IMBA: Not Every Park Suitable For Mountain Biking, No Interests, Currently, For Trails in Wilderness Areas

Mountain biking the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park. NPS photo.

Spend time poking around the International Mountain Bicycling Association’s website and you might start to wonder about the group’s thoughts regarding pedaling in proposed wilderness and officially designated wilderness. After all, head over to their “frequently asked questions’ and you’ll find the following position regarding “Wild Places.”

Are Bicycles Appropriate in Wild Places?

Yes, bicycling is a human-powered, low-impact, quiet form of travel compatible with wild places and the intent of the Wilderness Act. There are instances where bicycling may not be feasible or appropriate. Some trails in proposed Wilderness areas are too rugged or steep for our use. On some national trails, such as the Appalachian Trail, IMBA respects the prohibition of bicycles. In other cases, trails should be closed to all forms of recreation (hiking, bicycling, horse use, etc.) when sensitive plants, wildlife or weather-related seasonal conditions are present.


In light of IMBA’s desire to see more mountain biking opportunities in national parks and in seeing that more than a few national parks – such as Yellowstone and Great Smoky Mountains – have thousands and thousands of acres they treat as wilderness, but which are not officially designated wilderness – I decided some clarification was needed. So I contacted Mark Eller, IMBA’s communications director.

The bottom line, Mr. Eller assured me, was that IMBA has no designs on lobbying for bike trails into proposed wilderness in the parks and would probably support official wilderness designation of those landscapes.

“If we’re looking at an area where there are no existing bike trails, chances are very good we would support that wilderness designation,” he told me Friday. “We really just want to look at it on a case-by-case basis.”

That said, IMBA wouldn’t mind a change in the language pertaining to what type of equipment can be taken into a wilderness area. For instance, rather than the current prohibition against “mechanical” devices, Mr. Eller said his organization would prefer official wilderness and wilderness study areas be off-limits to “motorized” vehicles, something a mountain bike decidedly is not.

For now IMBA is not, however, lobbying for such a change.

“We’re willing to discuss it with our partners. But as far as wilderness goes, there’s no campaign to change that in wilderness right now,” said Mr. Eller.

Specifically regarding mountain bike access in the parks, the spokesman said that where the National Park Service believes mountain bike trails likely would be inappropriate, IMBA probably would not push to see biking trails. Yellowstone, he said, is one park where the organization “would not be pursuing a bike system.”

Overall, Mr. Eller said it’s important to the organization that biking be a good fit with a park.

“We don’t think that one size fits all works very well for us,” he said. “We work with the park staff and with local mountain bike advocates and look for areas that would be good opportunities to add mountain bike trails.”

Comments

Mountain bikes in national parks are totally inappropriate, other than on carriage roads and other wide and heavily used areas. If you want to see the environmental damage caused by large numbers of mountain bikes, simply go to Boulder, CO, where IMBAs headquarters are. Miles and miles of trails there are heavily eroded, extensively widened, muddied, and otherwise destroyed by mountain bikes. The hiking experience is degraded to the point that most people won't even hike on the trails that allow mountain bikes - bikes whizzing by are both scary and unappealing. I have several times seen older folks knocked over by mountain bikers. And, if you have 10 hikers spaced out on a 5 mile trail, chances are you might see one or two of them on your hike. But if you are hiking and have 10 bikers, it is sure that you will see every one of them.

There is no way that bikes should be allowed in National Parks!

Yeah you are so right! Hiking is such a better activity that we should discriminate against all other users, horses included. Give me a break! The image you create in your post above is so incorrect and based solely in Sierra Club religious dogma its sickening.

Boulder has the least amount of trail open to bikes of any area I have ridden. The trails in Boulder were laid out and designed poorly and that is why they are wide. Mountain bikers did not build theses trails but they have been repairing and rerouting them. In fact the Boulder area now has some trails that were rebuilt by IMBA and the new sections are great for running, hiking, and cycling.

You have seen elderly folks knocked over by cyclists, more than once? WOW! I have only once seen a cyclist hit a fellow cyclist head on and I have been riding for over 20 years. I have never even heard of a fellow cyclist tell me that they hit a hiker? We don't knock over hikers because we are very focused on staying upright on our bikes. Again this is a typical mantra of the Sierra Club to scare everyone.

Actually the impact of cyclists on a trail network will improve the condition of the trails because unlike the Sierra Club, or most other hiking groups, cyclists put time into the trail networks through hundreds of thousands of hours of stewardship each year.

The only correct quote in the post:
"And, if you have 10 hikers spaced out on a 5 mile trail, chances are you might see one or two of them on your hike. But if you are hiking and have 10 bikers, it is sure that you will see every one of them."
That's because its a shared use trail and we all have a right to ride there.

We have a overweight epidemic going on in this country and promoting cycling in National Parks will help expand the non-motorized use of the park system. You would think that would make the poster happy?

Enough dogma! More trails means better lives for all users! Stop pandering to the Sierra Club and be reasonable in your views since we all want the same thing, except I want to ride there.

The bottom line is that National Parks need to open areas to cycling. This holier than thou bias needs to go away as soon as possible.

To respond to the first poster, please note that mountain bikes have only recently been reintroduced to most Boulder trails -- thanks to the good work done by the Boulder MountainBike Alliance (BMA) -- and are still banned from many of Boulder's most popular trails.

Try a stroll on the Mesa trail and tell me if a no-bikes policy prevents trail widening and erosion. The truth is that all users have impacts, and that the shared-use trails that have been designed and built by the BMA (in cooperation with Boulder Open Space) are among the most popular -- and narrowest -- in the area. Also, please note that mountain biking is already allowed in 40 national parks at present, including parks with singletrack. I hope we see more parks following these successes!

