The International Mountain Bicycling Association quietly is exploring a bid to change National Park Service rule-making policies with hopes of cutting through the bureaucracy to open up more park terrain to cyclists.
Drew Vankat, the group's policy analyst, tells the Traveler that IMBA simply is mulling a run at changing the rules that must be negotiated for a park superintendent to open park terrain beyond developed areas to mountain bikes.
However, others within the Park Service say the group is "applying pressure" to have the existing rule-making procedures changed. Specifically, they say, IMBA wants to remove the current requirement that superintendents promulgate a special regulation to create bike trails beyond developed areas.
Back when that rule was created, in 1987, Park Service officials felt that before bike trails could be established outside developed areas there needed to be a "thorough review of all environmental and visitor use considerations" and that the public participate in the decision-making process.
From his Colorado office, Mr. Vankat, after stating that IMBA hasn't "proposed anything and there is no formal plan," pointed to a bureaucratic gauntlet superintendents must negotiate to gain approval for mountain biking on park trails outside of developed areas.
“The underlining issue behind all of this is that it takes a really lengthy, time-consuming, resource-intensive bureaucratic process to open up a trail to bicycles on Park Service land," he said. "IMBA and the Park Service signed an MOU in 2005 and we’ve been working on a lot of great projects around the country together and we can only get so far in some parks (because of the rules).
"Everything we’ve done has been driven by local interests," Mr. Vankat continued. "We visited, I think, in the low 20s the number of parks the last two or three years with our trail care crews, always at (the park's) request. So if we get an invitation we go out and help however we can. But obviously there’s sort of a ceiling as to how much we can help because they can’t just go ahead and say, 'Trail X has been rerouted sustainability and we’d love to open it up to bikes but it would take this long, onerous process.'"
IMBA in recent years has made a lot of progress in its dealings with the Park Service.
* When it initially signed that memorandum of understanding with the agency in 2005, the agreement called for two pilot studies, and somehow a third was tagged onto the agreement.
* Initially IMBA officials talked only of gaining access to dirt roads in the parks. But a few months later they began talking of opening single-track trails for mountain bikers.
* When Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and Park Service Director Mary Bomar this past summer announced 201 projects eligible for centennial funding (if Congress authorizes it), a single-track mountain bike trail in Big Bend National Park was among the group.
* Last month IMBA gained the support of Mike Snyder, the Park Service's Intermountain regional director, who sent out a memo to superintendents in his region to say IMBA can provide "some great partnership ... that you may want to take advantage of."
Now there's the effort to change Park Service rules to make it easier to open mountain bike trails in the parks.
“As it is right now, it’s nothing less than a waste of government time and money to have this special regulations proposal and rule-making process that has to go back and forth through the D.C. office twice. It’s too onerous," Mr. Vankat said. "It just doesn’t seem like the right way to be managing recreation on these lands.
"It doesn’t need to be as simple as the superintendent saying, 'OK, biking goes on A,B and C.' And poof, tomorrow they’re open. There needs to be environmental review and the assessment and everything. We’re not trying to skirt any of that. If it’s not appropriate, let the science and the NEPA process bear that out," he said. "To have on top of that a whole ‘nother layer of bureaucracy just seems wasteful.”
At the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, Bill Wade doesn't see a need for a change.
"We are satisfied that the existing rule-making process is appropriate and should not be modified to allow for a less stringent decision-making process involving biking," said Mr. Wade, who chairs the group's executive council.
NPCA officials also see no need to change the current requirements.