Bush Administration Publishes Proposed Rule For Mountain Biking in National Parks

For the next 60 days the Interior Department will be taking public comment on a proposed rule-change that could make it easier to designate mountain bike trails in national parks. NPS photo.

In what's being described as another example of the Bush administration whittling away the conservation ethic of the National Park Service, the Interior Department today published a proposed rule to "streamline" the regulatory landscape regarding mountain bikes in national parks.

Pushed by the International Mountain Bicycling Association, the rule, which is attached below and open to public comment for the next 60 days, would give individual park superintendents more power to authorize mountain bike trails in their parks. While conservation groups said the proposed rule could lead mountain bikers down hiking trails and into lands that are either proposed for or eligible for wilderness designation, IMBA officials said the proposal merely makes it easier for parks where mountain bikes make sense to allow their use.

"The proposed rule change will not diminish protections that ensure appropriate trail use. All NPS regulations, general management plan processes, and NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) still applies," said Drew Vankat, IMBA's policy analyst. "In fact, the proposed rule specifically requires at least an EA (environmental assessment) to open an existing trail to bicycles. Absolutely no environmental processes or agency policies will be shortchanged. The public will still have ample opportunity to comment both locally and nationally."

At Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, though, officials interpret the proposed rule as much more egregious, saying it could open thousands of miles of existing national park trails to mountain bikes. And Wilderness Society officials said the proposed rule change would degrade the Park Service's conservation ethic by creating user conflicts on trails and eroding the landscape.

According to PEER, current NPS rules require that backcountry trails may be opened to bikes only after adopting a park-specific regulation in the Federal Register, a process that allows public review and comment. The proposed rule, the group argues, would require a special regulation only for bike use on yet-to-be-constructed trails. As a consequence of this change, says PEER:

* Nearly 8 million acres of recommended or proposed wilderness lands in approximately 30 parks would be opened up to mountain bikes, which would be prohibited only in officially designated wilderness (the Wilderness Act of 1964 prohibits bicycles). This proposal also reverses a commitment made by former NPS Director Mainella in an October 4, 2005 letter to PEER that parks will not open trails to bikes in recommended or proposed wilderness areas; and

* It will be easier to open trails that are now open to hikers, horseback riders and other uses to mountain bikes, whose introduction often creates conflicts with these users.

"The pending proposed bicycle rule is an example of special-interest intrusion into national park management," commented PEER Board member Frank Buono, a former NPS manager. "The need for this change is mysterious as several parks have designated bike trails under the current Reagan-era rule."

In addition to PEER, a number of national park advocacy, hiker and other outdoor recreation groups are mobilizing to oppose this change.

"While we support mountain biking or other activities that get park visitors out of their cars, it is important that one of our national parks uses does not preclude other uses," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "The other concern is that mountain biking on narrow backcountry trails can create damage and new maintenance demands, which is precisely why the Park Service adopted regulations for mountain bikes on backcountry trails only after a stringent decision-making process."

At The Wilderness Society, Kristen Brengel said IMBA officials weren't being entirely truthful when they claimed the proposed rule changes nothing.

“They’re trying to make it seem that there’s no change, but there is a change. That’s the whole point of the document. They’re not accurate," she said.

Under the proposed change, said Ms. Brengel, park superintendents could make a "determination," which requires less scrutiny and public input than the special rule-making process, to expand mountain bike use in their parks.

"If you’re a park manager who thoroughly understands the policies, you should not designate any mountain bike use in eligible or recommended wilderness. The problem comes in when the very same superintendent and park managers get pressure from the mountain bike community to open up hiking trails to mountain bike use and these policies do not give those folks (park managers) a credible defense," she added. "They (the proposed rules) are lenient and appear to allow the use anywhere, and it’s a problem. ... Rather than having absolute clarity, a a manager or superintendent needs to make a choice between following one set of policies or another one.”

The National Parks Conservation Association issued the following statement:

The current National Park Service mountain biking rules, which have been in effect since 1987, have been working well in offering all visitors to our majestic national parks a safe and enjoyable experience, and should not be changed by the Bush Administration.

NPCA supports the use of mountain bikes in national parks under appropriate circumstances. However, the proposed new rule would, in certain cases, circumvent the normal public process and limit the opportunity for full public discussion of the use of mountain bikes on existing trails now used by hikers and equestrians. The rule also limits the scope of public involvement in Park Service consideration of mountain bike access. NPCA strongly believes national parks should offer full transparency on important park management decisions, including this one.

NPCA also feels that the proposed rules should explicitly state that Park Service-recommended Wilderness areas or areas that are now under study for potential designation as Wilderness, are off limits to mountain bike use.

Of the approximately 25 national parks where mountain biking is currently taking place on dirt trails, only Golden Gate National Recreation Area in California and Saguaro National Park in Arizona have completed the necessary public process and designated specific trails for mountain bikes. NPCA believes that all parks should come into compliance.

NPCA will be analyzing the proposal and will be providing comments to the Park Service. We encourage our members and other national park advocates to do the same.

Back at IMBA, spokesman Mark Eller said the proposed rule change would simplify, not weaken, the process to open up park landscapes to mountain biking, when appropriate. As for proposed wilderness areas or park lands eligible for wilderness designation, he said the group wouldn't fight official designation unless there had been existing mountain bike use on the land.

"Once it’s adopted as wilderness, we accept that there’s no bicycling in wilderness,” said Mr. Eller, who also put his faith in park managers to make appropriate decisions when it came to where to allow biking.

“We think they have good judgment and they won’t put mountain bike trails or shared use trails where they don’t belong,” he said.

While Mr. Eller suggested opposition to mountain biking in national parks is more of a perceptual issue than an on-the-ground problem, that view was challenged by Mr. Buono at PEER and Ms. Brengel at The Wilderness Society.

"The structure of the bikes, the nature of their use, makes them more than conveyances to take one into the backcountry. In some ways they are a thrill sport, similar to jet skis, or downhill skiing where the activity is by and large the end in itself," said Mr. Buono. "Our recent experience at Big Bend where mountain bikers want a new trail constructed near Panther Junction show that IMBA representatives want the NPS to construct a trail particularly suited to speed and sharp maneuvers. This has no place in the 'enjoyment' framework of the NPS mission. I am not a believer in 'all enjoyments are equal" under the Organic Act.'"

As for Ms. Brengel, she said mountain biking is definitely an enjoyable activity, but one that brings certain user conflicts with it into the national park landscape.

"I think bikes do cause damage. I think you can look at areas like Moab (Utah) and you can see some of the direct impacts of mountain bike use," she said. "In addition, they’re fast-moving vehicles on public lands. A land manager has to weigh having a vehicle on a route with a hiker, and user conflicts are a real problem on public lands. So it is unclear to me why the Park Service would decide to go from taking a careful look at user conflicts to not taking a careful look. It seems contrary to the pro-user mission of the park system.”

Interestingly, IMBA officials, in their current marketing efforts for their "National Bike Summit" scheduled for March in Washington, D.C., are promoting a session on "Developing National Park Service Singletrack Near You."

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Comments

As usual on this website, as soon as cyclists are allowed to go ride trails in the national parks, the FUD comes fast and furious. Cyclists are just as entitled to enjoy the trails they pay for as other users. Cycling is an environmentally friendly activity that has no more impact than hiking and way less than horse riding. PEER and all the other bike haters are using all kind of fallacious arguments to oppose opening trails to bikes. The reality is that a minority of people have managed to appropriate to themselves a public good (OUR parks) and are now refusing to share it with another group, hence the FUD campaign. This has nothing to do with relaxing any kind of environmental protection and everything with selfishness.

