Forest Service Drawing Line On Mountain Bikers in Potential Wilderness, National Park Service Agrees

U.S. Forest Service managers in parts of Montana and Idaho are working to ban mountain bikes on landscapes that some day could merit wilderness designation, a move that isn't sitting well with the International Mountain Bicycling Association. Over at the National Park Service, meanwhile, officials have no intention of letting mountain bikers access lands eligible for wilderness designation.

“Existing lands that have been determined to be eligible for wilderness, they should not be considered for potential mountain bike trails at this point," says Garry Oye, the Park Service's wilderness and recreation chief. "We wouldn’t want to authorize a use if we’ve already determined that the lands should be considered for wilderness. We wouldn’t want to allow a use that would compromise that future designation. That’s consistent with our policies.”

Since 2005 at least IMBA has been working to expand mountain bike use in national parks. That year saw the organization and the Park Service sign off on a Memorandum of Understanding calling for a five-year pilot program that would explore mountain bike possibilities in the National Park System via pilot projects in three parks. Initially that MOU was aimed at opening more dirt roads and administrative roads to the cyclists, but not long afterward IMBA officials began talking of the need for single-track routes in the parks.

While those efforts led to a study in Big Bend National Park to create a "shared use" trail, one designed primarily with mountain bikers in mind, IMBA officials began working to change Park Service regulations that must be negotiated before a park superintendent can open park terrain beyond developed areas to mountain bikes. As the clock was running out on the Bush administration the Interior Department published a proposed rule to "streamline" the regulatory landscape regarding mountain bikes in national parks, but it quickly drew criticism from groups that feared how much Park Service landscape its passage could affect.

There are places for mountain bikers to ride in the National Park System. Hundreds of miles of mountain biking opportunities exist in the parks, ranging from the classic, 100-mile-long White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park to routes through the woods at Mammoth Cave National Park, the carriage paths in Acadia National Park, and even the rail trails in Cape Cod National Seashore. In all, more than 40 national park units off mountain biking opportunities in some form.

But not all public land landscapes are open to mountain bikers. This past Sunday's New York Times ran a story about Forest Service efforts to institute regulations that would ban mountain bikers from hundreds or even thousands of miles of trail that weave through lands that one day could be designated as official wilderness. While many mountain bike enthusiasts maintain that they should be able to enjoy their favored form of recreation on public lands, included those designated wilderness, land managers who oversee lands with wilderness characteristics are trying to prevent compromising those characteristics. And since officially designated wilderness is off-limits to mechanized travel -- even if that mode of transportation is a bike -- the forest managers are perhaps erring on the side of caution by moving to limit where mountain bikers can ride.

"There's no comparison between bikes made 20 years ago and those made today," Dave Bull, the Forest Service's director for recreation, minerals, lands, heritage and wilderness in Montana told the Times. "People are better able to get to places they couldn't reach before without hiking. They're pushing further and further."

Not only are the latest generation of bikes capable of taking their riders farther and farther into the backcountry, but their arrival, some believe, is out of sync with the wilderness concept.

“There is a wilderness experience, a truly backcountry experience, that is part of the idea and the concept behind wilderness," says Michael Carroll, associate director of The Wilderness Society's Wilderness Support Center. "It's preserving a landscape that is similar to the landscape that our fathers and their fathers before them were able to experience. It’s hard to argue that that experience has been preserved when you have heavy traffic zipping by on mountain bikes after you’ve spent two days hiking in.”

IMBA's communications director, Mark Eller, believes that sentiment can flow in two directions.

"Let’s reverse the hypothetical and say you’re in a remote area and you’re a solo mountain biker and you come across a gaggle of hikers," he offers. "Is that going to disrupt your quiet, the solitude on your mountain bike? Probably.”

Beyond that, says Mr. Eller, the debate over appropriateness, and righteousness, of trail use seems to be getting skewed.

“There seems to be the perception of conflict and the realities that people see on the trails are totally out of whack with each other," he said, adding a moment later that, "I have a hard time just categorizing one trail mode as always more pristine and contemplative than other.”

IMBA has worked to build alliances with the land-management agencies, from meeting around the country with officials to sending trail crews out to both repair trails and demonstrate how to build trails that will stand up to bike use. The group has not talked about cutting trails in national park wilderness areas -- though IMBA officials have talked in theory about realigning proposed wilderness boundaries to benefit mountain bikers -- but rather has focused on creating more riding opportunities elsewhere in the parks. With word that the New River Gorge National River is in line for $2 million to expand its network of bike trails, the group hopes to show that shared-use trails can be well-designed and used cooperatively by hikers and bikers.

“That’s what we’re hoping will be a great place for people to look to and see how it can work in a national park," said Mr. Eller, who agrees that not all national parks are suitable for backcountry mountain bike trails. "We think we’re going to be able to show how it can be done when it’s done right.”

While IMBA also has argued that the ban against "mechanized" travel in official wilderness should be reworded to one against "motorized" travel, that might create more of a battle than the group wants to enter in light of the longevity of that provision in the Wilderness Act, which was passed in 1964

“Any time you go back and modify the parent law, or parent legislation, you better do it with some good public debate, and I think that’s what needs to happen if we do need to go back and look at those things that were legislated in 1964," said the Park Service's Mr. Oye. "It’s not our intent to change the Wilderness Act to allow for mountain bikes, and it’s not our intent to compromise future wilderness designations by promoting mountain bike use in areas that” have potential to be designated wilderness.

At the Wilderness Society, Mr. Carroll adds that, “This is the camel’s nose under the tent. That’s been our argument for a long time. There’s no way you can say that they’re not mechanized. They say themselves that they want to see these big loop systems developed, and they say they want to be allowed in wilderenss. For us those things don’t add up.”

A mountain biker himself who enjoys riding the trails around Durango, Colorado, Mr. Carroll said the issue over mountain bikes in wilderness is personally a tough one -- "I've got tons of friends who are mountain bikers. It's a conundrum for me." -- but in the end he believes wilderness lands need the highest level of protection from impacts. With mountain bikes getting bigger and bigger, their impacts are getting larger, as well, said Mr. Carroll, referring to the Surley bike company's "Pugsley" model with its huge, 4-inch-wide tires.

“Protecting the resource, protecting it for what it represents, for the clean air and water, the wildlife, protecting it for future generations ... is the first priority of wilderness areas," he said. "We want to preserve that as a piece of the puzzle in terms of the management of our public lands. It’s not about 'our' use. ... I think it’s (the debate) unfortunate. There are so many people, if they could take a step back from their use and look at the larger resource issues, and the larger context, I wish they could see that this is about the greater good, not just about your specific use.”