I have worked at park where the vast majority of our trails were multi-use. Generally, we didn't have problems with biker/hiker conflicts. Most of our problems came out of horse/hiker conflicts that arose from horses being on hiking-only trails and spurs. Our biggest trouble with the bike trails were that after a large storm blew through, we had to go around and check all those trails for downed trees and remove them, instead of waiting for hikers/horse riders to report the damage to us, since the trees were quite the obstacle for bikers. This was a tremendous amount of effort expended on behalf of one specific group of visitors, and biking was the least popular of hiking, horseback riding, and biking....so we have to ask ourselves as managers if it is worth the effort. We could convert some trails and/or roads to bikes, but that would still be a huge undertaking.

That being said, most trails in Forest Service and BLM areas are already open to biking? What's wrong with the idea that bikes should be restricted in national parks? True, they aren't ATVs or snowmobiles, but if I'm hiking in the Smokies or through a meadow in Yosemite, I don't want to have to worry about a bike careening around a corner and running into my family.

@Mark E: NPT was recently criticized for using 'cut' to describe the building of bike trails instead of 'built'. You have used 'banned' to describe the prohibition of bikes on some Boulder-area trails. Why not 'prohibited' or describe the trails as closed?

In conclusion, yes, there are a few places in the park system where biking has potential, but in the majority of sites (~2/3rds), it's either impractical due to resource/natural conditions issues (ie - do we really want bike trails in Death Valley or American Samoa?) or money to build and maintain the trails.

I have to admit that I was wary of going hiking on a mountain bike trail this past weekend but was pleasantly surprised. The Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association (SORBA), the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Outdoor Chattanooga and the National Park Service Rivers Trails and Conservation Assistance (RTCA) maintain a single-track trail on Raccoon Mountain above the city of Chattanooga, TN.

We took a leisurely stroll on this trail yesterday and found that it was in much better shape than most of the hiking trails we regularly use in this area and that the bikers we encountered were friendly and courteous.

To be fair we are still in the throes of a prolonged drought which could account for the well packed and un-eroded nature of the trail surface but think that those who designed this track did a good job of matching it up well with the terrain it follows. As for the well-mannered cyclists, this is after all the Deep South so that may account for the more civilized behavior which is reportedly lacking in the mountains of Colorado.

Although we haven't yet seen the proposed rule change from the Park Service, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) believes that the current mountain biking regulations appear to be working well and that there is no demonstrated need to change them. Like any use of the national parks, the use of mountain bikes on trails should be examined via a public process, environmental review, and fully comply with National Environmental Policy Act before given the green light.

NPCA believes that any changes made to the mountain biking regulations must take into consideration: 1) the capacity of park staffs to effectively manage mountain biking and ensure visitor safety; and 2) associated impacts on wildlife, vegetation, overall trail conditions, and the experience of other park visitors. Furthermore, any changes to the current mountain biking policy should not allow for mountain biking on parklands that have been or may be recommended by the National Park Service or others for inclusion into the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Bryan Faehner
National Parks Conservation Association

NPCA is overreaching in its conclusion. There is a strong desire by mountain bikers to bike in national parks, so the need is there. The public process/environmental review is code word for: "let's throw a bunch of nonsensical redtape into opening any trails to mountain biking so that we don't have to come out and say out loud that we hate bikes".

Safety: it's a myth. Everybody talks about safety when it comes to mountain bikers, but nobody mentions anything about dangerous horses. Double standard... Truth is that the safety argument is completely overblown, especially in the back country where just about nobody ventures.

Impact to environment: another myth. Scientific studies have shown that mountain biking impact on the environment is minor, about equal to hiking and definitely less than horse riding.

The truth is that there is no rational reason to keep bikers out other than made up arguments that serve the wish of a few to keep public trails to themselves. In that regard, it seems that the NPCA is a bunch of rabid bike haters like the Sierra Club.

During the outdoor boom of the 1970’s many areas suffered severe damage due to the increased number of hikers. Hikers built illegal trails and camp sites, widened trails, littered, and ruined the outdoor experience for those who had come before; in short we did everything we accuse Mountain Bikers of doing now. Fortunately, Hikers learned the error of their ways. Today the “Leave No Trace” ethic is common among hikers. Education is the key; most people don’t want to damage the environment they just don’t know any better.

Mountain Bikers have and will continue to embrace the same ethic. They must if they want to maintain their sport. I think bikers suffer from commercial advertising stereotypes that portray them as ADD afflicted, Mountain Dew swilling, extreme sports morons, who come down the trail backwards while juggling chainsaws. This is rarely the case.

The illegal use of hiking trails and the illegal construction of “stunts” is a legitimate concern and I have seen the damage that can result. I’m sure it’s only a small minority of Bikers, but it seems to be condoned if not encouraged by many in the Mountain Biking community.

While working with a local hiking group’s trail maintenance crew the leader made a decision to leave a fallen tree across the trail to stop bike use. Predictably, the next year there was a new trail around the tree. Whose fault was that the Bikers or the Crew Leader who made a dumb choice based on his personal bias? Hikers have to realize that not giving Mountain Bikers a place to ride is not going to lead to the end of the sport; it’s only going to lead to illegal use and abuse. An illegal user has little impetus for doing maintaining and improving the trail, while a legitimate user does.

I have heard hikers say that “Bikers never due trail maintenance…” and a post above makes the same accusation about hikers. In truth, we are both independently doing the work, if only we could only work together. There are many that enjoy both sports and I could never understand why we perceive each other as enemies, we’re all out there because we love the outdoors

A point that seems to be missed by the mountain biking community is that no one is banned from hiking trails, only their bikes are. They can still enjoy the trails on foot, just like the rest of us.