I dare anybody to prove me wrong.

You’ve heard of Big Tobacco!

You’ve heard of Big Oil!

Now there’s the menace of Big Mountain Bike taking over our precious parks!

But not if we take a defiant stand against this nonsense.

We're PRUDE: Public Retirees Unanimously Denouncing Exhilaration.

We at PRUDE want NO excitement in our parks. They are temples for worshipping nature, not places to have exhilarating experiences. If people want to be exhilarated, they may stay at home and play video games.

PRUDE is proudly affiliated with the New Order Apostolic Congregation Cursing Every Single-Speed (NO ACCESS). The NO ACCESS creed adheres strictly to the teaching of Nolevity 4:12: "They who cast a pedal over a trail commit an abomination; the wrath of the Almighty shall be upon them; surely they shall be banished and driven into exile, yea unto generations."

If you join PRUDE now, we’ll send you an autographed picture of our founders, Ebenezer Squint and Chloe Parboil.

Yours Against Excessive Activity by Young Whippersnappers,

Jasper H. Snoot, President
Hermione (Mrs. Jarvis) Spoutworthy, Secretary

I am 58-years old. I have visited most of the national parks in my life, where I have hiked and camped. In the last year I have taken up mountain-biking mostly for its aerobic qualities after a heart attack. What I have found is that it is a wonderful experience in itself. I am not talking about the downhill daredevil type as seen in competition, but rather the easy trail riding. I am able to enjoy the outdoors much more by riding than just walking. I cover more territory and the workout is more vigorous.

I even do "birding" now from the back of my bicycle. Of course, I have to stop to use my binoculars, but I find that I can go on trails that may be a few miles long in only a couple of hours, and therefore enjoy the wilderness to a fuller extent than if I were walking.

I recommend "mountain-biking" or rather "trail-riding" to almost everyone, as long as you take it easy within your own capacity. When I take vacations now, I search the internet for new bike trails to ride. I therefore supportive of the new proposal to allow mountain-biking in the national parks, and look forward to seeing and enjoying these within the parks.

Gene

Mountain bikers: yeah, they can be obnoxious. Here in the Pacific Northwest, it's a transparent excuse to act like a pubescent male with esteem & identity issues. Be loud, crash, let the blood run, dry & crust (maybe smear some on the face). Revert to tribal rituals, in groups greater than two. I don't find them very likeable.

I don't think it's that challenging to effectively address the discrepancies, though. First, bikes yield to everything else on the trail, because they are fast, have a lot of kinetic energy, sharp points & rotating metal rods, and are poorly controllable under the circumstances. Dismount and remove the machine from the path, let people & horses by, then jump back on. Second, maintain traction at all times. Since bikes don't really have the ability to peel-out, or side-slip, this problem is really about going downhill too fast and then braking into a continuous slewing skid (a surfboard on gravel). Knock it off. Get off the bike and walk it down the hill, if it isn't possible to brake within the limits of traction. (Since we know the hills where the offending behavior will occur, it is easy to make a few busts.)

That bikes create 'user-conflicts', and therefore ought to be banned ... well, no. We have conflicts everywhere. We live with it. We make rules to control the problem. That we cannot tolerate conflicts between different sets of users of the common resource: that's facetious - of course we can.

I do understand that in other parts of the country, mountain biking is done nicely, and that's cool. No intent here to slight those who have their act together.

Mountain-biking could be a great asset to the outdoor & Parks venues, bring in lots of new people, for sure. We have to tone them down a few octaves, have to tolerate a few skid-marks here & there, a stray yee-ha! now & then, but most of all we just have to learn to share the outdoors with people who have a different set of attitudes. This is pretty basic stuff, isn't it?

This may (but may not) be one of those Bush-things that Obama undoes, sooner rather than later.

Interestingly enough, my first reply was not posted. Did I hit a sensitive nerve with the bike hating webmaster? :)

Zeb,

No bike hater here. There are at least four in the garage, and I'm happy to report that on more than one occasion I've actually taken a mountain bike down through some gnarly trails in the Sawtooth National Forest! And I support the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park, have ridden the rail trail at Cape Cod National Seashore more than a few times, and am happy to see that the folks at Mammoth Cave National Park finally followed the rules and developed a comprehensive trails plan (one, by the way, which exposed the tensions between equestrians and bikers. Did you see that post? I don't recall any comments from you.)

But really, you don't think I spend all my waking hours and half my sleeping hours at this keyboard waiting for your comments to come dribbling in, do you?

What I find interesting about one-issue folks such as yourself is that you only show up when there's a single interest dear to your hearts in the national parks, and then you do so anonymously. It makes me wonder if you really care about national parks for their intrinsic values, or simply want more landscape to rip across.

If you find national parks to be such great playgrounds for you and your bike, why don't we see your thoughts on drilling near national parks, on coal-fired power plants and the air pollution they send into and over the national parks, on insufficient budgets that prevent proper trail management in the parks and which deny park superintendents full staffs to adequately perform their jobs? All these issues threaten the future of the parks that you want your bike to be able to access.

What are your thoughts on concealed weapons in the parks, on mass transit options, on climate change, on wildlife issues, on the fees not just to get into parks but to camp in them, to participate in interpretive programs? What do you think about the National Park Service's inability to buy inholdings that threaten the integrity of some parks, such as the 78 historically sensitive acres on which the American Revolution Center would build its museum complex, surrounded on three sides by Valley Forge National Historical Park?

Heck, if you're concerned about your comments not getting cleared fast enough, I invite you to join the Traveler community and create a profile in the system so your comments will get posted just as fast as you can hit the submit button. We'll even allow you to retain your anonymity!

Zeb, I think it's great that you at least view the national parks for something beyond space holders in the urban sprawl. I just wish you'd step up for the parks in the midst of all these issues they're struggling with so the parks will be there -- largely in their current form, if not a better one -- for your kids to enjoy.

As I've said more than a few times before, at the Traveler we invite discussion of all viewpoints out there, even ones the editors might not agree with. (Heck, Mark Eller even answers my phone calls and emails!) All we ask is that the dialog be constructive. Who knows, someone just might see something in a different light.

Zebulon,

I'll even tolerate people who cherry-pick their one-issue agenda ... but start slinging the hate-accusation, putting on the hair-shirt and disdainfully looking somebody else's gift-horse in the mouth ... well, no.

It's like hikers & horse-riders & bicycles all on the same path. A few basic rules will give us a decent 80% or even 90% working-solution. Those who find it too confining to work within a few common-sense rules on National Parks Traveler ... well, the pubescent identity issues can arise in any demographic.

Zebulon, you owe Kurt an apology.

Ted Clayton

Agreed. Long day, short fuse, my comment was inappropriate. I sincerely present my apologies to Kurt.

I had a longer reply typed, but an operator error erased it. :) At any rate, I am certainly an one issue type of guy, not that I'm insensitive to some of the other challenges that the national parks are facing.

Apology accepted, Zeb, not that it was entirely necessary. This can be a rough and tumble place from time to time;-)

I do sincerely invite you to stick around and weigh in on some of the other issues when the mood strikes. There are some important ones out there.