Comments

My experience on shared trails is: The bikers are rude and don't always stay on the trails. They are yelling to communicate instead stopping to communicate in a more quiet voice. My vote would be to keep them off the trails. Let them fight with automobiles on the paved roads.

I agree with Mr Carroll, a wilderness area should be a wilderness area ! We have a chance to once again to do the right thing and save some of these areas as WILDERNESS !!! Once wilderness is gone, it is gone forever so let's do it now !

There are plenty of places where people can play with their toys (mountain bikes, snowmobiles, off road vehicles), there needs to be places where nature can just be nature at its best. The federal lands should have something for everyone, including Mother Nature herself.

Mountain bikes should stay off Wilderness Areas but they certainly have a place in the NPS. The wording of "mechanical" in 1964 likely went beyond "motorized", contrary to IMBA's assertion. Perhaps this was not a direct exclusion of bikes, which was likely unforeseen. But other mechanical uses are possible, such as horse & buggy and sleds. However, I'd be interested to know if wheel chairs are also disallowed.

In any event, mountain biking is a wonderful and healthy way to enjoy the back-country. Their inclusion within appropriate places within the NPS only enriches the overall support of NPS initiatives.

I find mountain bikers to be a polite crowd and have had few conflicts. I think this is a generational issue and also a little bit of ignorance on the realities of mountain bikes and it tends to be the older, politically savvy crowd who hate mountain bikes, while the majority of us have few problems with them.
Let's 'fess up here folks. Hikers are more invasive to wilderness or recommended wilderness than mountain bikes. There are bigger groups of hikers going into remote areas. Hikers are able to spend multiple nights deep in the backcountry. Hikers are the first to wander off trail, tromping on fragile wildflowers or sensitive tundra. Hikers trash trails just like all user groups do. Hikers widen trails because they don't want to step in the mud, or walk through a creek. Personally, when I hike, I love to go off trail and explore areas that see little human use - unlike bikes, I will travel across tundra, bushwack through the forest. My best chance of seeing wildlife is off a trail, on foot. Bikes can't do that.
This argument that mountain bikes can go farther (Mr. Bull) is true, but also not true. If a trail is steep or technical they travel about the same distance as a hiker. And if a bike is going to ride deeper into the backcountry it is usually limited to a single day unlike hikers who can spend multiple days deep in the backcountry. A very long ride for your average mountain biker is about ten miles in one direction and that means ten miles back to the car. Hikers can travel fifteen miles in one direction, easily in one day and then spend the night, and go further the next.
The bottom line is the older hiking crowd controls the voice of the lobbyists in this argument. It is truly sad. Mountain Bikers are conservationists as much, if not more, than hikers, at least where I live this is the case. For hikers to keep kicking mountain bikes off of their trails is extremely selfish. Mountain Bikers are now relegated to share trails with the motorized crowd and yet we're kicked off of those trails as well because they are too trashed to ride without a motor.
Lastly, most of the trails in these wild areas are off limits to bikes because they are too technical to ride. Mountain Bikers are not asking for much. If these areas were left open to bikes, hikers would still enjoy the majority of all trails in the west to themselves.

I am a hiker first and foremost, but like K Dostal, I am disappointed by the irrational rhetoric of mountain biking haters. Still, I have no problem with bikes being kept out of designated "Wilderness with a Capital W" areas as long as the NPS and the USFS recognize mountain biking as a use they should allow in other management zones.

Anon and Betty H need to take some deep breaths, sit in a lotus position for a few minutes, and find a little more "loving kindness" for other recreational users.

I've seen the operating guides for designated wilderness areas, and wheelchairs or other medical devices are specifically exempted from being considered "mechanical transport". Strictly speaking, if there wasn't such a distinction, someone with an artificial leg/foot (with several moving parts) might be considered to be using mechanical "transport".

Bikes are mechanized, but carbon fiber walking sticks, wheelchairs, and kayaks are not. Go explain that one!

Kafka would be proud of the nonsensical regulations we have today. BTW, for the "pure" wilderness worshippers out there, Congress intended to have bikes be authorized in wilderness areas in 1964. All of this has little to do with any kind of rational argumentation and a lot to do with the desire of a few not to share their taxpayer funded piece of haven. Heck, if wilderness was off limits to hikers, I'd probably drum up the fear mongering as well just so I would not have to share. That being said, it does not make it right.

In the backcountry, there is PLENTY of room for everybody to share, except on a few heavily traveled trails, since it's mostly empty.

I need to comment on Mr. Carroll and his complete lack of understanding of Mountain Biking. The Pugsley is a very specific mountain bike, and is mostly used as a snow bike. In all my years of biking, I've only seen 1 on the trails, so using that bike as the prototypical bike on the trails shows a complete lack of understanding and knowledge about mountain biking. Furthermore, with tires that big, it's very hard for anybody to go very fast (you do have to pedal the darn thing, it's still a human powered machine). And finally, the very wide tires of that bike mean that the bike is less likely to impact the trail (less pressure per square inch of contact).

As for mountain bikes getting bigger and bigger, that does not mean anything. If he refers to downhill specific machines, he would be right, except that those bikes are not meant to be pedaled up the hill, and can only be used at ski resorts in the summer, hardly the wilderness heaven. The typical bike that can be pedaled cross country has not changed much in weight over the last 15 years, it's still somewhere between 25 and 31#. The only difference is that there is more suspension travel that makes them easier to pedal all day. Meanwhile, 1000# horses tear up the trails and defecate all over, and Mr. Carroll does not seem to have much to say about this.

Frankly, the hypocrisy is disgusting.

Thanks for the article and resulting comments, Traveler!

Regarding the paragraph cited below, please note that for more than two decades the Wilderness Act was not interpreted to ban bicycles. Nowhere in the Act does it say that bicycles are prohibited from Wilderness areas.

“Any time you go back and modify the parent law, or parent legislation, you better do it with some good public debate, and I think that’s what needs to happen if we do need to go back and look at those things that were legislated in 1964," said the Park Service's Mr. Oye. "It’s not our intent to change the Wilderness Act to allow for mountain bikes, and it’s not our intent to compromise future wilderness designations by promoting mountain bike use in areas that” have potential to be designated wilderness.

And regarding Mr. Carroll's comments, IMBA and its members are in full agreement that pristine lands should be protected from extraction and development. We do not believe that they need to be protected from bicycles! Fortunately, Wilderness is just one of the tools that land managers can use to afford lasting protections to backcountry areas -- bike-friendly designations like National Recreation Areas offer a good alternative.

haunted hiker, maybe you should sit in the lotus position and slow yourself down as you obviously just read the parts of my post that you wanted. I am not against mountain bikers as a whole, just not in Wilderness areas. As stated above, federal lands should have a place for everyone just not all at the same place !

[Deleted duplicate.]