Such a nonsensical argument. About we ban all hiking and make biking mandatory? How would you feel about it? Bottom line, the government should not be deciding what activity is best for us as long as said activity does not impact negatively the parks. And just because you enjoy the trails on foot does not mean that I have to.

Exactly where is it written that hiking is the only acceptable form of access to our public lands? Also, where is that data that shows that hiking has absolutely no negative impact on the environment, and offends no one?

You hiking purists need to come down from your lofty perches and realize that your mode of access to our national lands could be banned just as easily as biking, and for all the same reasons. How would you like it if your foot-bound access was suddenly stripped from you? Would you embrace it as “good for the environment”, and just hike away? Doubtful.

You hate all motorized access, and you are successfully banning that. You also hate any and every form of mechanical device used for public land access, and are attempting to ban those as well. Are snowshoes next on your agenda?

How long before the fickle finger of fate swings in your direction, and all human access is prohibited? It will probably occur within the span of our lifetimes, sadly…

Whoa, that's an awfully big brush you're swinging, Dapster.

I don't recall anyone saying that hiking is the only acceptable form of access to public lands. Indeed, as I've pointed out numerous times there are thousands and thousands of acres on national forests and across the BLM empire where mountain bikes are more than welcome. And, there also are more than 40 parks where there are mountain bike trails to varying degrees.

Beyond that, I and others have pointed out that we like both activities.

But why is it necessary that all recreational activities be permitted in national parks? Put another way, must the national parks be open to any and all activities simply because there's a support group that wants access?

The Forest Service and BLM are multiple-use agencies. It's written in their missions that they are to manage their landscapes for different activities, whether they involve logging, mining, or recreation. The national parks are to be managed to preserve/conserve the landscape unimpaired for future generations, and for public enjoyment, but not necessarily for multiple use.

And, as another pointed out, mountain bike enthusiasts are not being banned from backcountry trails in the parks. At the current time they just can't ride their bikes on them.

Kurt,

Broad brush cleaned and put away. My comments were aimed at some of the other posters, and certainly not at the author. Sorry if I was unclear on that. No offense intended.

My point is parallel to this one brought up by Zebulon:

The truth is that there is no rational reason to keep bikers out other than made up arguments that serve the wish of a few to keep public trails to themselves. In that regard, it seems that the NPCA is a bunch of rabid bike haters like the Sierra Club.

And counter to comments like this:

Mountain bikes in national parks are totally inappropriate, other than on carriage roads and other wide and heavily used areas.

It was certainly implied by other posters, on this and similar threads, that hiking is the only access they want to see in the National Parks. I think that is clearly evident. I just don't see much difference from an environmental impact standpoint between the two, and dislike seeing mountain bikes and their riders demonized.

I also am not advocating that we start opening motocross trails and such just because there are advocacy groups for them either. I just personally think that mountain bikes are a totally acceptable mode of transportation within our National Parks, and are as environmentally benign as hiking. I agree with you that the management issue would not be easy, but should we deny this group a chance at coexistence?

I really hope that biking can and will be accommodated within the park system, within reason and limits, and that an agreement can be reached that will make most people on both sides of the issue happy.

The truth of the matter is that the NPS has been closing areas to ANY kind of access at alarming rates over the past ten years. By taking the nebulous terms "pristine" and "wilderness" and then draping it over a particular piece of territory in a national park it can then be closed off to public access. (The Goose Creek drainage in Zion National Park being an excellent example.) So dapster isn't very far off the mark about the increasing hostility to ALL forms of usage by a militant and zealous element in public land management agencies that tend to see humanity as a scourge to be eradicated from the warm and fuzzy bosom of their sacred patch of dear Mother Earth.

As for the NPS they have a very sketchy record in terms of making decisions about appropriate uses based on their mission. Horses can be very destructive to certain terrains, again go to Zion and hike the Sand Bench Trail for a first hand look at the destruction, but because horseback riding is a "traditional" use it is allowed to continue (with absolutely no pressure from concessionaires and horse use associations). The snowmobile fiasco in Yellowstone need only be mentioned in passing as another example of a compromised "mission" and you begin to see that there is no real consistency in park policy or overall philosophy. It's just plain old politics as usual with a thinly veiled veneer of environmental sanctimony to cover the smell that no amount of frantic fanning will blow away.

As long as the parks are part and parcel of the Washington based spoils system of political pressure, lobbying and deal making I say to the bikers go ahead and form your own pressure group and get in there and try to get everything you can. That's how it's done and as far as I can tell it ain't about to change anytime soon.

I guarantee you this my biking friends: all those opposed to bike trails at this current time will gladly use any and all that you manage to get opened or "cut" in the future.

"And, as another pointed out, mountain bike enthusiasts are not being banned from backcountry trails in the parks. At the current time they just can't ride their bikes on them"

This is a completely disingenuous argument, and you know it. It's been answered before, so we won't go into it again. It only shows that the opposition to cycling is visceral and not based on sound rational arguments.

At Point Reyes Nat Seashore you can bike to a point on the Bear Valley trail, as at that point, 1/4 mile from the ocean, it becomes wilderness. I have seen a fire truck go beyond that point, on that trail that my bike cannot, and they cut trees alongside the trail so the fire truck could continue. There is no way things like that should happen. I bet that truck had the impact of thousands of bikes. One problem I have is I cannot hike very far, but I can ride much farther because of knee damage. I am not handicapped in the legal sense of the word, but I wish I could go to places I cannot hike to with my bike.

