have responsible partners to work with in the mountain biking community, and they have the power to decide which trails should be open to bikes and which should not. As you point out, shared-use trails are employed in parks across the country already, with excellent results. Why not expand on those successes?

Today's park managers also face declining budgets and lowered visitation. Integrating mountain biking in a responsible fashion can help new audiances gain an appreciation for national parks. Mountain biking holds a lot of appeal for the younger visitors that National Parks need to ensure the longterm health of the system.

Lastily ... Segways and paved roads are just straw-men targets. (So is comparing mountain biking to motorized traffic. I can tell the differerence btween a bike and motorcycle, and so can the Park Service.) Let's focus on bringing involving more people in the NPS experience, not filtering out all the potential new fans of the parks just because one user group wants to define the experience for everyone else.

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