Betty H. Would you mind explaining why in your opinion cyclists do not belong in wilderness? I always find the rationalization highly entertaining. :)

Such trite hubris to think this is about access, mountain bikers, hikers, horsemen, etc...
Here in my neck of the woods on federal lands only 45% of the trails are machine free, this by being in National Parks and Wildernesses.
Narrow this down to the Wenatchee National Forest alone and one will find 2,500 miles of trail to play on with their toy.
I detest the continuous lobbying for more development in our National Parks and Wildernesses; be it buildings, roads or trails for mountain bikes, horses or boots
and the belief that nature should conform to the trends of society.

"Every recreationist whether hiker, biker, horsepacker, or posey sniffer should not begin by asking, 'What's best for ME?' but rather 'What's best for the bears?'" ~Tom Butler~

"We revere the trail for what it does, not for what it is. We honor the volunteer weed-whackers, but not to the point of wishing to "promote" them to professionals; trail work can be a form of privatization, as it most surely is when undertaken by those who do it to facilitate their wreckreation.” ~Harvey Manning~

Zeb,

Good question, but your sarcasm at the end puts a damper on it.

That said, I think a big part of the answer is being able to walk into an area where you can have an actual primitive experience with as minimal impact as possible on the setting. Now, there's sentiment out there that if you truly want a "primitive" experience you'll leave your stove, watch, GPS, and other devices at home. Perhaps so, but those don't impact the landscape as does a mountain bike.

Again, this isn't a movement to ban mountain bikes from all public lands. Rather, there just seems to be a desire out there to have such an "wilderness" experience. I recently was in Yosemite and hiked the John Muir Trail up the Lyell Fork and it was a nice, smooth trail, one that would be perfect for biking. But I can easily see how it could become so popular with bikers that many hikers would move elsewhere. Indeed, in some places bikes have displaced hikers.

Let's flip your question: Why do mountain bikes belong in wilderness? It's not an access issue. You're more than welcome to walk into any wilderness area you can.

Beyond the philosophical issues, what about the logistical ones? IMBA has demonstrated a great ability to build trails that reportedly stand up to bike use. But as the images on IMBA's website indicate, some of those construction projects are rather large, requiring Bobcats and, in some cases, a large footprint. How would you go about building such trails X miles into wilderness?

Kurt, your reply to Zebulon makes me think of a question (and this touches on Random Walker's comment as well).

One thing that rankles me in these access debates is the amount of hypocrisy I detect coming from those who have access via their preferred method of travel (e.g., to Wilderness areas). Few people, if any, ever are willing to give up their preferred travel mode; they want someone else to give up his/hers or not acquire the right to it in the first place.

So here's my question: do you think horses and packstock should continue to be allowed to travel in Wilderness and recommended Wilderness areas of national parks and national forests while mountain bikers are barred? If so, on what basis? Admittedly bicycles can go faster than hikers, but our environmental impact is about the same as that of hikers. The environmental impact of horses and packstock is huge. They have to be trucked to trailheads in large ungainly vehicles whose carbon footprint is helping to melt the Arctic much faster than my subcompact sedan. Once there, these large mammals, some of which are not native to North America, poop all over the trails, trample campsite vegetation, erode trailbeds massively, muddy streams to the detriment of fish and roe, attract flies, require staggering amounts of food (some of which they strip from the land), and generally debase the environment. So if the politics of exclusion are based on social impact, I can see the need for bicycle regulation (or hiker regulation) on popular trails near trailheads. But if it's based on environmental impact, wouldn't you agree that horses and packstock must be prohibited and that hikers and cyclists should work out a trail-sharing accommodation?

Alternatively, would you accept, per the argument of Random Walker, that if an area is sufficiently "sensitive" or "pristine" (to invoke commonly used parlance in these discussions) everyone should stay out of it? Doesn't any different regimen amount to hubris, as he argues?

Thanks,

imtnbke

Kurt,

Now, we're having the right discussion. Sorry for the sarcasm, I just can't help it. It was still a good question though.

The primitive experience is a vague term that does not describe much. Again, plenty of current allowed uses of the wilderness are far from being primitive as you pointed out. The issue would be framed in terms of conservation, which is after all the goal of wilderness and most other public lands. I don't see how allowing cyclists on most trails (not all, more on that later) go against conservation. Most well designed trails don't suffer from cycling, and they certainly are impacted a loss less than they are by horses. Of course many more people ride their bikes than horses (30 to 1 ratio nationwide I believe), but that's not a reason in and of itself to ban bikes. If we were allowing access based on impact, we would have ban horses long ago.

Why should we allow access to bikes in wilderness? Well, it's a simple issue of fairness. It's human powered, does make much noise and does not impact the land. I won't hike because it bores me to death. How would you like it if we banned hiking and only allowed biking? You should not be allowed to complain because you could always bike on your favorite trail after all. Unlike the bike haters, I'm not trying to tell people how they should enjoy the outdoors. I just want to be able to enjoy it in my favorite way, so long as it does impact the trails.

Bikes displace hikers: well, that's really only an issue when cyclists are only allowed on a small amount of trails, thereby concentrating every possible cyclist on a few trails and crowding out other users. The more trails are opened, the more dispersion, the less conflict. Again, for the very few trails which are very popular, let's leave them hiking only, and let cyclists go in the rest of the nearly empty backcountry.

Trail building: one can build sustainable trails by hand. I've done it, it just requires more people and more time.

My experience with some hikers on trails is that they are rude. They often go off the trails, disturb the wildlife, litter, ride in on big diesel buses, carve their names into trees, etc.. It's actually quite hard to go off the trail on a bike. Unless you are an exceptional trials rider, most people have difficulty even riding on the trails. I mountain bike quite a lot on more technical trails. I almost never see hikers nor other bikers. When I do, we usually say "hi" as we pass each other.
Most mountain biking groups support work-days at the parks, where the trails are mended and the litter is cleaned. I have never seen a hiking group do this.
It's a shame that angery self-rightous hikers insist on creating conflict where there doesn't need to be any. There is not enough support for national parks already, and yet people want to fragment the little support there is for the parks.
I simply don't not support any anit-biking groups or people with my money or votes. I know other bikers that do the same. Consider this when the NPS budget gets cut.

Kurt, I'd like to compliment you on your article overall. Its tone is fair-minded and it's well-researched. I realize these things take a lot of time to do and I doubt you're getting rich doing it.

Here's a laugh: one of the captcha words for this post is "Whitney"!

imtnbke

Regarding my earlier comments about bicycles and the Wilderness Act, I should note that IMBA is not engaged in trying to change the current interpretation and management of Wilderness designations. I wanted to point out, as a matter of record, that bikes were not excluded from Wilderness for two decades. Today, they are banned from Wilderness -- which is why IMBA asks for alternative designations (like National Recreation Areas) to be adopted when newly proposed Wilderness conflicts with important mountain bike trails. The Wilderness designation is one tool for protecting the land, but it's not the only one available to land managers.

