The Pacific Crest Trail ranges from Canada to Mexico, running through Washington, Oregon, and California along the way, traversing not one but seven units of the National Park System in the process.
On its way north and south portions of the trail touch or run through parts of Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, Devils Postpile National Monument, Crater Lake National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, and North Cascades National Park.
While mountain bikers are not supposed to use the Pacific Crest Trail, recently some have been poaching sections in California. While the poaching did not occur in any national park sections, some have concerns that a rule currently pending in the Interior Department could open more national park trails to mountain bikes and, in the process, lead to the following scenario.
In its February issue, the PCT Communicator, the magazine of the Pacific Crest Trail Association, reported on trail damage committed by mountain bikes near the Parks Creek Trailhead in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in California.
From Big Bear to the Tehachapi Mountains in southern California, to Donner Summit and the Sierra Buttes north of Lake Tahoe, to Castle Crags and beyond, mountain bikes on the trail are causing damage and creating a number of "PCT Places in Need."
According to the trail association, "under U.S. Government regulation, bikes are prohibited in the PCT. The rationale for the prohibition of bicycles is based on the "nature and purpose" of the PCT, as dictated by the intent of Congress with the National Trails System Act and subsequent regulations designed to protect the experience of the primary users. The Code of Federal Regulations (36 CRF 212) directs that "The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail as defined by the National Trails Systems Act, 82 Stat. 919, shall be administered primarily as a footpath and horseback riding trail."
"Unfortunately, however, U.S. regulations and regulators have not, thus far, been able to fully curb the illegal use of the PCT by mountain bikers," adds the article. "The resulting trail damage and user conflicts can't be taken lightly. To complicate matters, bikes are permitted on many trails that lead to the PCT, resulting in bikers reaching the PCT on such trails and then proceeding along the PCT to pick up another feeder trail. Given land management agency staffing and budget issues, policing and enforcement is sorely lacking."
The article goes on to point out the problems associated with mountain bikes on the Pacific Crest Trail: the trail was not engineered to handle mountain bike traffic, it can be easily and quickly ripped up by bikes riding in wet and muddy conditions, erosion problems can arise.
"I can't stress enough the importance of responsible trail users reporting illegal uses of the PCT," says Ian Nelson, the trail association's regional representative for northern California and southern Oregon. "It is crucial that we hear from concerned users so that we and our agency partners can strategize as to how to curb the illegal use."