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.”