C'mon, guys, I'm just the moderator who posts these thought-provoking articles. I don't have time to answer all your questions;-)

But here goes, in no specific order:

* Where's the hypocrisy in wanting to preserve a very, very, very small slice of the American landscape as it always was? As Gary Oye at the Park Service pointed out to me the other day, just 109 million out of the country's 600 million acres are wilderness, and only a small fraction of that 109 million lies within the coterminous states.

* Regarding horses and pack stock, that's a wobbly argument. They've been going into these landscapes longer than they've been designated wilderness, so long that it rightfully could be argued a traditional use. Do I like walking around the piles they leave behind? Nope. Do I like the massive camps they erect? Nope.

* Unfair to ban mountain bikers from wilderness? Weak argument in that there's nothing banning you from wilderness.

* Conservation of resources: simply put, mountain bikes have a greater impact than boots.

* Hubris aside, these landscapes are to be enjoyed, whether that's accomplished by watching Ken Burns' film, flipping through coffee table books, or hoisting back to your back and heading down the trail. Regulations adopted and implemented by the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service are designed to minimize impacts on the landscape. When the impacts become too great, areas are closed to the public. Along that line, I think the agencies should be more proactive in blocking access to all users to allow landscapes to be restored. During my recent trip to Yosemite I also hiked the Cathedral Lakes Trail. Frankly, it needs a few years off. The trail has been pounded by hikers and horses and is covered by a thick "flour" of pulverized soil. The odds that it'll be closed? Slim and none.

* Just as there are rude and inconsiderate bikers, there are rude and inconsiderate hikers. It's something we all have to work together on.

* Never seen hikers work on trails? Check with the Student Conservation Association or the American Hiking Society. I'm sure they can point them out to you.

* Saying that more of the parks should be open to mountain bikers to build advocacy is an odd argument. Should more snowmobile trails be opened, more personal watercraft areas allowed, more hunting, more ATVs all in the name of building so-called advocates? If the only reason these folks come to the parks is to practice their preferred form of recreation, then I'm not sure that's the type of advocacy that needs to be built. Think about it. There are comments placed here today by folks who seldom if ever show up on the Traveler to comment on other issues more integral to the management of the National Park System. Are they really interested in the overall health of the system?

Kurt,

With all due respect, your argument is full of illogical leaps:
- horses trash the trails and defecate all over, but that's okay, because they've been doing for over 100 years. So, basically, the issue has nothing to do with the ACTUAL impact on the land, but whether your usage has been grandfathered in. That makes absolutely zero sense.
- bikes have a greater impact than boots: mostly not true, and again, bikes have way less of an impact than horses. Again, the whole impact argument is weak and full of holes.
- lumping cycling with ATV, snowmobile. That's such a lame argument. I won't bother pointing the obvious differences.

Finally, I indeed will admit that I'm more interested in biking than the national parks and wilderness in general. So what? It does not make my arguments any less valuable.

Thanks for the opportunity to have a rational discussion on the subject though.

Jenn Dice, IMBA's political affairs director, asked me to post this:

It is also important to note that there is a big difference between Forest Service Recommended Wilderness and National Park Service Recommended Wilderness. Mountain bikes are not allowed in NPS Recommended Wilderness and IMBA isn't asking to change that. Contrast that with USFS -- mountain bicycles are allowed to ride in about 30 national forests in Recommended Wilderness as their regulations 1923.03 says existing uses may continue until Congress decides one way or another. As we all know, Congress may never get around to designating many of these areas and there is no reason to kick off our quiet, human-powered low impact sport in places that some day may, or may not, be designated as Wilderness. In Montana, IMBA supports 320,000 acres of the 324,000-acre proposal -- so it isn't that we are against this important tool. But let's not confuse the tool with the goal. The goal is to protect the land from development and resource extraction and one tool is Wilderness. We ask that the Forest Service consider some key changes to places that provide a treasured, unique experience, especially segments of the Continental Divide Trail.

Log-in code for this post was "disquiet publications." God bless 'em!

Zeb,

Clarification: I didn't take a stance on horses in the backcountry.

Not sure how you can say bikes have less impact than boots. Where's the logic/proof behind that statement? Even IMBA doesn't go that far.

As for lumping cycling with ATVs, snowmobiles, etc, those are all user groups that want more access to the national parks, just as do mountain bikers. All bring their own impacts. My response was to the anonymous comment that creating more mountain bike opportunities in the parks would create more advocates. Your comments are proof that creating more bike routes won't necessarily create more park advocates.

It should be noted that the Pugsley with 4" tires is built for SNOW travel, it's not designed just for the sake of leaving a larger impact on trails. Also, for that matter, while I would not disagree with the general statement that mtn bikes are getting bigger and heavier, those bikes that are being ridden deep into the backcountry are not. If we are speaking in general terms, those on bigger/heavier bikes are sticking more and more to lift-served mountains such as Winter Park and Whistler. The backcountry XC crowd is generally not riding large, heavy bikes.

I'm not saying that bikes have less of an impact than hiking boots, I'm just saying that on average the impact is similar, as backed up by most studies. My point remains though that we allow horses everywhere despite the fact that they have way more impact than any other human powered mode of transportation.

Creating advocates or not really does not matter to the issue. That being said, if cyclists are allowed in wilderness, it stands to reason that they will stop fighting it and most likely would be happy to advocate for it. The way the inane interpretation of the Wilderness Act stands, we're forced to be adversaries. BTW, I disagree with IMBA policy of accomodation. All it will do to us is lessen riding opportunities over time, since all politicians want is more wilderness to get their green credentials, regardless of whether designating any area as wilderness will offer any more protection than whatever designation it currently holds. When it comes to trail politics, perception is reality. :)

I can't see why everybody always has to find something inane to argue about. Focus your energy on bigger issues like outlawing tobacco products, something that actually kills people every minute of every day. Riding bikes either on or off road promotes health and decreases depression. Bikers are all very cool people, and the only reason we are loud on the trails when approaching other users is to get your attention. Other users only experience a mere 5 seconds of yield time to bikers when we pass. Some people like the faster pace activities and we have energy to burn so respect that.

@ Kurt commented: "Regarding horses and pack stock, that's a wobbly argument. They've been going into these landscapes longer than they've been designated wilderness, so long that it rightfully could be argued a traditional use. Do I like walking around the piles they leave behind? Nope. Do I like the massive camps they erect? Nope."

Your attempt to explain away this example of trail-use hypocracy is what's wobbly. I hear that running cattle, mining and logging were common "traditional" uses, too, in many of these areas. Shall we grandfather them back in?