Who wrote that grayed box that says bikes are low impact and are compatible with wild places and the intent of the Wilderness Act? Does the Park Service really believe that mtn bikes are appropriate in wilderness as long as it isn't too rugged or steep? Since when?

Richard, the box you refer to came from a page on IMBA's web site regarding frequently asked questions and wilderness areas.

Key words: fire truck.

I can understand your point of view if it was a truck randomly driving around...but it's a fire truck. I'll take whatever damage fire trucks cause instead of a giant fire.

Both bikes and horses definitely can be more damaging per user to trail tread and adjacent vegetation than hikers. Bike damage is usually incision on steeper grades. Strings of pack animals can also do this in weak soils, but their specialty is churning the flatter riparian sections to mud holes. At least bikes don't defecate, so they spread fewer weed seeds, especially with conscientious tire washing.

Parks that allow extensive stock use end up subsidizing that very small user group with higher trail standards and more expensive bridges. Decades ago, Mount Rainier concession pack strings avoiding lingering snow banks caused most of the trail/meadow damage now blamed on hikers and skiers at Paradise. I'm not arguing for bike use, just agreeing with Beamis that the NPS has been inconsistent at best on access for various recreation types.

Beamis correctly points out the broader context and political meddling in many access issues. See http://www.powdermag.com/onlineexclusives/crystal_110504/ for another example of the questionable NPS manipulation of "pristine" & "Wilderness" along the NE boundary of MRNP. Some in the skiing community saw this as an attempt to shakedown the USFS or its ski concessionaire to obtain a NPS concession license,

Sometimes excluding the public or restricting an activity is just the easiest and most convenient arrow in management's quiver. Accident statistics don't rise, and there’s less chance of a hard-working Ranger having some pesky visitor emergency make him late for dinner.

Bikes don't cause more damage than hikers. It's been scientifically proven. On the other hand, horses do. Well designed trails last for a long time, especially, if they're closed to all use for a reasonable period of time after a rain.

Perhaps you could point out where those studies can be found, Zebulon.

One study that found that "biking and hiking generally had similar effects on vegetation and soil." It also cites a 1994 study where the authors found that "horses made more sediment available to erosion than mountain bikes, hikers or motorcycles, which did not differ significantly from each other or from the control."

Another study found that opinions of bikers by hikers "are found to be more positive among those walkers who had actual encounters with bikes. By contrast, more negative opinions were found among those who had no such encounters."


Yet another study
demonstrates "the findings from this study reinforce results from previous research that certain impacts to mountain bike trails, especially width, are comparable or less than hiking or multiple-use trails, and significantly less than impacts to equestrian or off-highway vehicle trails."

The IMBA published summary of studies on mountain bike effects.

Kurt asked, "But why is it necessary that all recreational activities be permitted in national parks? Put another way, must the national parks be open to any and all activities simply because there's a support group that wants access?" Well, Beamis gave the short answer. But additionally, why does NPT challenge only certain "recreation activities"? Why not challenge driving and lodges since those high-impact activities are provided elsewhere?

I don't think allowing mountain bikes on old fire roads in the backcountry is inappropriate; I don't think anyone's asking for new trails to be cut.

"Let the people walk. Or ride horses, bicycles, mules, wild pigs -- anything -- but keep the automobiles and the motorcycles and all their motorized relatives out."

Thanks for the links. Definitely some interesting reading. As to some of your other questions/points:

>>...why does NPT challenge only certain "recreation activities"? Why not challenge driving and lodges since those high-impact activities are provided elsewhere?<<

Well, for starters, it'd be pretty hard -- fiscally, politically, and socially -- to tear out the lodges and roads. I think one needs to look at realistic possibilities, and to lobby for the removal of these facilities would be tilting at windmills. That said, at the Traveler we have had internal discussions about how one would design the perfect national park and there was mention of locating all the lodging facilities outside the boundaries and using public transportation to minimize that footprint. We're still evolving this idea and hope to have something relatively soon.

>>I don't think allowing mountain bikes on old fire roads in the backcountry is inappropriate; I don't think anyone's asking for new trails to be cut.<<

We agree on that point, of opening old dirt roads, administrative roads, to mountain bikes. And considering Traveler's stance on that, I think it's unfair -- or, to use a word that seems to have caught on with some on these pages, "disingenuous" -- to say the Traveler is entirely "challenging" mountain bike use in the parks.

As for new trails being cut, well, that's what's transpiring at Big Bend.

Beamis,

Thanks for coming to my aid. Your quote below said it far more eloquently than my initial attempt:

The truth of the matter is that the NPS has been closing areas to ANY kind of access at alarming rates over the past ten years. By taking the nebulous terms "pristine" and "wilderness" and then draping it over a particular piece of territory in a national park it can then be closed off to public access.

A move is afoot in the CHNSRA to assign a "Wilderness Study Area" designation to some of the most beautiful and family oriented beaches on the island. These same stretches of beach have historically dismal bird nesting statistics, and the statistics are no better under the imposed Consent Decree of April 2008 and the removal of ORV’s and people for much of the summer. Such a designation will close these beaches to all humans, probably forever. These designated areas will almost certainly not decrease in size over time, and reasons for expanding them will crop up at every turn.

So dapster isn't very far off the mark about the increasing hostility to ALL forms of usage by a militant and zealous element in public land management agencies that tend to see humanity as a scourge to be eradicated from the warm and fuzzy bosom of their sacred patch of dear Mother Earth.