I try to do it all: fish, hunt, bike, bird, photograph, sleep, eat, etc. What I recognize is that groups do not self-regulate and we tolerate idiots in the ranks. As a result I struggle with the mountain bike "issue" in the parks, particularly Yellowstone, in the event bikes are permitted on trails. The nature of mountain biking is the challenge, not simply a conveyance, though would I be tempted to use a bike to convey me faster and easier to the back country with all my photo gear...probably. But I need to think about what I am doing: do I meet the park on its own terms or set up a system of rules which makes its enjoyment easier?

My answer is obviously selfish: I do not want to see bikes on trails in Yellowstone. I'm 62 now and know I will not be able to enjoy the park as I did years ago, but I do not expect the park to accomodate me at the expense of other users who are using the park as it was intended.

There are some simple solutions to cut down on the user conflicts. Some places have instituted an even-odd day regulation for some more crowded trails. On odd days, horse riders can use the trail, on even days, cyclists can use it. Hikers can use it all the time, but also know what kind of other users they'll encounter. This seems to me like a very fair and reasonable way to share a common public good.

Dave, you make some great points. I would add that the way Yellowstone was intended to be used say 50 years ago can change over time as users change. As long as the use of the park does not harm it, I don't see the problem. At the end of the day, if we restrict the parks to a diminishing number of people (horse riders numbers are dwindling and kids tend to gravitate more toward biking than hiking), it'll do the parks no good. This regulation has the potential to bring practical solutions to the bike access issues (I'd rather see these issues solved on the ground than in Washington) and as a result more users to the park. This seems like a win win to me.

Zebulon,

I favor the part of this that shifts discretion to the local Park-unit ... which is also what the bike-opposition, the 'pure hikers', are objecting most strongly about. This is the way these user-decisions should go: The central Park HQ should be concerned with high-level policy and the overall-management of local managements. They should not be stroking their chin over each & every stretch of trail, nor should they be making up one-size-fits-all blanket rules to crudely regulate a range of situations across the NPS ... which is how your opposition hopes to ensure that what you'd like to see, neva happens.

Really though, this is a corruption of the American way, which says that central authority deals with the stuff that only the central office can deal with, while all the decisions that pertain to local stuff, should be made by the local offices. Written right into the United States Constitution ... and good enough for the Park Service, too.

Centralized authority was how they did it in the USSR, who now exist only in the history books.

Obama will make the call on the new bike-rules. None of this comes out of the oven, until middle of next year. So yeah yeah, it's the evil Bush crafting this cunning violation of Mother Nature, right? Well, might be a good move to think again.

Everything Bush does after his meeting with Obama a week or two ago, he very likely arrived at in consultation with Obama (during that meeting - which both of them refuse to discuss). It is now time for Bush to earn brownie points with everybody who has the future in their hands (#1, Obama) because that's how he minimizes the amount of crap he ends up carrying in the history books ... which at this point is looking like a helluva crap-load.

Do we have clues to how Obama is leaning in matters of Parks-management? Yes we do: He just appointed Ken Salazar as Sec. of Interior. That gurgling sound you hear is the enviro-purists, on the floor choking until they're blue. Salazar is Evil One In Training, in their view.

The selection of Salazar informs us very strongly, how NPS policy will go under Obama. There are 2 posts current on National Parks Traveler about this selection:

Updated: Salazar Pick For Interior Secretary Labeled a Failure, and

Sen. Salazar Seems to be the Interior Secretary Pick For the Obama Administration

The Salazar decision is far, far away from where 'enviro'-Obama was supposed to go, and is an indication of potentially historic changes in the management of our common resources ... which some have long presume should only be handled according one narrow (purist) point of view.

I think the correcting of that longstanding situation is overdue - and may now be in the offing.

Ted Clayton

Ted, with all due respect, I disagree that the discretion over park-specific activities should be given over to the local parks.

Perhaps I'm over-reaching on your comment, but think about the problems giving control to park units over many of their management decisions could produce. Even though an overwhelming majority of those who commented on the Yellowstone snowmobile winter-use plan thought snowmobiles should be phased out in favor of snowcoaches, snowmobiles are on the ground in the park due to local influence/interference.

Where else might something like this happen to "national" parks? Wherever there's a well-connected political lobby that can manipulate the process.

When you're talking about national parks, I like to think the National Park Service Organic Act is the over-arching authority that should be followed, and if you remove the hierarchy from the process, you end up with situations like snowmobiling in Yellowstone where the science clearly speaks against the numbers the lobbying arm has managed to achieve.

That said, if the Washington office says bikes are perfectly fine in the parks, then I'd agree that local park managers should be given the discretion to say, 'Yes, we have great biking terrain that can fit with our management plan,' rather than having biking (or whatever activity) stuffed down their throats.

Kurt

I admit that 'local authority' is hardly a panacea for or protection against mismanagement. Blagojevich is not an aberration, but one of many symptoms in a long history of local-authority-gone-bad, in the Chicago & Illinois region. Louisiana has a reputation for harboring squalid corruption, shielding it behind 'local authority'.

But local or distributed authority, one of the signatures of the United States, and a celebrated genius of its founders, also confers adaptability and resilience. It enables a system to reinvent and reinvigorate itself. Failure to move with the times and be relevant in new circumstances are hazards better avoiding by letting locals be the Captain of their own ship. The pride and the robes of responsibility lead to markedly better performance (even when it's wrong!), than do the feeble exhortations of centralization.

Although we call them "National" Parks, and though they are authorized under the "National" Park Service Organic Act, I don't get the sense that the intent was to "Nationalize" anything. To a high degree, Nationalization is associated with inefficiency, decay and decrepitation. No, the fact that the word "National" is used for our Parks is but a 'conventional rubric', and does not imply a commitment to centralization, such as we see experimented with in Latin America or Russia ... with predicable negative results.

I see evidence that points to recognition at high levels in America, that the localization I refer to is a good thing which they are seeking to gradually work back into the system. (Sudden large-scale radical change is unwise, and I am glad to see it happening gradually.)

Look at Alaska. Some Parks-aficionados do not like to. It is disturbing to some, that what they see is so unfamiliar, so different. The range of 'customized' Park-affairs in Alaska points to recognition that the local contexts of Alaska "National" Parks are not appropriately addressed, by imposing a "national" directive upon them. Instead, the priceless assets secured in Alaska are handled not only as local to, but also as local in the State. The State is large enough and varies enough, that different Parks within it are 'given their head' to better-fit to the local conditions they are embedded in.

For a second example, consider an important but 'minimized' aspect of the recent change in Park gun-rules. It is a hugely pregnant 'detail', that the new authorization to pack loaded firearms in Parks is linked directly to the firearms regulation of the local jurisdiction (State) in which each Park is embedded. That is very 'un-National', and appears to be a conscious & intentional nod - nay, "bow" - to that grand-daddy of all distributed authority: States' Rights.

I do not expect to 'convert' those who have long embraced a view of our National Parks as being above & beyond the local scene they are embedded in. However, I do think we have already embarked upon a course to try out & adapt new ideas for fine-tuning the management of Parks in different regions, to the different local situations of each. We see it with the Civil War Parks. We see it with the East Coast beaches. We see it in Yellowstone, big-time! We see it in the Southwest, and with the archaeological locales. We see it in the contrast between Crater Lake, and Glacier, even between Rainier & Olympic, which on a good day can see each other.

