Bikes in the Parks: A Look At What's Up at Grand Teton and Big Bend National Parks
What's ho-hum in one park, when it comes to bikes, is decidedly more controversial in another. Which should make the coming few weeks interesting.
The ho-hum bicycle issue can be found at Grand Teton National Park, where officials are going through the machinations of passing the requisite regulations to allow bicyclists to ride on those new pathways the park installed along the Teton Park Road earlier this year. Here's the official wording that went into the Federal Register on Monday for a 60-day public comment period:
The National Park Service (NPS) proposes to designate certain multi-use pathways in Grand Teton National Park as routes for bicycle use; NPS regulations require issuance of a special regulation to designate routes for bicycle use when it will be off park roads and outside developed areas. Several segments of multi-use pathways have been constructed, or are planned for construction, and are located parallel to and generally within about 50 feet of existing park roads. Moving bicycle traffic off the lanes of motor vehicle travel will reduce real and perceived safety hazards, which will enhance opportunities for non-motorized enjoyment of the park, and encourage the use of alternate transportation by park employees and visitors.
Seems like a pretty cut-and-dried safety matter, no?
That's definitely not the case down in Big Bend National Park, where officials are expected in the next week or so to release their environmental assessment on a proposal to build a 3- to 5-foot-wide, roughly 5-mile-long "shared-use" trail, one with an emphasis on mountain biking, that would start near the visitor center at Panther Junction and run in a loop, crossing the Chihuahuan desert and wrapping Lone Mountain while providing sweeping views of the Chisos Mountains.
While the Grand Teton matter has received little if any opposition, the proposed trail at Big Bend has generated quite a bit of controversy due to 1) Whether this would actually be a 'shared-use' trail or one that hikers would avoid due to the speeds many mountain bikers prefer to travel at; 2) Why the park would spend so much time and effort on a trail catering to mountain bikers when there literally are more than 1,000 miles of single-track and dirt roads open to bikers in the vicinity, along with some 180 miles of dirt roads in the park that are open to mountain bikers, and at a time when park dollars are particularly precious, and; 3) Why this project even got off the ground at a time when the Park Service supposedly was in the middle of a five-year-long pilot program to study mountain bike compatibility in the parks, one that called for mountain bike use to be restricted to existing paved and unpaved roads in the parks.
The five-year study period, by the way, expires next year.