This statement mirrors my greatest fear about public land access. Once the banning gets started, it tends to gain momentum. As I have stated before, hiking could be eradicated for the exact same reasons people site for banning mountain bikes. If your chosen mode of access becomes unpopular with the wrong group, look out. A lawsuit to end it is generally the next step.

I pray that you folks never have to hear the words “Buffer Zones” and “Wilderness Study Areas” in context to your chosen mode of access, or your favorite access sights. However, I fear we shall all hear these words and phrases ad nauseum in the years to come. These designations simply mean that humans are not welcome, for any reason, under any mode of transport.

Well, we're really starting to stray off-topic, but in a substantive way that begs a separate post of its own.

Wilderness and wilderness study areas (WSAs) are interesting units. Some see them as protecting the last vestiges of true "wild lands" in this country, others see them as tools to thwart recreation, as Dapster fears is the case at Cape Hatteras.

In Utah there are WSAs that seem to exist only in name, as ORVs run rampant across parts of them and county officials ignore travel restrictions, some of which were imposed to protect endangered and threatened species.

Now, if you believe Wikipedia, "(A)pproximately 100 million acres (400,000 km²) are designated as wilderness in the United States. This accounts for 4.71% of the total land of the country; however, 54% of wilderness is in Alaska, although recreation and development in Alaskan wilderness is often less restrictive, and only 2.58% of the lower continental United States is designated as wilderness."
So, when you talk about 2.58 percent of the lower 48 being designated as wilderness, is that so threatening?

And really, let's be truthful, wilderness areas are not off-limits to humans. They are off-limits to motorized and mechanical vehicles and devices, but open to those on foot, cross-country skis, canoes, kayaks, snowshoes and probably some other non-mechanical means that don't come immediately to mind.

I think the key is to keep things in perspective. I don't think wilderness designation or WSAs are going to lock humanity out of its recreational pursuits. And if they save some truly spectacular places for future generations to enjoy or simply take comfort in knowing they exist, what's wrong with that?

Sorry for straying, but it's still in context, sorta...

So, when you talk about 2.58 percent of the lower 48 being designated as wilderness, is that so threatening?

Not at all, when you look at just the percentages against the entire landmass. If that 2.58% includes 90% of your favorite area, then it makes a difference.

And really, let's be truthful, wilderness areas are not off-limits to humans. They are off-limits to motorized and mechanical vehicles and devices, but open to those on foot, cross-country skis, canoes, kayaks, snowshoes and probably some other non-mechanical means that don't come immediately to mind.

I can't speak for the WSA situation in Utah, as I've never been there. I will take your word at face value on that.

What I can speak about are the signs that I now see in my favorite areas. If these areas are designated WSA’s, I’m certain the text on the signage closing them off will be strikingly similar to these:

“No Entry”. Period.

I don’t wish this on anyone.

I won’t digress any further. My apologies.

Dapster, I might be wrong, but I believe those signs are only erected during nesting of migratory birds and have nothing to do with wilderness. I've seen similar signs at Cape Cod National Seashore to protect nesting plovers.

Kurt,

You are correct about the signage in these pictures. They were used to illustrate the point that "No Access" by any means does indeed exist in our National Parks.

Having worked at Fire Island National Seashore, I recognize the materials used to close beaches TEMPORARILY to protect nesting plovers. While the beaches are closed, again TEMPORARILY, the interdune regions of barrier islands are usually open to access and the bays behind them are also not affected.

When I worked at Lava Beds, some caves were temporarily closed to protect endangered bat breeding colonies. The caves were again reopened after the bats left, just like those beaches will be open once the plovers fly off.

That pesky ol' "conserve" clause of the Organic Act gettin' in the way of the "enjoyment" clause.

And closing an area to bikes or motorized vehicles is not the same as closing it to all entry.

These sort of temporary closures are part and parcel of the park system, although I doubt there are many. That said, I believe that in Yellowstone some areas near Mount Washburn are permanently closed to humans due to grizzly bear habitat.

Parunuweap Canyon (the East Fork of the Virgin River), which occupies a huge chunk of eastern Zion National Park, has been closed to any and all access since 1992. Depending on whom you ask it is to protect a variety of things, including, but not limited to: some very low grade archeological sites, a scattered population of big horn sheep or a "pristine" riparian habitat (full of tamarisk, Russian olive trees and old tires that have washed down from a dump near Mt. Carmel Junction). Others will tell you, privately, that it was done by a previous superintendent to appease a millionaire landowner that did not want people hiking across his property to access the canyon, even though Utah law stipulates that ALL waterways and river drainages are in the public domain. This landowner even took control of an old county road and barred use of it, with nary a peep from any of the officials, local or federal, who are supposed to represent the interests of "we the people".

There still remains no consistent answer as to why this gigantic area has been closed to any and all public access for the past 16 years because by now it has become so thoroughly shrouded in the mists of bureaucratic decision making that, much like the embargo against Cuba, it is so institutionally entrenched that no one bothers to even ask why. It just IS.

Kurt, this would make an excellent subject for a future posting.

This certainly has been an enlightening and productive discussion. It has reinforced that NPS should base its management decisions on science and evidence rather than emotions and anecdote. Closing areas to the public, like beaches, caves, and canyons, should be based on the best science available and should be temporary unless science recommends otherwise. (As a former Zion ranger, I was also forbidden from visiting Parunuweap Canyon and agree with Beamis’ assessment of the situation there; politics, not science, were at play in this closure.) Studies have shown that snowmobiles are negatively impacting Yellowstone, but NPS management has ignored the science. Likewise, studies have shown that mountain bikes’ impacts are not greater than allowing hiking or horses, and again, management has ignored the science. One of the great problems of centralized management is its ability to be swayed against science. Certainly not all parks are suitable for mountain bike usage, but some are, and the non-scientific, one-size-fits-all approach currently employed by NPS management is harming rather than helping.