Local contexts make a big difference, and the way to make the most - and avoid the worst - of them, is to provide a meaningful element of local authority for the different units. Although there will of course be missteps with independence, the risks are a lot less scary than with the embarrassingly skimpy and startlingly flawed National Park Service Organic Act.

Those who appeal to the Organic Act invariably 'cherry pick' a couple sentences from it which they reiterate over & over, while shunning & disowning the rest of the document, which can be described as a mixture of babble & venality. The Organic Act is very short: anyone can easily pick it up and within minutes know for themselves just how inappropriate this document is for managing any national resource. It resembles the kind of nonsense you'd expect to find on a Blagojevich tape.

Sorry, but I honestly don't see the Organic Act as a credible instrument on which to base any rational national-scale management-plan for the Parks. Acknowledging that nobody is willing or able to fix it or throw it away and start over, then our present course - to ignore the Organic Act and move forward without much regard to it - seems the prudent & pragmatic ... option which we have evidently already adopted.

One last point: recognizing & empowering local authority does not "remove the hierarchy". On the contrary, the assignment of local or distributed authority creates, implements & structures the hierarchy. Although the United States explicitly distributes local authority to States, Counties, Municipalities, and Citizens, the hierarchy of authority within the system is intact & orderly throughout, clear & understood by all, and perfectly secure. It would be exactly the same, within a local-authority-endowed National Park System.

Ted

Ted,

Wish I had more time to delve deeply into this, but all the fresh snow of the past few days is too inviting to ignore;-)

That said, Alaska I don't think is a good example to point to regarding the intent, need, desire, or benefits for local rule in the context of the entire park system, not in light of how the Alaska park units were put together. As I'm sure you know, there was much local opposition to creating parks in the state, and President Carter and others tried to ameliorate those concerns as much as they could. My post of December 2 touches on that organization and the need to insert local concerns into the package. In part:

Of historical significance, President Carter wielded the most substantial use of the Antiquities Act when he proclaimed those 15 national monuments after Congress had adjourned without passing a major Alaska lands bill strongly opposed in that state. Now, Congress did pass a revised version of the bill in 1980 incorporating most of these national monuments into national parks and preserves, but before it did so it saw that the act was worded in a fashion to prevent further use of the proclamation authority in Alaska. (Similar language was seen back in 1950 when Congress placed most of the Jackson Hole National Monument into Grand Teton National Park.)

Some believe the act's passage marked the most significant moment in Alaska's history, both because of the lands it protected and because of the 103 million acres of land it allowed the state to pluck from the federal landscape.

And....

But don't get the idea that ANILCA was controversy-free. After all, it placed scads of acreage off-limits to mining and logging, created access problems by designating wilderness, and generated concerns over how the legislation might impact Native American subsistence and access rights. The results regarding the latter point have been mixed. On one hand, recreational all-terrain vehicle use within Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve has been controlled, if not banned, while ATV use for subsistence purposes was permitted.

(Now, in light of that recognition of Native American rights to the landscape, if we went back in time and honored those rights in the creation of all other parks, the Yosemites and Yellowstones, etc., think what we'd have. But that's fodder for another post....)

Further insights of that controversial creation in Alaska can be found in some of the comments to that post.

As for using the gun issue as an example of trying to return local control to the parks, in light of the recent history of that rule change I would borrow some of your words and suggest that the Interior Department's move "appears to be a conscious & intentional nod - nay, "bow" - to that grand-daddy" of all lobbying bullies and power grabbers, the NRA.

I think when you take the Organic Act, read Robin Winks' interpretation of that document, and toss in the 1978 Redwoods Act, you get a clear understanding of why these should be "national" parks. According to Winks even big business wanted central control over the parks:

Both railroad and automobile interests advocated more consistent administration of the existing parks in order to protect them more effectively, and also to make certain that accommodations and campgrounds were held to a consistent standard for the public's pleasure. While the railroads wished to bring spur lines to the borders of the parks, they seldom argued for actual entry. Automobilists wished to see roads to and within the parks upgraded so that visitors could tour the parks in greater comfort. All spoke of "scenery" with respect to the principal natural parks, though with a variety of qualifiers, and all referred to the need for preservation of that scenery while also making the scenery accessible for the "enjoyment" of the public.

The Organic Act outlines the "fundamental purpose" of the parks as being to is to "conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." Note it doesn't say to "leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment" of the local residents. The intent was clear, that these places should be conserved for all to come, and for consistency across the 391-unit system (or is it 392 now?), I don't think you can give them over to local control.

My goal as an NPS employee, supervisor and manager was to attempt to accomplish in every park to which I was assigned three fundamental tasks: preserve and protect resources; provide high quality visitor services; and to maintain productive relationships with park interest groups. Among those interest groups were the communitiies that surrounded the park areas. Obviouly, park staffs have special relations with these communities in ways that they don't with people living, let's say, in Milwaukee. This does not mean, however, that the people in the surrounding communities should have a greater voice in park decision-making than others living in more distant areas. Make no mistake, these are national park areas, not state, county or municipal parks. This is a system of national park areas to which each generation of Americans gets to add the areas they believe merit protection in perpetuity. We ought to apply to these areas the highest standards of ethical, transparent management as a matter of generational equity. The shoddy, last-minute rule making that we have seen in the last several months is the antithesis of those standards.

Rick Smith

And what are we getting for NOT having local control? How effective is managing Crater Lake from Seattle or Washington DC? How effective is managing Zion from Denver or DC? How practical are overarching federal mandates, such as banning pets in parks, when urban parks in DC must comply with the same ban? If administering these far-off places from the banks of the Potomac is so effective, why is one of the categories on this blog "Plight of the Parks"? (And please don't tell me parks faced no plight under Clinton.) How effective is managing 21st century parks with a flawed, early 20th century charter made malleable to special interests of the time?

How is a 674-page budget (FY2009) helpful to local parks? What are local parks getting from $170,000,000 it takes to operate regional offices? What is $220,000,000 in service-wide programs netting local parks? And $150,000,000 in "external" administrative costs? Is it really necessary to local parks?

Local lobbyists are so effective with the present system because of its oligarchical nature and lack of accountability. That can be addressed through implementing of individual park trusts, operated by an accountable board of directors, and comprised of members from the local and regional community. Try influencing a board of eleven comprised of local academicians, scientists, businesspeople, policy makers, planners, community members, nonprofit representatives, etc. With diverse local control comes insulation from national politics.

Thank you, Kurt, for your reasoned comments on the proposed mountain bike rule. I agree that there is a place for bike use in the parks, ideally on old jeep roads such as the White Rim in Canyonlands, where conflicts with hikers are minimal. Possibly also on new, dedicated trails outside of proposed wilderness areas. But my blood pressure goes up when I hear of IMBA talking about turning hiking trails into "singletrack." Their concept of shared use has a fundamental flaw--it is almost always the hikers that must give way to the bikers. In ten years or more of hiking the mountain trails in the Wasatch Range where I live, I have encountered cyclists many times. Most are courteous, but only twice has one stopped to let me and my family (including a young child) pass. Every other time, the cyclist calls out a warning, or lets it be known by their silence that we are to get off of the trail to let them by. This is in spite of clear signs at trailheads giving hikers the right of way. Our trails are mostly on steep hillsides covered with brush, and it is not always easy to make room for an onrushing cyclist. I find that I hike with an ear cocked for the sound of an approaching biker--when I'd much rather just be listening for birds.