I have never EVER seen more overall trail damage, sediment loss, animal burrow collapse (under the trail bed), and trail entrenchment than those used by individual equestrain groups and pack trains, this after 45 years of hiking/backpacking, and 24 years of mountain biking. I'm astonished that this use is perpetuated. Yet, it speaks clearly of the western "cowboy ethic" being equally entrenched in land use politics to this day. It's not at all about environmental impacts with bike use. Give me a break. If it were, there would be no more equestrian/pack train use. Period. End of story. It's about exclusion under guise of environmental concerns.

Nothing worse than spending two days hiking in to a wilderness area and on arrival the second night encountering the group of people on horseback who started on the trail head that morning and passed you that afternoon, setting up their wall tents right where you were planning to camp. Not much difference between that and a mountain bike accept for the amount of erosion, and not to mention that mountain bikes don't poop out noxious weed seeds.
If the rule is gonna stand let it stand. But banning mountain biking on an area based upon speculating future wilderness areas that may be 10 years in the future. Sounds to me like a an opportunity to create an amendment to the memorandum of understanding specific to the respective area and a test out what progress feels like.

I slowed down and realized that Betty wrote, "Once wilderness is gone, it is gone forever..." Sounds poetic but it isn't true. Many locations inside current and proposed wilderness areas were mined and logged and grazed and inhabited by humans in the past and yet, they are now beautiful peaceful places providing rich habitat for flora and fauna.

Perhaps I was too sensitive, but the tone of this sentence came across as mtn biker hating."There are plenty of places where people can play with their toys (mountain bikes, snowmobiles, off road vehicles), there needs to be places where nature can just be nature at its best."

Regardless, I disagree with the implied argument that hikers allow nature to be "at its best" but mountain bikers and other users do not.

If y'all really want to get riled about something, consider this. Near where I live, inside Carson Iceberg and the Emigrant, the USFS allows cattle grazing inside designated wilderness areas.

At a time when we are fighting obesity and threats to the environment, why is the "Old Guard" so excited about alienating a whole new generation of outdoor enthusiasts?

No scientific fact behind the erosion arguments. The truth is, some people don't want to share. And those that say "there are plenty of other trails to ride" have not had their favorite trail closed to them. Not all trails are created equal; a dirt road is not the same as a trail, a trail 100 miles away is not a trail in your own backyard.

If we really believe Wilderness needs to be pristine, then let's ban all human impacts in these areas -- seriously.

I am a hiker, equestrian, and cyclist, so I see this from all sides. As environmentalists, we should spend our limited energy on protecting our public lands from development, clear cutting, and mining rather than fighting each other!

As a wilderness user as a hiker and a backpacker and an avid mountain biker and a beginning equestrian I have these few words to say. Firstly, as a mountain biker of 15 years I have had only one negative experience coming across another trail user, besides that most trail users I come across, be they bikers, or hikers, or horseback riders, we usually nod and say hi and smile. I slow down if I am on the bike, and that is that. The last time I was in a wilderness parcel of national forest land, in the Ruby Mountains in Nevada, there were cows in the "wilderness" area, shitting in the stream that was the water source for a hiker, so how "pure" is that? In Yosemite National park, mules and horses are allowed that shit directly in the streams, or on bridges that are directly above streams. How is a bike worse than that? If you are going to allow a horse on a trail, you should allow a bike. And really I see no reason not to allow a bike on any trail that a human can walk on either. Most bikers don't have the skills to ride on such trails, and for those of us that do, it is a wonderful treat (and there aren't that many of us).

In my neck of the woods all the trails are built and maintained almost exclusively by the mountain biking community. If it wasn't for the MTB community there would be very few hiking/running/biking trail systems. Because of the MTB community free trails are built and maintained with no cost to the taxpayers. Most people think that the trails were built by the "state", "county" or "city" with no idea that it is 100% volunteer effort by people that ride bikes and love the outdoors. The MTB community is full of environmentally minded people that are far more concerned about the impact of what they build than just creating trail.

Too many people don't have their facts straight and are uneducated about bikes in the wilderness. When people lump bikes in with motorcycles, snowmobiles, jet skis, etc. it just shows their ignorance. They also don't understand the different types of cycling and the impacts of each. Most folks have driven by Winter Park or visited Whistler and assume that that is modern day mountain biking. It is for the downhill scene. That isn't what back country cycling is about. Saying that a Pugsley is mainstream and that is what the current and future bike is like is also showing supreme ignorance. What is seen in magazines, on TV, and on YouTube isn't what you are going to see in a back country "wilderness" area. The "Mountain Dew" crew won't be showing up in the wilderness. Just like you won't see a Pugsley doing a downhill run at Whistler.

People need to educate themselves before they make statements justifying the limitations of specific user groups.

I realize this thread is geared towards the western parks, but we have lots of bikers on the trails in the east too. Generally my attitude is live and let live, I'm willing to share the trail with whoever comes. The ruts I can deal with, they'll fill back in in time, but I wish some of these bikers would use common sense and not run over the delicate herbs on the side of the path. A ladyslipper might be beneath their notice, but it's no less rare. Have a little care, I say.

OK, the captcha for this one is "Devoted numskull"! These are great.

The antibike folks may win various battles in the war of delay and attrition, but be poised to lose the war.

A recent academic study reports that there is already a very narrow base of support for old-line conservationism (of the type that rationalizes horse/packstock damage but can't abide a bicycle on a trail) and that that narrow support base is at risk of becoming even narrower. Here's what the report says:

"Our interpretation is that there are effectively two Americas when considering the pathway from nature exposure to conservation support: an elite backpacking/hiking group and a broader public lands visitation group. If this is true, then it has profound consequences for future generations and prospects for conservation support. Conservation organizations seem to be receiving donations from a very narrow group of relatively elite outdoor enthusiasts."

"[A] recent survey of 849 Yellowstone National Park visitor groups asked what primary activities were their reasons for visiting the park. Day hiking [was] (3%) . . . and Overnight backpacking (backcountry) [was] (1%). . . . [B]ackpacking and hiking combined [are] only 4% of the reasons people gave for visiting Yellowstone . . . ."

"The current per capita rate of backpacking is 0.054: in other words, the average American goes backpacking once every 18.5 years. . . . The demographics of this group are consistent with the description of the small fraction of the electorate that considers the environment a top priority: overwhelmingly European-American, mostly college educated, higher income and over 35. Further, based on the lagged impact of hiking/backpacking on investment, conservation NGOs have been benefiting from the tail end of a decade-old rise in the popularity of backpacking and hiking. The most recent data show a decline in hiking/backpacking popularity since 1998–2000. We project the negative effect of reduced hiking/backpacking frequency on NGO revenues to begin in approximately 2010–2011, and to continue through at least 2018." In sum, "The declines in backpacking/hiking since 2000 could imply a significant problem for conservation support."