Thanks Kurt for bringing the mountain bike issue to our attention.

I promised not to digress, yet I feel I must. One last time....

Having worked at Fire Island National Seashore, I recognize the materials used to close beaches TEMPORARILY to protect nesting plovers. While the beaches are closed, again TEMPORARILY, the interdune regions of barrier islands are usually open to access and the bays behind them are also not affected.

Frank C, you are correct Sir, that the initial intent of these closures are to be "Temporary". However, couple these temporary closures with:

-Overwintering Population Closures (Birds)
-Critical Habitat Designation (Birds)
-Nesting Season Closures (Birds)
-Fledging Season Closures (Birds)
-Turtle Nesting Closures (Eggs laid)
-Turtle "50-day window" Closures (Hatching)
-Wilderness Study Areas (Year-round)
-Safety Closures (Storms, beach erosion, etc.)
-Closure Entry Violation Buffer Zone Expansions (Sporadic and Subjective)

…And you have overlapping closures that can last year-round. These closure windows can be also be manipulated so that immense stretches of beach are closed for the entire summer season. Also, please remember that CHNSRA is operating under a Consent Decree, which has changed the rules dramatically. The environmental groups that wrote said decree have their own agenda.

And closing an area to bikes or motorized vehicles is not the same as closing it to all entry.

Again, correct Sir. However, the former can quite easily, and often times will, lead to the latter. That has been my point this entire thread. Nothing is sacred when it comes to access.

Kurt, I second Beamis’ motion that this is a great topic to be discussed in another posting.

"And really, let's be truthful, wilderness areas are not off-limits to humans. They are off-limits to motorized and mechanical vehicles and devices, but open to those on foot, cross-country skis, canoes, kayaks, snowshoes and probably some other non-mechanical means that don't come immediately to mind."

That's an interesting take on the definition of mechanized. I don't see how skis, canoes, kayaks, snowshoes, or even high hiking poles are less mechanized than a bike. It just defies logic. Wilderness access should be based on 1) whether it's human powered or not and 2) the impact of the activity.

We don't want wilderness to become less accessible to humans. We all need to go in wilderness to enjoy its beauty. We can't erect nature temples that only a chosen few will be allowed to visit. Humans need to be part of the wilderness, not just some spectator from afar.

As for the landmass percentage, it is totally misleading. It would be more interesting to compare the amount of wilderness to the total amount of accessible parks, since this is really where the issue is. Finally, let me give an example of how absurd the wilderness designation has become. California has been toying for a while with the idea of making Henry Coe state park (90,000 acres) state wilderness (CA wilderness rules follow Federal rules). People have been biking in Henry Coe for decades now. However, if this park becomes wilderness, bikes will automatically be kicked out of it. Nobody can reasonably explain why this park is suitable for bikes now, but might not be tomorrow if labeled wilderness. It just goes to show that banning bikes from wilderness defies logic and science, however, the Sierra Club and its ilk have been pushing for more wilderness knowing full well that it's a perfect means of appropriating a public park to a select few users. One day or another, reason will prevail and cyclists will be once again allowed in Wilderness. And BTW, you can ride a whole day in Henry Coe, and you'd be surprised to encounter more than 5 other users.

That's an interesting take on the definition of mechanized. I don't see how skis, canoes, kayaks, snowshoes, or even high hiking poles are less mechanized than a bike. It just defies logic.

Really, Zebulon, you can't see the difference? A bike is a machine. Chains, gears and other devices that multiply human force and effect. None of the other devices you mention are machines. I think trying to see these devices as the same, is just a legalistic argument.

I am not flat out against bikes in any National Park, but I do believe it should be presumed they are inappropriate, unless a specific finding is made that for a specific resource they are compatible and consistent with the purposes and capacity of that area.

Geez, Zeb, sounds to me like you need to get in touch with your inner 19th century anachronistic side. Why don't we just change all the rules and regulations to suit your fancies?

I don't think the ban against "mechanical" devices defies logic. Believe it or not, there actually are some folks who enjoy escaping today's contrivances and experiencing a simpler time and life in a wilderness setting.

And while you're right that one can head off down a trail and encounter few if any other users, how long will that last if bikes are allowed on those trails? A cyclist can cover much more ground than a hiker. Is it out of the realm of possibility that a hiker heads 5 miles or so into the backcountry, sets up camp and begins to enjoy the setting when two or three bikers come through?

Just as bikers should be able to enjoy their activity, I don't think it's unreasonable to allow backcountry hikers to be able to enjoy their's -- especially when you consider all the opportunities for bikes outside the national parks.

So, I was curious as to what the Wilderness Act mentions about bicycles. It says nothing. At least not directly.

It requires wilderness to provide "outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation" and bans "other form[s] of mechanical transport". Certainly bicycles are "other forms of mechanical transport", and "primitive type of recreation" would also preclude the possibility of mountain bikes in official wilderness. (I think anyone would be hard pressed to say that mountain bikes are not "primitive", especially not those $5000 Cannondales.) Kurt talks about how bicycles, as a non-primitive recreational activity, would bother him in the backcountry. But where do we draw the line when it comes to primitiveness? Are GPS units and radios and other recreation devices part of "primitive recreation"? What if I'm annoyed by climbers who are using state-of-the-art equipment in their recreation? What if someone's two-way radio is bothersome?

At any rate, these other considerations seem moot when it comes to the Wilderness Act's prohibition of "motorized transport". I don't think the IMBA would be wise to push that issue.