The other day I was hiking with my family when we observed a pickup truck pull up to a trailhead that was visible across the valley. Five young men got out, mounted their bikes, and took off down a trail on the opposite hillside. The lead cyclist hit speeds of at least twenty miles an hour. I would not have wanted to be coming up that trail on foot--especially with small children. In fact, years ago I gave up hiking on that trail, which is an important historical route, for just that reason.

I suppose this will sound like morose whining to the members of the cycling community, but I ask only that you consider what it is we hikers are trying to experience in the mountains--a chance to relax, listen to the sounds of nature, and pass a friendly greeting to our fellow hikers as we comfortably slip past each other on the trail, each making room for the other. There are mountain bike advocates in this area who understand that, and as a result certain trails are on an odd-even system, which works fairly well. But this is an urban region where one can plan a hike to coincide with "no bikes day." That's not so easy when visiting a distant park on one's vacation.

I do not see how this situation can be transplanted to the national parks and not cause conflicts with hikers. If that is "shared use," it is a mighty funny version of the concept.

Fred Swanson

Fred, I hear you, but much to your dismay, cyclists crave single track not fireroads. In my experience, I've found fireroads to be way more dangerous than single tracks simply because it's a lot easier to go fast on a fireroad and encountering a family walking 4-5 across the road can be a problem. What I've also seen as well is that beyond a mile or two from the trailhead, there are very few users of any kind, and the shared trail issue just goes away.

As Ted posted earlier, I also believe that giving some amount of decision making power to the local park management is way more sound than keeping that authority with DC, thousand of miles away from the parks. Opponents hate it, because up until now, they were able to maintain bikers at bay by lobbying simply the headquarters. Now, they'll have to duplicate the effort with each and every park, which, most likely, will result in some parks opening to cyclists. Once it's proven in a few parks that multiple user groups can share the backcountry trails, it will be that much harder for the rest of the national parks to hang on to an outdated management model. IMBA understands this, and so does every other bike opponents who would love to keep the national parks to themselves.

Kurt,

Snow? Yeah, we're bulldozing the road, and I still can't get on my trail-routes ... but it is a lot of fun. ;-)

In arguing against the use of the Alaska National Parks as an example of customization and independence of the Parks, you use the term "local rule". That may be just a 'turn of phrase', without an intended meaning in your debate-point, but "rule" and "authority" are different things.

Furthermore, on this same point, when I talk about "local and/or distributed authority" for the Parks, I mean that we can benefit by letting the local Park-unit exercise more authority, not that the Parks should be 'ruled' by non-Park local authorities that surround them. It is the Parks, not the locals, whom I say should have more authority. Nontheless, local interests & local authorities do also have a closer and more-direct relationship with Park-units within their jursidiction. Locals will have a degree of 'claim' & 'influence' with 'their' Parks ... who else is going to put snowmobiles into Yellowstone - Alaska or Minnesota?

Kurt, I think we have more than ample signs that the special steps taken in forming the Alaska Parks would very much pertain to a number of our most-prominent conterminous Parks, if we were trying to establish them in the modern era. The particulars of Alaska would not all pertain to Yellowstone, which would not all pertain to Yosemite, which would not all pertain to Olympic, etc, but the real point is that various special considerations do pertain most everywhere ... the notable thing about Alaska not being that special considerations pertained, but that we did actually include the considerations in the Alaska process, unlike elsewhere.

The way things were done long ago in forming the early Parks, not only wouldn't fly today (any more than it could fly with Alaska), but indeed, some of the issues that we 'ran roughshod over' are not gone and some will pose serious challenges in the future. That is to say, the presence of special conditions that we recognized & honored in Alaska, also were often present when we formed earlier Parks in the south-48 ... but instead of recognizing & honoring those conditions, we chose to do otherwise.

It's not that Alaska is so different; it's that our behavior & practices in the past were so 'different'.
==========

There are several complications with the National Parks Organic Act that affect its use.

The popular phrase quoted from the Act by Park-supporters & environmentalists is:

... conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.

Note first that the lead word is "conserve". While it is sometimes argued that the difference between "conserve" (or Conservation(ism)) and "preserve" (or Preservation(ism)) is a complicated & murky matter that is too hard to make sense of, and/or it does not matter much, that is really not the case. And even more emphatically, it certainly was not the case in the early 20th C., when the Organic Act was written. (There was a 'culture-war' between the Conservationists and the Preservationists, it was conducted on the record, and we have the record.)

Today, many environmentalists and Park-aficionados read the word "conserve" in the Organic Act, and interpret it to & among themselves as "preserve". Actually, the two words have conflicting meanings, and this was dramatically the case at the time the Act was written. "Conserve" means to use and even 'develop', but not waste, and see to replenishment. "Preserve" means to exclude consumptive uses, and no development. The National Parks Organic Act, in its call to "conserve", intended that resources be used, and developed. Forests, for example, are "conserved" by cutting them down, selling the logs, then seeing to their replanting & regrowth. That's Conservation ... and "conserve".

But the fuller reality of the Organic Act gets worse from there.

In Sec. 3 of the Act, we see:

[The Secretary of the Interior] may also, upon terms and conditions to be fixed by him, sell or dispose of timber in those cases where in his judgment the cutting of such timber is required in order to control the attacks of insects or diseases or otherwise conserve the scenery or the natural or historic objects in any such park, monument, or reservation. [emph. added]

This is one of the passages of the Act that preservationists avoid quoting. Notice that not only can the Parks be logged under the Organic Act, but this lawful activity is done to conserve the values of the Park. This usage makes perfectly plain that the previous use of the word 'conserve' does indeed mean to 'use and develop' the values of the Park, as distinct from "preserve" them, as I described.

Following the above passage in the Act is another that says:

[The Secretary of the Interior] may also provide in his discretion for the destruction of such animals and of such plant life as may be detrimental to the use of any of said parks, monuments, or reservations. He may also grant privileges, leases, and permits for the use of land for the accommodation of visitors in the various parks, monuments, or other reservations...

And following that we see:

That the Secretary of the Interior may, under such rules and regulations and on such terms as he may prescribe, grant the privilege to graze live stock within any national park, monument, or reservation herein referred to when in his judgment such use is not detrimental to the primary purpose for which such park, monument, or reservation was created, except that this provision shall not apply to the Yellowstone National Park.

The use of the word "conserve" as the leading verb in the "fundamental purpose" of the Act which Kurt quotes decidedly does not mean "preserve" in the contemporary sense, and furthermore the same word "conserve" is also used later in the Act in a way that makes it bluntly obvious that the word has a meaning & usage in stark contradiction to the way many modern nature-lovers like to think it means. They are perfectly mistaken.

Then, add on top of the true meaning of "conserve", that the Act lays out in detail the opportunities for extensive resource-exploitation within the Parks, and it becomes overwhelmingly evident that many Parks-enthusiasts and contemporary Preservations actually have the National Parks Organic Act completely upside down & backwards.

This document does not provide the protections or guarantees you ascribe to it, Kurt. On the contrary, the National Parks Organic Act explicitly repudiates your core principles.

Ted

To Fred Swanson: Fred, thanks for articulating your criticisms of mountain biking candidly. Let me respond . . . .