"Given the trends of increasing US population diversity, urbanization, and economic and cultural changes, we fear that the currently narrow base of conservation NGO supporters will become even narrower. To avoid becoming marginalized, the conservation movement will need to diversify its outreach strategy, engaging novel and diverse constituencies." The nongovernmental organizations referred to are "The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, Sierra Club, and Environmental Defense."

Source: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0007367

The NPS is ahead of the old-line environmental legacy outfits in recognizing that to remain relevant it can't rely on the tiny fraction of the population that insists all backcountry park visits be on foot or by hoof. Other uses in keeping with national park values have to be encouraged, and mountain biking is, in my view, foremost among them. The NPS seems to be embarking wisely on measures that will ensure its funding long after backward-looking environmental groups have gone the way of the woolly mammoth. (Although I hear the mammoth may be about to be cloned, so one must never rule anything out.)

I thought that Edward Abbey thought that travel bicycle was equivalent to horseback or by foot and far more preferable than by motor vehicle.

However - some people do have this notion of thrill seekers in a Nissan Xterra commercial causing massive trail erosion by speeding through the mud or even this Nature Valley commercial which shows someone taking her bike across narrow singletrack and eventually stopping on a patch of delicate vegetation.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flNLNpv7LUo

I do remember when I used to ride on trails in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was strictly wide trails where it was legal to do so. We frankly didn't know of many singletrack trails where bicycles were legal, although we knew that illegal riding on singletrack was somewhat common.

I will say that a simple reading of the Wilderness Act would lead me to believe (previous interpretations aside) that "mechanized transport" includes bicycles or wheeled horse trailers. Of course the difficulty is that serious all terrain bicycles weren't very common until the 1980s, so how could the authors of the Act know whether or not they should have specifically included or excluded bicycles.

Imtnbke,

Thanks for pointing to that study. Hadn't seen it, but will have to take a closer look.

In all, its conclusions don't sound terribly new....but they shouldn't be ignored, either. Toss in what Richard Louv wrote in Last Child in the Woods and we're -- all generations, not just boomers vs. Genx et. al. -- facing some somber news in terms of how we connect with nature. I will be curious to see if the study you cite describes the old-time conservatism as you do: "(of the type that rationalizes horse/packstock damage but can't abide a bicycle on a trail)."

And here's a snippet of some more new data regarding outdoor activities, from the Outdoor Foundation: From 2008 to 2009 there was a 10.2 percent increase (7.6 million participants) in mountain bike participation. There also was a 19 percent increase in backpacking (7.9 million participants), so perhaps the conclusions of the study you cite isn't "spot on," as the Brits would say. I'll have more on this study in a stand-alone post, as it is important to understand where and how people are recreating, and even who (ie male vs. female, Caucasian vs. Hispanics vs. Blacks, etc).

I couldn't agree more with your assessment. The Pugsley has large tires in order to provide flotation in snow, sand and mud. If you ride it on regular trails it will do far less damage than a mountain bike with standard 2.1" wide tires. I suggest you do more research and understand your topics fully before writing things that are blatantly false.

Sorry. My above statement was in reply to Zebulon's comments, not the author of this article.

Hi, Kurt,

To answer your question, the characterization of old-line conservationism is my own editorial comment and doesn't appear in the academic study. These threads are occasions for rhetorical asides and I am wont to indulge in them! I think my comment is, however, a fair inference from things that the study does discuss. I would be curious to know how many, e.g., Sierra Club members are under 50 years old, nonurban, nonaffluent, etc. I bet not many. It wouldn't surprise me if in 10 years the average member's age in the organizations the study refers to is 60 or above. That's not auspicious for their futures.

I agree with your comments about people's isolation from nature. That's a major problem throughout the country as far as I can see. We nonmotorized outdoors enthusiasts ought not to be one another's foes and should find common ground before it's too late. That's especially so given the practicalities of visits to wildlands. I mountain-biked some high-altitude areas of Colorado this summer. They were, essentially, empty at the height of the summer season. I might as well have been in the outback of Canada's Northwest Territories for all the people I saw.

imtnbke

This is indeed a fairly crazy debate. I've ridden around the San Francisco quite a bit. Often, a few miles from the trailheard, I hardly see another user, and that's in the midst of a huge metropolis with millions of people. I can't imagine that there are many people milling around in the backcountry in the middle of nowhere.

Whether people are on the trails when you're on them is beside the point. If you went back there on your bike and ran into dozens of other users how would that have affected your perspective?

Isn't part of the beauty of getting into the backcountry the solitude that exists there? Last September I spent five days canoeing Yellowstone Lake with two friends. We never encountered another party -- just wolves, grizz, bald eagles and sandhill cranes. I thought it was wonderful. This past September I took several hikes in Yosemite, and ran into other groups on each of them. It was great seeing people out on the trail enjoying the park, but it wasn't the same experience I had in Yellowstone.

If I'm inferring your point correctly, Zeb, it's that the trails appear empty and so why shouldn't bikers be able to use them. I would reply that the "snapshot moment" you experienced didn't necessarily demonstrate that the trails are not been used, and at the same time it offered you the type of experience you were seeking. Didn't you enjoy it more having the trail to yourself than jockeying with others, be they on foot, bike, or horse?

As I indicated earlier, I'm working on a story regarding how Americans are using the outdoors. I think we'll all find the findings interesting, and hopefully it will lead to further dialog on what can be done to see that all groups can achieve the experiences they're seeking.

Kurt,

My point is that by and large, a few miles from the trailhead there's plenty of room to enjoy some solitude. I don't mind seeing people on the trail either. It's public land after all, so I expect to have to share it. I think that a lot of the push against cyclists is that they somehow impact other perception of their "solitude". That's understandable, but frankly is a really bad argument. Again, if one wants complete solitude, one should buy his/her own piece of land and stay there. Nobody should expect complete solitude on taxpayer funded trails. They're ours to share.

Thanks for the forum and important dialog here.

A few observations:

"There's no comparison between bikes made 20 years ago and those made today," Dave Bull, the Forest Service's director for recreation, minerals, lands, heritage and wilderness in Montana told the Times. "People are better able to get to places they couldn't reach before without hiking. They're pushing further and further."

And

"Not only are the latest generation of bikes capable of taking their riders farther and farther into the backcountry, but their arrival, some believe, is out of sync with the wilderness concept."

This is a motorized argument and is ridiculous to apply it to bicycles. I don't know about you all - but I still generate roughly the same (slightly less with age) amount of horsepower I did 25 years ago and still get to the same middle-of-nowhere locations under my own power regardless of what bicycle I am riding. While what we ride into the woods has changed considerably over the years, the motor of heart, lungs and passion has not. Definitely alot of BULL SPEAK!