But there certainly are a lot of fire roads in the back country of Crater Lake (which is not official wilderness) that would be fun to bike. Congress has been sitting on the Crater Lake wilderness proposal for years and years. Might have something to do with the boat tours, although under the Wilderness Act, motorized boats could be allowed on the lake because boats can continue to be used "where these uses have already become established". Which seems like a huge double standard. It's ok to have motorized boats on Crater Lake but no non-motorized bikes in the backcountry? Now THAT boggles MY mind. If it's played this way, I think IMBA would have a good case to allow bicycle where their use has already become established.

I have yet to hear a reasonable argument as to why cyclists should be banned from Wilderness. People need to escape the harsh reality of daily life... Well, public parks are not your own private Idaho. Being publicly funded, they should be shared by all. All I hear is rationalization to justify the unjustifiable.

I've been to Henry Coe (south of Silicon Valley, home to millions of people), biked there for a whole day, and barely saw another soul. And this is 30 miles south of San Jose, CA, a major metropolis. I bet that the same is true for just about any park in this country, and that except for a handful of very popular trails, most of them are empty beyond 2 miles from the trailhead. Yet, some Wilderness advocates are pushing hard to make Henry
Coe state wilderness. The real goal is simply to ban bikes, and this is what is going on all around the US, thanks to the eco zealots from the Sierra Club and other so called environmental organizations.

Please take a read through the following for the real history of the Wilderness Act: http://www.dirtragmag.com/print/article-print.php?ID=673

Well, Zebulon, national parks are not the only kinds of public lands. There are many different types of lands set aside at the state, local and national level for public enjoyment. All things do not have to be permitted at all of these places just because all are supported by public funds. It makes sense that parks have different rules from National Forests or Wildlife Refuges or public lands under the BLM. Nothing could be more "reasonable" than the American people deciding that parks should be different.

And, as far as 'reasonableness' is concerned, it is certainly 'reasonable' to note -- and acknowledge -- that this is the law, and the law was specifically designed to avoid mechanized access. For the perfectly good public policy 'reason' that mechanized access changes the experience that Congress and the American people decided was the highest and best use of this or that segment of the public lands.

I love my mountain bike. I get an experience on it I get no other way. But, Zebulon, I know it is an entirely different experience from hiking, canoeing or cross-country skiing into the wilderness (all of which I have done). I think you must know the experience on bikes IS different, and that is why you are pushing so hard for what you enjoy.

It is not reasonable to think that all kinds of recreation use can simultaneously exist on every type of public land.

Dapster

I promised not to digress, yet I feel I must. One last time....

Having worked at Fire Island National Seashore, I recognize the materials used to close beaches TEMPORARILY to protect nesting plovers. While the beaches are closed, again TEMPORARILY, the interdune regions of barrier islands are usually open to access and the bays behind them are also not affected.
Frank C, you are correct Sir, that the initial intent of these closures are to be "Temporary". However, couple these temporary closures with:

-Overwintering Population Closures (Birds)
-Critical Habitat Designation (Birds)
-Nesting Season Closures (Birds)
-Fledging Season Closures (Birds)
-Turtle Nesting Closures (Eggs laid)
-Turtle "50-day window" Closures (Hatching)
-Wilderness Study Areas (Year-round)
-Safety Closures (Storms, beach erosion, etc.)
-Closure Entry Violation Buffer Zone Expansions (Sporadic and Subjective)

…And you have overlapping closures that can last year-round. These closure windows can be also be manipulated so that immense stretches of beach are closed for the entire summer season. Also, please remember that CHNSRA is operating under a Consent Decree, which has changed the rules dramatically. The environmental groups that wrote said decree have their own agenda.

And closing an area to bikes or motorized vehicles is not the same as closing it to all entry.
Again, correct Sir. However, the former can quite easily, and often times will, lead to the latter. That has been my point this entire thread. Nothing is sacred when it comes to access.

You are Both Right as this has become a problem in National Parks: Temporay Closings of areas (for various reasons) happening one after the other.

There is an idea out in some parks to allow for guided tours though the areas, allowing for people to see the area on bike but be monitored so as not to cause any harm

d-2, all great points, but I just don't see how a leg activates paddles kayak is not mechanized. It has pedals (like a bike) that propels the kayak forward. The whole mechanized argument is a smoke screen. I'd rather see trails opened or close based on sound reasoning. If a trail sees hundreds of hikers each day, then it's probably not the best trails to open to other uses. Now, for the other 80-90% of trails in the backcountry that see nary a soul each day, we should definitely explore their suitability to mountain biking.

Somebody has yet to explain why trails that were opened to bikes for decades somehow need to become illegal the day that land becomes wilderness, besides the fact that we have an incorrect interpretation of the law. For those who don't remember, bikes were allowed in wilderness until the Reagan administration banned them. So, what one administration did, another one could undo by a simple reversal of interpretation. Congress does not need to be involved.

"Although we haven't yet seen the proposed rule change from the Park Service, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) believes that the current mountain biking regulations appear to be working well and that there is no demonstrated need to change them. Like any use of the national parks, the use of mountain bikes on trails should be examined via a public process, environmental review, and fully comply with National Environmental Policy Act before given the green light.

"NPCA believes that any changes made to the mountain biking regulations must take into consideration: 1) the capacity of park staffs to effectively manage mountain biking and ensure visitor safety; and 2) associated impacts on wildlife, vegetation, overall trail conditions, and the experience of other park visitors. Furthermore, any changes to the current mountain biking policy should not allow for mountain biking on parklands that have been or may be recommended by the National Park Service or others for inclusion into the National Wilderness Preservation System."