(1) I think many mountain bikers would be happy to exchange fair access to trails for a divided-use plan under which we'd be allowed on trails only on certain days, even in remote areas. My hope is to see the rescinding of agency prohibitions against mountain biking in federal Wilderness and on national park trails and in exchange I will not object if individual forest managers and park superintendents can separate uses by day of the week or some other form of temporal division. This system is in effect on part of the Tahoe Rim Trail, which is not urban, and I've heard no complaints about it. Under such a system, I would limit horse and packstock use of trails to a few weeks a year, those likely to be driest, after which operators of commercial packstock trains escorting loads of sedentary sightseers have to repair the damage at the end of the permitted period for the benefit of backpackers, hikers, and cyclists.

(2) I'm sorry that you feel you have to yield to approaching mountain bikers when you're hiking. I am always ready to yield by stopping when I see hikers. But 95% of the time, the hikers step off the trail before I can utter a single propitiating word. The other 5% of the time, I do manage to say something and if the hikers want me to stop I do (sometimes they'd rather let me get by). I do manage to get equestrians to tell me what they would like. Half the time it's to stop and let them by, and I do. I don't know any mountain bikers who don't, although undoubtedly a few bad apples could be found.

(3) Every use has problems. As you allude to, an inconsiderate mountain biker traveling too fast on a downhill trail can annoy or jar those seeking contemplative solitude. But hikers’ campsites, campfires, and loud audio devices, and horses’ and packstock’s dung, trail damage, and trampling of vegetation also negatively impact the environment and other park visitors.

Every nonmotorized use also confers benefits, albeit of different types. You mentioned the quiet, contemplative, serene aspect of hiking. I agree—and let me mention that I have backpacked half of the part of the Pacific Crest Trail located in Oregon and many miles elsewhere, primarily in Wilderness areas. Mountain biking confers great benefits as well. It supports a unique constellation of important values: appreciation for wildlands, self-reliance, quiet recreation, solitude, and greatly increased physical fitness. A few other activities, like rock-climbing, provide all of these, but I would respectfully submit that neither hiking nor riding horses or packstock does. Hiking, though virtuous for the reasons you mention and others besides, normally places less intense physical demands on its participants and so does not confer the same high degree of fitness that mountain biking does. (You'll see overweight hikers, but overweight mountain bikers are as rarely seen as silver quarters in the change you get these days.) Horseback and packstock riding may provide worthwhile exposure to remote areas, particularly for people unable to hike or ride a bicycle, but do little for personal fitness and often damage trails, campsites, and riparian areas, all to the detriment of the environment and the experience of other park visitors.

Kurt, I appreciate the thoughtful comments you, Ted Clayton, Zebulon, and others have made here. Ted's discussion of the Organic Act is particularly interesting and insightful. Is anyone still reading this thread? Could you do what Bill Schneider's New West threads do and permit contributors to check a box so that they can see when someone has replied to their post? Otherwise I fear that Fred Swanson won't see my reply. Just curious.

Actually, if you create a profile in the Traveler's system you have the option of being notified when a comment has been attached to a post that you've commented on. One more reason to join the club!

imtnbke,

You can read & save the entire National Parks Organic Act, on the NPS' own website.

The Wilderness Act can be viewed as a way to circumvent the permissiveness of the Act that authorizes National Parks in the first place. That is, the Organic Act and the Wilderness Act are in conflict with each other, and the Organic Act is the more-foundational Act.

As a Constitutional scholar, Obama realizes that, a.) historic management practices of the NPS are 'extra-Constitutional', as it is delicately phrased, and b.) that the preservationist-position only digs itself in deeper, by carving Preservation-directed Wilderness Areas out of Conservation-directed National Parks lands (established under the Organic Act).

Yet, Obama has shown himself to be highly pragmatic. If he can't succeed at something, he won't go after it even if 'principle' says he should. He needs 'practical' ways to weaken bad situations that he knows can't be directly attacked.

That is why I suspect the bikes-in-Parks idea is either Obama's, or that Bush crafted it as a gift to the President-elect. It is a made-to-order vehicle for Obama's intentions ... and limitations.

To test this suggestion, watch to see if Obama does not firstly forward the bike-plan, and then promote further ideas that also irritate the same constituencies that are offended by the bike-plan, and please the same constituencies that are encouraged by the bike-plan. I predict he will.

The aim of this gambit is to restore parity between the Conservation and Preservation elements of society. By 'installing' Preservationists as career figures in the National Parks System, it has gradually come to act as a de facto Preservationist lobby bought & paid by the U.S. Federal Government ... and that is a Constitutional 'off-sides'.

'Pure' environmentalists ought not 'own' the NPS, but they very strongly do. Being a Conservationist in the NPS means you are a pariah, and have no future. In view of the reality that the National Parks Organic Act is entirely a strong Conservation-directing document, the NPS should actually be 'stacked' with Conservationists - not Preservationists

Mountain bikers are the pawn, and they appear to have the ability to play their role skillfully & effectively.

This doesn't have much to do with mountain biking and sorry to have to disagree Ted, but in the 28 years I worked at Mt. Rainier & Olympic, the cornucopian development faction was fully in charge and it was the 'pure environmentalists' who were pariahs. I doubt much has changed at Olympic, I know it hasn't at Rainier.

tahoma,

"Cornucopian development faction" in charge, at Olympic National Park?

Because it represented most of a relatively complete, relatively unmodified ecosystem it was in the early decades of the 20th C. one of the fondest dreams of the Preservationist camp, that the entire Olympic Peninsula be set aside as a National Park. The purist-faction has over the years reiterate that the Olympic Peninsula, though damaged, nonetheless represents the finest opportunity in the conterminous United States for a relatively-intact habitat-preserve, and that we should hold as one of our more-worthy goals to progressively & incrementally secure the whole Peninsula.

The Olympic Park idea first attracted high-quality & famous activists during the 1890s, and other purist-luminaries carried the torch for over 40 years before they got a cut-down version of what they wanted. However, though the implementation was imperfect & partial, a cadre of 'the whole Olympics' faction has quietly but expertly worked to expand the Olympic Park, and they have been and continue to succeed in acquiring ever-more land for the unit.

Olympic National Park remains one of the least-penetrated, least-developed and least-modified assets of the Park System, in the lower-48 States. There is a single-locale penetration & modest development at Hurricane Ridge which bears the overwhelming share of human impact for the entire Park. This facility has remained virtually unchanged, since shortly after World War II. (The Park did offer to accede to further development-requests from resort booster-elements, but did so with the stipulation that increased user-demand for the expanded facilities be demonstrated in advance ... a demand which the Administration knew did not exist.)

A secondary mainstream tourist-draw is the Hoh River rainforest facility. This 19 mile penetration is all on lowland river-bottom terrain, most of it formerly logged, and serves mainly to provide a short paved nature-loop, and a small sheltered interpretive structure. All the other penetrations & developments within Olympic are minor, little-known, and used mainly by modest numbers of locals and a few unusually well-informed visitors.

Meanwhile, most of the small business operations have gradually withered under Park 'management', finally bought out by the Park, and usually razed. Private homeowners withstand steady pressure against them. We have watched this policy at work without letup, for more than 50 years.

Backcountry trails are often semi-abandoned. Volunteers come in to reclaim some of them. Backcountry camping is progressively more restrictive, and restricted. Close-in trails often show very long blow-down clearance-cycles.

I think it is rather clear, and indeed very much a matter of pride with the staff, that Olympic National is one of the most intensely-Preservationist and anti-Conservation Parks in the system.

