Guest Column: Has The National Park Service Found Itself Straddling The Fence On Mountain Biking?

A multiple use trail for hikers, and possibly mountain bikers, is being cut into this landscape near Panther Junction in Big Bend National Park. NPS photo.

Editor's note: Efforts to cut a multiple-use trail for hikers and mountain bikers at Big Bend National Park have generated ongoing debates over whether creating such trails for mountain bikers in national parks is a good thing. Roger Siglin, who long has followed the Big Bend matter, wonders if the National Park Service hasn't painted itself into a corner over this issue.

As someone who opposed the mountain bike trail construction at Big Bend National Park from the beginning, hiked the proposed route when it was first flagged, and recently hiked it with Jeff Renfrow of the Big Bend Trails Alliance, I have several opinions on the issue. I should also mention my 27-year-career with the National Park Service started in Big Bend in 1966, and I have hiked several thousand miles in the park.

As a hiking trail it is pretty innocuous. I would rate it as little more than a short walk, and it will probably will be the least interesting trail in Big Bend when fully constructed. This doesn’t mean it won’t get some use, particularly if combined with a roadside picnic area since there is none near the visitor center at park headquarters.

It could especially appeal to families with hungry children tired of the long drive from the nearest town, assuming park staff at the visitor center promote it. The park concessioner is also planning to update and improve the adjacent gas station and grocery store. Use will still be limited by high temperatures for about six months of the year. But putting all of that aside, I support completing the construction as a hiking trail since substantial money has already been spent and it would be nice if the public got something in return for its taxpayer dollars.

As a mountain bike trail, it is even more innocuous and probably will not attract many mountain bikers since there are better opportunities both on some of the park’s 120 miles of rough dirt roads and hundreds of miles of bike trails to the west in Terlingua, Lajitas, and Big Bend Ranch State Park. The state park is heavily promoting mountain biking on its 300,000 acres, which I supported in a draft public use paper I prepared several years ago.

Some day there should be another 30,000 acres available in the Chinati State Natural Area west of Presidio, again an area where I outlined several good single-track opportunities in a draft public use plan I authored. There is also no good reason the 23,000-acre Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management area 26 miles south of Alpine could not offer mountain biking on tens of miles of old ranch roads and cattle trails.

In my opinion, the primary reason for the mountain bike trail project in Big Bend (now called a hiking trail until a special regulation is promulgated) is to get the mountain biking industry’s foot in the door to build a stronger constituency for opening up single-track hiking trails in the National Park System to mountain bikes. That includes designated wilderness and lands managed for their wilderness potential by the National Park Service. There is a lot of money to be made by the industries supporting bringing mountain bikers to the parks. This is not to imply that individual mountain bikers themselves are not part of the driving force behind this effort.

There seem to be two visions of mountain biking. One is promoted by IMBA -- the International Mountain Bicycling Association -- as providing access to nature in a healthful way with little or no conflict with hikers, if everyone would agree to get along. The other vision is the one you see on most mountain biking websites. They show bikers riding at high speed on single-track trails, some bermed with jumps, wood ramps, and other construction that provide additional thrills and spills.

What the websites don’t show is other trail users who have been driven off the trails by the antics of the thrill seekers on bicycles. This is not true everywhere, but it is becoming increasingly common where large numbers of mountain bikers congregate, particularly near large population centers. To make matters worse, many state and local parks set aside for preservation of plant and animal communities are being damaged by both legal and illegal trail construction.

Big Bend is remote enough and the rocks and prickly vegetation bad enough that the worst problems may be avoided, but it leads to the main question: what is the purpose of national parks?

The first place to look is the National Parks Organic Act of 1916, which says in part “........which purpose 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.”

Congress has reaffirmed the unimpairment part of the act several times. In general, the pendulum has swung back and forth between those who emphasize unimpairment and those who emphasize enjoyment. Not surprisingly, the recreation industry has emphasized the latter, using increasing clout in the current political climate.

The NPS has often been on the fence between the two extremes, but in general has not built facilities for, or encouraged, the more extreme thrills or adventure aspects of various uses. Instead it encourages activities that allow the appreciation of the natural features, including the scenery at a leisurely pace.

I recently rode my daughter’s downhill bike at Keystone Resort. Going down the marked trail I often thought how nice it would be to see the flowers and decided I would prefer hiking the same route. An opposite view was taken by one of your commentators who describes the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands as boring. I guess there was not enough scenery or flowers.

I could go on and on about why I think single-track mountain biking is wrong in the national parks, but I also think the mountain bike fraternity is its own worst enemy. Just look at the websites if you don’t agree. I also think commentators should have to identify themselves with a brief statement. It should greatly improve the quality of the discussions.

Comments

Boy, are you going to get letters on this one!