###

“There is a wilderness experience, a truly backcountry experience, that is part of the idea and the concept behind wilderness," says Michael Carroll, associate director of The Wilderness Society's Wilderness Support Center. "It's preserving a landscape that is similar to the landscape that our fathers and their fathers before them were able to experience. It’s hard to argue that that experience has been preserved when you have heavy traffic zipping by on mountain bikes after you’ve spent two days hiking in.”

What is the goal of a Wilderness designation if not to preserve a LANDSCAPE? So bicyclists ride a 30 mile loop in a day that it takes hikers 3 days to complete - please explain how 30 miles of trail based bicycle travel is more impactful to the LANDSCAPE than hikers who set up camp off trail - usually near a pretty but sensitive meadow, affect wildlife and the ecosystem with cooking and shit in the woods for three days? Does the presence of bicycles really bust your backcountry spiritual chops? What exactly are you protecting? Wilderness designation is not a religion or exclusive holier-than-thou club, it is a land protection tool in a box of Congressional tools that can permanently protect our roadless public lands from mining, logging, new roads, structures and expanded motorized use. A companion designation to Wilderness such as a National Protection Area is a viable and commonsense way to preserve our spectacular public lands as we go forward with the dialog about protecting pristine areas where we have ridden our bicycles for decades without adverse affects to its wilderness (little 'w') character.

The cycling community is a huge conservation base and want to see our lands permanently protected but the Wilderness or nothing choice leaves us either supporting a bicycle banning protection tool or be opposed to new Wilderness designation. There is a better way. New, socially responsible Wilderness can be supported by the cycling community when it is part of a conservation package that can incorporate boundary adjustments, corridors and companion designations to preserve riding opportunities we've enjoyed for decades without issues. We don't need access to all trails but do want to preserve access to the historically and economically important ones. Bicyclists need to be at the table as responsible partners when the future of these lands are being negotiated.

###

As far as offroad bicycle access in National Parks - not in my wildest singletrack dreams would I want to ride my bike on the sensitive backcountry trails in Yellowstone, for example, but I'd sure support some bicycle access to pedal around the park on old road beds or power line cuts rather than a death defying road rides with Hawaiian shirt wearing, RV driving tourists. People do travel with their bikes and making some bicycle concessions can do nothing but better connect people to their surroundings - is this not the purpose of our National Parks? The modern National Parks were designed with automobile access as a priority but not bicycles?

Do not forget our cycling roots in National Parks! It's not a new concept or precedent!

http://www.nrhc.org/history/25thInfantry.html

I got your point Zeb. There is room for a variety of activities and we should support agency leaders who manage outdoor recreational use accordingly.

Kurt your anecdote is right on. Some areas draw more people and thus agencies need to aggressively manage the use in those places, but there are plenty just as beautiful spots that practically no one visits. Places where one hiker can run into one mtn biker and neither has had their outdoor experience ruined. In the USFS portions of the Sierra I routinely encounter mtn bikers, hikers, fishermen, and stock users on my favorite trails. Everyone is cheerful. Everyone is apparently enjoying themselves. Everyone is courteously sharing the outdoors. To me the conflicts on the ground appear to be few and far between, if they exist at all.

imtnbike brings up good points about generational differences. I suspect that some folks are clinging to a mythology about the fight to stop the "loss" of "wilderness." This mythology was instrumental in calling people into action during the environmental struggles leading up to the new millennium. Today, such a black and white, evil vs good vision is probably obsolete. For the future, an updated perspective may be in order.

Thanks for the forum and important dialog here.

A few observations:

"There's no comparison between bikes made 20 years ago and those made today," Dave Bull, the Forest Service's director for recreation, minerals, lands, heritage and wilderness in Montana told the Times. "People are better able to get to places they couldn't reach before without hiking. They're pushing further and further."

And

"Not only are the latest generation of bikes capable of taking their riders farther and farther into the backcountry, but their arrival, some believe, is out of sync with the wilderness concept."

This is a motorized argument and is ridiculous to apply it to bicycles. I don't know about you all - but I still generate roughly the same (slightly less with age) amount of horsepower I did 25 years ago and still get to the same middle-of-nowhere locations under my own power regardless of what bicycle I am riding. While what we ride into the woods has changed considerably over the years, the motor of heart, lungs and passion has not. Definitely alot of Bull Speak!

###

“There is a wilderness experience, a truly backcountry experience, that is part of the idea and the concept behind wilderness," says Michael Carroll, associate director of The Wilderness Society's Wilderness Support Center. "It's preserving a landscape that is similar to the landscape that our fathers and their fathers before them were able to experience. It’s hard to argue that that experience has been preserved when you have heavy traffic zipping by on mountain bikes after you’ve spent two days hiking in.”

What is the goal of a Wilderness designation if not to preserve a LANDSCAPE? So bicyclists ride a 30 mile loop in a day that it takes hikers 3 days to complete - please explain how 30 miles of trail based bicycle travel is more impactful to the LANDSCAPE than hikers who set up camp off trail - usually near a pretty but sensitive meadow, affect wildlife and the ecosystem with cooking and shit in the woods for three days? Does the presence of bicycles really bust your backcountry spiritual chops? What exactly are you protecting? Wilderness designation is not a religion or exclusive holier-than-thou club, it is a land protection tool in a box of Congressional tools that can permanently protect our roadless public lands from mining, logging, new roads, structures and expanded motorized use. A companion designation to Wilderness such as a National Protection Area is a viable and commonsense way to preserve our spectacular public lands as we go forward with the dialog about protecting pristine areas where we have ridden our bicycles for decades without adverse affects to its wilderness (little 'w') character.

The cycling community is a huge conservation base and want to see our lands permanently protected but the Wilderness or nothing choice leaves us either supporting a bicycle banning protection tool or be opposed to new Wilderness designation. There is a better way. New, socially responsible Wilderness can be supported by the cycling community when it is part of a conservation package that can incorporate boundary adjustments, corridors and companion designations to preserve riding opportunities we've enjoyed for decades without issues. We don't need access to all trails but do want to preserve access to the historically and economically important ones. Bicyclists need to be at the table as responsible partners when the future of these lands are being negotiated.

###

As far as offroad bicycle access in National Parks - not in my wildest singletrack dreams would I want to ride my bike on the sensitive backcountry trails in Yellowstone, for example, but I'd sure support some bicycle access to pedal around the park on old road beds or power line cuts rather than a death defying road rides with Hawaiian shirt wearing, RV driving tourists. People do travel with their bikes and making some bicycle concessions can do nothing but better connect people to their surroundings - is this not the purpose of our National Parks? The modern National Parks were designed with automobile access as a priority but not bicycles?