Fascinating discussion; thanks.

I hear that some trails in the more remote Wilderness areas also are abandoned or semiabandoned. Mountain biking access likely would keep them in better shape for all users intrepid enough to visit them. And the semiabandonment problem exists on parts of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. I tried riding north on the CDNST from Cumbres Pass in southern Colorado in 2007. There was blowdown everywhere and scant evidence of any human visitation on the trail. At one point I had hiked the bike over several hundred yards of blowdown dense enough that the trail was barely discernible. After four hours' arduous labor had gotten me only eight miles from the trailhead, I gave up and rode back down.

Ted-

Some serious thread drift here, so I'll try to be brief. I could go on for pages. It's true Olympic is one of
the finest NPS wildernesses south of Canada, but that is more in spite of NPS management than because of it.
Olympic is far less wild than it was before it became a National Park in 1938. If you've not read Carston Lien's Olympic Battleground, you need to.

Consider the following facts. Park management has pushed for a new visitor center at Kalaloch for decades.
Ten thousand gallons of human waste was drained from the Hurricane holding tanks into Lillian River to avoid
the cost of trucking it away; the employee who blew the whistle lost his job. The mandated Wilderness
Management Plan has been ready for over a decade, but yet to be approved because Park management wanted to continue it's non-conforming practices and keep backcountry development options open. I believe the Wilderness Society sued over the delay. The employee in charge of writing that plan has been largely shifted to non-wilderness duties and denied promotion.

You wrote "Backcountry trails are often semi-abandoned...Close-in trails often show very long blow-down
clearance-cycles." Here are the real reasons for that and they are not because of preservationists. A disproportionate share of the trail budget has historically gone into constant replacement of the unsustainable six-miles of boardwalk at Ozette and hundreds of trail bridges elsewhere in the Park. At least five in-house under-engineered major trail bridges quickly collapsed. New expensive high-standard frontcountry trails were constructed almost yearly at Quinault, Kalaloch, Mora, Soleduc, Lake Crescent, Elwha and Port Angeles HQ. Management has basically caved in to equestrian demands that more trails be opened to stock. They could even carry firearms and chainsaws.

I'll close with an example from here at Rainier. Management was so obsessed with the recently completed 25 million dollar VC, that simple maintenance of existing facilites was ignored. The worst consequence of this was a series of disgraceful heating oil spills totaling many thousands of gallons from uninspected & unmaintained storage tanks.

Fire back at this one all you want, but it's gonna be hard for me to see how anyone could seriously believe the 'pure preservationists' are in charge at these two Parks. BTW, I enjoy fat-tire biking immensely, but feel no need to do it inside any National Park, except perhaps on roads closed to vehicles.

tahoma,

I, and probably others too, would like to read a quick run-down of some of the specifics & generalities, a few paragraphs introducing us to the most important items & themes that you found notable in Carston Lien's Olympic Battleground.

Searching Google, there is this single return for the term ' "Carston Lien" "Olympic Battleground" ', as, in the present case, part of someone's comment. The key passage is:

"If you want to know the priorities of NPS management, “follow the money”, as Deep Throat said. The NPS’s parent Interior Dept has been mired in concession & conflict of interest scandals for years. Those interested in the sacred cow NPS's history of corruption, malfeasence, and retaliation against critics should not miss these authors:

Micheal Frome, “Regreening the National Park Service”
Carston Lien, “Olympic Battleground”
Alston Chase, “Playing God in Yellowstone” "

I don't know which sewage incident you refer to at Hurricane Ridge Lodge: few people are familiar with pumping out sewage vaults and tanker-trucking it away, and I imagine mishaps do happen. However, looking at the topo map shows that the Lodge is at 5,200' elevation near the crest of the Ridge, while the Lillian River below is at 1,100', and a bit over a mile and a half away, horizontally. There is no road nor trail from the Ridge down the slope toward the Lillian. Any spill that might occur, would be right at the top, and the Lillian is a long ways away.

tahoma says:

"Olympic is far less wild than it was before it became a National Park in 1938.
That statement runs counter to a great deal of evidence otherwise. There were many homesteads in the Park valleys in the 1930s, now all nice meadows or grown up in young timber. On the high ridges & mountains there was fairly extensive mining in the Park - at Hurricane Ridge, on the Lillian River, the Tubal Cain deposits, and dozens of other claims & active commercial mines, large & small. History gives evidence that homesteaders, meat-hunters and cougar-guides were engage in setting fire to entire mountain-sides - "Get rid of some of this damn timber, get something growing on the ground, and build up the game animals! (or run free-range cattle)"

There was active, big-time commercial logging in progress within the territory that became the Park. Heavy-duty on-going road-building accompanied the loggers.

Today's popular "Spruce Grade Trail" was an operating railroad chugging back & forth around Lake Crescent.

There were dams being built on the rivers, reservoirs being filled for power-generation, to serve as urban water-supplies, and to effect flood-control for low-lying valleys.

The Forest Service and/or CCC was dynamiting a Grand Canyon-style small-gauge road-like trail network through the sheer cliff faces of the interior-core of the most remote and inaccessible Olympic massifs.

No, tahoma & all: There was indeed far more vigorous human activity & affects on the terrain and watersheds, the flora and the fauna of the Olympics before and at the time the Park was established than at any time thereafter, and the Administrations since have consistently striven to suppress, remove, and revert all of that, ever since.

That they continue to strive, of course means that not all of their objectives have been successful or fully achieved. Too, there are concessions to access & enjoyment by the public, but these are at the interface with commerce & society, and peripheral to the main body of natural habitat that is the most ecologically valuable aspect of Olympic National Park.

I will agree with you, tahoma, that the Olympic Administration is a closed & draw-bridged shop, and that as part of their insularity & defensiveness, they will react strongly (even 'overreact') to critics within their ranks. An unfortunate situation, but well known in the Park System and other bureaucracies, and separate from & independent of whether a person or group is Liberal or Conservative, Preservationist or Conservationist.

Ted-

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. Good points about the mines and homesteads; I'd forgotten about those.
Concerning your earlier comment about the NPS taking over, I guess it's not paranoia if they're really after you. I'd probably have a different perspective if I or my family were Peninsula natives. I'm sure the numerous Native Americans there have an even different perspective.

I posted late at night after a grueling week clearing massive amounts of snow from roofs & helping friends
evacuate portable possesions out the path of the coming floods here. That's no excuse, just an explanation, so
apologies for my several unclear remarks. Since this thread is about mountain biking, I was trying not to hijack it too much more than we already have. I was focused on your comments about trails, where I have a bit of experience. I should have said that Olympic trails are less wild than they used to be, though apparently not as well-maintained. Even the (trail) development faction is probably not eager to expand bike use though. Maybe that was part of your point? Aren't they allowed, even encouraged, on Spruce RR trail? FWIW, I saw bootleg bike tracks deep in the backcountry on numerous occasions, so if that occurs in a place as rugged as Olympic, it's probably not uncommon in many other Parks.

The book I tried to refer to is Carsten Lien (with an e, not an o), Olympic Battleground: The Power Politics of Timber Preservation. It's been years, maybe I should re-read it. It's an exhaustive history of the ebb & flow around the establishment and expansion of the Park. As I recall, the NPS resisted the idea of a Park initially, then had grandiose road-building plans as usual, even hotels. A fair amount of logging was also done within the boundaries by the NPS. Sorry I can't offer better examples, but I'm pretty sure the gist of it is that neither faction was consistently dominant in the early decades.