Let me translate this as it could have appeared in a different but related context in 1948:

"Although we have not read President Truman's proposal to integrate the military, the National Military Tradition Association (NMTA) believes that the current policy of separate service for whites and blacks is working well and that there is no demonstrated need to change it. NMTA believes that any change in service policy must take into consideration (1) the capacity of command officers to deal with strife that will inevitably arise from integration, and (2) associated impacts on the morale of white servicemen. Furthermore, no integration should take place in any unit that is currently constituted, but should be considered only for newly formed units in which people are not accustomed to current practice. NMTA would prefer that any change be undertaken very cautiously, with an eye to achieving a degree of integration in approximately 80 to 100 years, and only where it will not upset any current institutional practice."

Few things are more moronic than this line of argument (I quote from a prior post): "A point that seems to be missed by the mountain biking community is that no one is banned from hiking trails, only their bikes are. They can still enjoy the trails on foot, just like the rest of us."

Let's apply this kind of thinking in other contexts! How about this: "A point that seems to be missed by the Jews is that none of them is banned by restrictive covenants from living in any neighborhood in this country. Jews can still live in any neighborhood they want if they will convert to Christianity, just like the rest of us."

Or this: "A point that seems to be missed by the gays is that no one is banned from getting married. Any gay or lesbian person can marry anyone he/she wishes, as long as it's someone of the opposite sex, just like the rest of us."

In sum, the argument that mountain bikers can go wherever we want if we'll only walk is detestable and stupid. We'd rather not, thank you, at least not all the time, any more than someone else might want to convert to another religion. And not only is nothing wrong with mountain biking, but it confers many benefits that hikers and horsemen can only envy, like remarkably increased physical fitness. (See any overweight mountain bikers lately?) How about turning the argument around and arguing that trails should be limited to cyclists because doing so won't infringe on the trail's accessibility to any hiker who's willing to ride a bike? Oh, but the argument would arise, "I can't do that! I'm not fit enough!" Fine, so stop being resentful of those who can and who are.

Quoting Kurt Repanshek: "Just as bikers should be able to enjoy their activity, I don't think it's unreasonable to allow backcountry hikers to be able to enjoy theirs—especially when you consider all the opportunities for bikes outside the national parks."

No one is disputing that everyone should be able to enjoy his/her favorite trail-related activity—no one, that is, if you leave aside the writers on this blog who evidently think many cyclists shouldn't be able to enjoy riding remote singletrack. Proper management techniques, including alternate-day use, limiting use by permit, etc., will ensure that everyone can have a stellar experience in his/her favorite backcountry area. It would be interesting to find out how many trails in national parks and national forests, including in Wilderness areas, are fading away because of semiabandonment. Trails in a few areas, like around Lake Tahoe, may be oversubscribed, but I bet that many others, e.g., most trails in Nevada, are disappearing for lack of enough use. Check out some dilapidated and half-overgrown segments of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail and you'll see evidence of underuse aplenty.

[Jasper Canyon, in Canyonlands NP, is another example of public land recently and permanently closed to the public for unclear reasons.]

In order to support the bicycle ban, you have to believe the following:

-Telemark and randonee skiing equipment is non-mechanized. Those $600 boots with four buckles and a walk mode switch? Those $350 bindings with tour mode, heel lifts, release function, and ski brakes? Totally natural and non-mechanized.

Don't forget the $700 skis, $150 climbing skins, $300 avalanche beacon, $50 probe, $50 collapsible shovel, $150 backpack to carry it all, and $1K worth of Gore-Tex outerwear, goggles, gloves, etc.

-Rock climbing cams, nuts, rappel devices, quickdraws, carabiners, and ascenders are non-mechanized and totally natural. So are crampons, ice axes, and ice screws.

-Kayaks, inflatable rafts, canoes, and pedal-powered boats are non-mechanized.

-Of course, spring-loaded trekking poles, $500 neon-colored tents, $100 folding camp stoves, and hiking shoes made of six kinds of plastic with Chinese slave labor are totally, unquestionably natural and non-mechanized.

Yet bicycles are "mechanized" and unnatural.

Anyone who has ever used all these kinds of sports equipment will immediately realize how ridiculous it is that bicycles are discriminated against. Human power is human power, whether it is used to move shoes, kayaks, skis, snowshoes, or bicycles. Mountain bikes are not equivalent to off-road motorcycles, just as a Huffy is not equivalent to a Harley.

As far as "damage", the only two studies that directly compare the impact of people on foot, horse, and bicycle are Seney/Wilson and Thurston/Reader.
Wilson, J.P. and Seney, J.P., 1994. Erosional impact of hikers, horses, motorcycles, and off-road bicycles on mountain trails in Montana. Mountain Research and Development 14(1):77-88.
Thurston, E. and R. J. Reader (2001). Impacts of experimentally applied mountain biking and hiking on vegetation and soil of a deciduous forest. Environmental Management 27(3): 397-409.

Both come to the same conclusion: horse travel has the greatest impact by far, and bicycle and foot travel have comparable impact. There are no studies, anywhere, that show bicycles doing more damage than people on foot. Any claims to the contrary are simply false.

Really this isn't about logic or environmental preservation, it's about selfishness. People want to think that public land is their own private preserve, and no one else should be able to come there and disturb their solitude.

Well, here's the problem: if you don't let the public visit public land, the public won't care about preserving it. Wouldn't it be better if the 25% of the population that rides mountain bikes actually supported Wilderness? We'd have a lot more of it for everyone to enjoy. Keep excluding them, and you'll continue to be kings of a shrinking empire.