Do not forget our cycling roots in National Parks! It's not a new concept or precedent!

http://www.nrhc.org/history/25thInfantry.html

I've stated before in these threads that much modern "environmentalism" has less to do with conservation than with the quasireligious quest for a spiritual experience in the woods—a quest with strong exclusionary overtones and accompanied by no little self-righteousness. At its worst this strain of "environmentalism" brings to mind South African apartheid in its mythological underpinnings, zealous fervor to preserve the land for one's favored group, and demands for the exclusion of other groups based on ideological considerations. (Apartheid, some may know, is Afrikaans for "separateness.")

I thought of the messianic nature of some environmentalist thought when I read the following quotation in Kurt's article:

“There is a wilderness experience, a truly backcountry experience, that is part of the idea and the concept behind wilderness," says Michael Carroll, associate director of The Wilderness Society's Wilderness Support Center. "It's preserving a landscape that is similar to the landscape that our fathers and their fathers before them were able to experience. It’s hard to argue that that experience has been preserved when you have heavy traffic zipping by on mountain bikes after you’ve spent two days hiking in.”

Forget about the facts that mountain bikers have no more effect on landscape preservation than hikers, are extremely unlikely to be "zipping by" in profusion in any wildland that isn't already impacted by swarms of people on foot and riding large dust-raising mammals, and that " 'the landscape that our fathers and their fathers before them were able to experience' " was quite often riddled with mines, sluices, stripped hillsides, mercury poisoning, deforestation, and the graves of the native peoples whom those " 'fathers and . . . fathers before them' " slaughtered.

Forget about all that and just consider the reverential tone of the statement that implies there is one correct and enlightened "wilderness experience" and "truly backcountry experience." This is where the temperance movement that sustains itself under the guise of environmentalism shows through. It's like the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path, whose tenets include "right view" and "right action." "The practitioner must make the right effort to abandon the wrong view and to enter into the right view. Right mindfulness is used to constantly remain in the right view." (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noble_Eightfold_Path.)

Reid Buckley, in an article in the November 2009 issue of The American Conservative magazine, put it well: "lurking in the American character is an unfortunate universalist reformism deriving from Calvinist intolerance. It's a handsome paradox: the more secular we become as a nation, the more Americans desire to establish the city of God on earth"—or at least on national park and national forest trails. Entire "environmental" organizations are built on this ethos. (Incidentally, The American Conservative magazine is not some purely reactionary rag but a mixed bag of stuff I don't agree with and articles and commentary that are thoughtful and thought-provoking. Its website is worth a look.)

I would like public policy regarding our national parks and national forests to be based on science, empiricism, and reason, and not on soothsaying, millennialism, eschatology, and gauzy and implausible views of an Arcadian past that never existed—a view as historically dubious as young-earth creationism.

I would suggest that by the time a discussion comes down to quoting from reactionary pundits and comparing the other side to apartheid, most of the salient points have already been made. Much of this has degenerated to "hooray for my side". That is not the usual timbre of talks in the Traveler.

I'm not a biker and not much of a hiker anymore either. I thought a Pugsley was an ugly dog. I just like the parks. We need more figuring out common solutions, rather than trying to be right or to 'win'.

Imtnbke,

That's quite a leap to make -- "that much modern "environmentalism" has less to do with conservation than with the quasireligious quest for a spiritual experience in the woods—a quest with strong exclusionary overtones and accompanied by no little self-righteousness. At its worst this strain of "environmentalism" brings to mind South African apartheid in its mythological underpinnings, zealous fervor to preserve the land for one's favored group, and demands for the exclusion of other groups based on ideological considerations. (Apartheid, some may know, is Afrikaans for "separateness.")" -- and it's one that can't go unchallenged.

I'd be curious to hear what you'd say to Native Americans, John Muir, David Brower, Ed Abbey, or even Jon Krakauer. There are many who do indeed find a spiritual experience in a wilderness setting, and to belittle them for finding that, is it so far removed from belittling a Catholic, or Jew, or Protestant, or Baptist for how they find their spiritualism?

And, really, I strongly question your contention that some sort of spiritual elitism is driving the divergent views in this and other discussions about wilderness. What is at stake is preservation of the landscape, a measured approach to using it, not a rabid mass consumption of it.

I think the prohibition of mountain biking on areas that "may" be future wilderness areas is discriminatory. Especially given the lack of certainty that anyone has on it. It sounds like a way for park and forestry service admins to make de facto wilderness areas, when that legal determination may never come.

That said, I've both hiked and mountain biked for a long time, and have my own short observations to add. From my experience:

- erosion issues with both types of trails are largely governed by trail management. Bike trails in areas that are monitored and closed when weather situations merit it (i.e., no riding on wet trails in areas where that degrades the trail) are as sustainable as hiking trails over most terrain. Both types of trail suffer from irresponsible users, and some users will be irresponsible - hence the need for proper management.

- Bike trails in general need a little more maintenance to prevent those erosion issues, all other things being equal. This is only true given relatively equal levels of traffic. Heavily traveled foot paths suffer more than less popular bike trails and vice versa. It is worth noting that biking trails here in the Nashville area are heavily used, but several still must be trimmed back annually. As another reviewer commented, wilderness will and does come back.

- Hiking trails in general suffer more from littering, particularly around camp sites - "primitive" or otherwise.

- Lastly, the one that is irrefutable: Horses destroy trail, create erosion, pollute with feces (that may harbor invasive plants), etc. etc. One might argue (and I might agree) that designated Wilderness areas should be closed to all users, period. Or open only under guided supervision, etc. Barring that though, if you allow horses, the arguments against bikers are null and void.

thanks.

The real tragedy is hikers and mountain bikers are both conversations and when they work together to preserve or protect a natural area they are an unstoppable force. Legislation and designations that prohibit hikers or mountain bikers from accessing our natural areas often split these users making conserving our natural areas more difficult.

Additionally, at least in my area, hiker only trails are falling into disrepair and are being reclaimed by the forest due to lack of maintenance and near non-use. This is largely a result of the inability of hikers, due to age (the average hiker volunteer is in their sixties), to continue to get out and maintain hiker only designated trails. While only a few miles away the shared-used trails constructed and maintained by mountain bikers are kept in top-notch condition because the volunteer base is larger and in better condition (average volunteer is in their early thirties) to preform trail maintenance. As a result, more hikers are ignoring the hiker only trails and using the much better maintained shared-use trails constructed and maintained by mountain bikers. It would seem the best way to preserve the current neglected hiker only trails would be to allow mountain bike access with the understanding that the local mountain bike club preform a set number of hours of trail maintenance each year to guarantee continued access.