The sewage spill was no accident, though I'm sure management used that excuse. Probably the details are in
the PA newspaper archives. I should have said "into the Lillian drainage...".

I'm glad we can at least agree that NPS management is a "closed & draw-bridged shop, and that as part of
their insularity & defensiveness, they will react strongly (even 'overreact') to critics within their ranks". Well said!
I don't find the abstract labels you mentioned particularly useful, but read all your posts, so blog on.

The impact on National Parks that mountain biking induces is much higher than hiking or climbing (currently accepted). The disruptions to wildlife and ecosystems testify of this, and should be scientifically assessed. Hiking and climbing are low noise, low energy sports , compared to high speed biking downhill.
As a citizen , I request a thorough review of the proposal at the US Congress level, to assess if it violates the mandate of our National Parks. For instance, modifications of rules to favor mountain biking are likely to open the way for other high impact sports, including firearm sports and motor-engine sports in the wilderness of National Parks. Another high impact sport, BASE jumping is outlawed. Mountain biking has more environmental impact than BASE jumping. Nationals Parks were set up precisely to avoid this sort of human impact on the environment and the wilderness, therefore the assessment of the proposal should occur at the federal level.

tahoma,

No problem with the late-night comments, but the explanation is appreciated - Thanks!

Carsten with an "e" gets lots of good returns.

Mr. Lein's account no doubt addresses the $64 question: Why did it take over 40 years to form Olympic National Park, after everyone knew that the Peninsula was an exceptional habitat?

1.) Because the enormous trees in the lowlands were considered too valuable to have locked up in a Park. The State objected, industry objected, land-owners objected - and Conservation-oriented environmentalists objected.

2.) Even more important than #1, the production of Olympic Peninsula managed timberlands is the heaviest and most valuable of any forestry in the U.S.A. Only a few locales on earth exceed the per-acre timber-wealth of this Peninsula.

Therefore, when late-19th C. Preservation activism began lobbying to make a Park of the whole Peninsula, their goal 'mysteriously' eluded them ... for nearly another half a century ... until the first cut of the old-growth forests was nearly complete and the timberlands had been successfully converted to plantation.

Paradoxically, it is a credit to the principles of Conservation by which the timberlands have been managed, that to this day Preservation-principles still rate these commercialized forests as worthy to be converted into Park. ;-)

Just to keep the thread drift going, any thoughts on why there's so much uproar over energy development near the Utah parks and not a peep about the clear-cutting that runs near, if not up to, the southern boundaries of Olympic?

Because there's a thousand years worth of oil-shale?

Because folks see Saudi Arabia in the Rockies?

The Olympic Peninsula clearcut logging plantation system maximizes the CO2 draw-down capacity of this highly productive ecosystem, so we get a 'bye'. ;-)

Nah ... really it's hard to say for sure. It may well have more to do with how the eco-movement works, than anything actually at stake or in the offing.

To have a 'movement', over a sustained time-frame, there has to be new and somewhat novel concerns coming along to keep interest up. If folks will bite on 'energy in the Rockies', then the chicken done got to the other side of the road.

Ahhh, but if we as a nation really begin to focus on biofuels and agree that cellulose is a much, much better fuel than corn, perhaps all the slash from those clear-cuts has a future!

And once that slash enters the system and is converted to inexpensive liquid gold for our ah-toe-moe-beels, folks will look out across those vast, tall, dense forests on the peninsula and see much, much more cellulose still standing that could be converted to biofuel. And since trees are renewable, the lumber companies could garner credits for carbon sequestration to boot (after pocketing subsidies for the cellulose, of course) that they could then sell to the energy companies that are polluting the air with their gas and oil drilling operations in Utah!

That will lead to more clear-cutting, and in the process create a movement to rise up against the tree harvesters and their harvests. Problem solved.

The impact on National Parks that mountain biking induces is much higher than hiking or climbing (currently accepted). The disruptions to wildlife and ecosystems testify of this, and should be scientifically assessed. Hiking and climbing are low noise, low energy sports , compared to high speed biking downhill.
Sabine, l'ensemble des enquêtes scientifiques déjà réalisées, et il y en a beaucoup, ne sont pas d'accord. Les vététistes ont le même impacte sur les sentiers que ceux qui vont à pied, tandis que ceux qui utilisent les chevaux (ou bien les motos) peuvent créer des effets fort négatifs sur les sentiers et sur le terrain en général. Voir ce site: http://www.americantrails.org/resources/ManageMaintain/SprungImpacts.html

And I apologize if you don't speak French. I'm just relying on your name, which suggests that you may. I study foreign languages and try to use them whenever I can. (Everyone, I just wrote that the scientific evidence is to the contrary of Sabine's opinion; see the referenced website.)

Kurt, if you feel I'm violating a rule of etiquette by writing in another language, let me know and I'll edit this post.

Kurt notes that if we get a good cellulose-conversion process going we might become greedy, over-harvest the forest here on the Olympic Peninsula, and thus generate an environmental movement backlash against our excess.

The problem is, though, that logs yield more value if they are turned into lumber & pulp, than if they are turned into fuel.

Obviously, both log-prices & fuel-prices vary, but even with the lowest log-prices and the highest fuel-prices, it will be a challenge if not a 'stretch', to make a profit turning logs into SUV-fuel.

Logs are just worth too much.

Take the case of firewood. Around here, it sells for $150/cord. Pulp-logs, the cheapest kind, sell for about $300 a cord-equivalent, whole, with no additional work. Today, that $300 buys 7 barrels of crude, but the logs can't come anywhere close to producing 7 barrels worth of energy.

So at what price-points do logs begin to match the energy-value of oil? Well, it's obviously going to be pretty 'extreme' - that's a safe call. I would guess conservatively that the price of fuel-energy has to rise to 'destructive' levels, before it makes economical sense to turn logs in fuel.

Until fuel goes really-really high, you'll make more money selling your logs to the lumber & pulp mill, than you will selling them to the distiller.

... So in the parallel universe we inhabit, Conservationists continue to manage the Olympic timber stands properly, and therefore we continue to get away with decorating the hill-sides with handsome clear-cut patch-work quilting.

... Although, we steadily increase the amount of selective cutting on the Peninsula, and this trend may strengthen to the point where it begins to reduce the quality of our hillside artwork ... though fortunately this type of forestry causes the remining trees to become even more valuable, enabling us to work less and hike in the Olympic Park more! We'll learn to live with less-handsome, evenly-forested hillsides. ;-)

I don't think it's that challenging to effectively address the discrepancies, though. First, bikes yield to everything else on the trail, because they are fast, have a lot of kinetic energy, sharp points & rotating metal rods, and are poorly controllable under the circumstances. Dismount and remove the machine from the path, let people & horses by, then jump back on. Second, maintain traction at all times. Since bikes don't really have the ability to peel-out, or side-slip, this problem is really about going downhill too fast and then braking into a continuous slewing skid (a surfboard on gravel). Knock it off. Get off the bike and walk it down the hill, if it isn't possible to brake within the limits of traction. (Since we know the hills where the offending behavior will occur, it is easy to make a few busts.)

3 years later, nothing has happened. I'm guessing that nothing will happen for another 10 years because nobody wants controversy at the NPS (controversy = more work).