I am a "mountain biker" and that is in quotes because I avoid mountain biking areas and other mountain bikers. I ride for exercise and cross training. I hate downhill, and I avoid downhill riders who seem to think that yelling "clear!" is the signal to bomb straight down, no matter who or what is in the way, notwithstanding that UPHILL riders have the right of way. In popular areas I have watched trails degrade because these downhillers want to go downhill: not along switchbacks. They forge their own trails, which are then understandably adopted by the next rider, who has no way of knowing it is an illegal user trail.

As a cautious rider (I am old enough that any injury will keep me off the trails for a good long time) I am summarily ordered out of the way by faster riders. "On your left!". Zoom.

As outlined in the article, the majority of mountain bike riders may or may not be thrill seekers who force other users off the trail, impact wildlife, and never heard of Leave No Trace, but looking at websites and the photos in Mountain Biking magazines, advertisers at least emphasize the thrill set. I have politely asked riders who skid on corners for a dramatic, fast turn (and a degraded trail) please to slow down to help preserve the trail and have been cursed at for my trouble.

I live and work in a National Park which is administered as a Wilderness. People constantly ask me if they are allowed to mountain bike, bungie jump, or para-glide. Why isn't there a zip line? My answer is that this is a National Park: not a thrill park. Las Vegas is four hours away: try there.

Canyon Fossil's comments reflect my experiences almost exactly. Through the years of being literally run off trails by more than just a few careening bikers, I have developed a very strong distaste for the sport in general -- even though I know full well that the individuals I've encountered may be a small percentage of the overall population of bikers.

And as Roger points out, there are generally thousands of acres and miles of land adjacent to national parks where bikes are encouraged. The need to preserve unimpaired paramount and should never, under any circumstance, be diluted in any way.

Same old tired argument, there are other trails nearby, so leave us alone. Put another way, we members of the HOHA (hateful old hiker association) love our parks to ourselves, and really really don't want to share with the newcomers. So, instead of debating rationally, we are going to wax poetic about how cyclists are just a bunch of dangerous thrill seekers. It's rather pathetic.

Roger would rather hike to look at the pretty flowers than ride a bike, and frankly Roger wants everybody else to do exactly the same when going to the national parks. Because, the only pure and correct way to enjoy the parks is to follow Roger's lead, because Roger knows best what's good for everybody else. :) :) :)

The White Rim is boring because it is nothing more than a 100 mile fireroad. I'm pretty sure that the visuals are off the chart, but then again I'd much rather do the 8 mile ride on rocky/loamy single track in the mountain that I just finished an hour ago in the Sierras than spend hours riding on a fire road.

I would like to point out another flaw in Roger's reasoning. It's one we see all the time. It's the boogeyman about how the deep pocketed bike industry is getting its way and forcing Washington to open the parks to those pesky mountain bikers. This is so easy to debunk. IMBA's budget is probably a few million bucks a year. Compare that to the Sierra Club (chief HOHA) and other various so called environmentalist groups whose budget dwarf IMBA. Or compare that the commercial equestrian outfits that manage, in only a few months, to get Congress to overrule the NPS. Meanwhile, for all its might, the biking industry keeps on losing the Wilderness access debate, year after year.

I just got home from an awesome downhill mountain bike ride. I haven't even showered yet. The trail I rode is in the Moab, UT area and attracts thousands of mountain bikers every year. There is every kind of challenge on the trail from extreme slaloms to nearly impossibe climbs and unbelievably steep slickrock that can actually be ridden on a bike. And that's what the trail is all about: the ride. And that's what most mountain biking is about. But national parks are about scenery, wildlife, geology, history, pre-history, lakes, glaciers, rivers, etc., etc. There are plenty of places to get thrills mountain biking, and national parks shouldn't be on the list. And if you wanted to talk about hikers sharing trails with mountain bikers, talk to my wife. She doesn't much like being told to clear out of the way for some testerone poisoned biker.

Roger is right. Put mountain bike trails somewhere else.

Bill Foreman, Moab, UT

I have a few questions to ask Roger, if he would be amenable to helping me to understand his perspective. Here they are:

1. You propose that mountain biking is too problematic for the national parks but suitable for nearby state parks. If mountain biking is too problematic in the one, why should it be allowed in the other?

2. You refer to the mountain biking "industry" as a large and influential presence and state that "[t]here is a lot of money to be made by the industries supporting bringing mountain bikers to the parks." Can you point to any empirical evidence for these propositions?

3. If the purpose of the Organic Act is to keep the national parks unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations, why should people be allowed in them at all?

4. You mention, I think accurately, that "[t]he NPS . . . encourages activities that allow the appreciation of the natural features, including the scenery at a leisurely pace." Why is it bad for it to experiment with activities that are more energetic and challenging but still environmentally benign?

5. Do you believe that the fact that these debates appear so regularly on NPT and a thousand other websites is evidence that mountain biking is not going away, just as cell phones, abortion, contraception, China, marijuana, raw milk, accessible pornography, the Internet, racially mixed and same-sex marriages, nuclear power, inexpensive air travel, school integration, the shift from manufacturing to knowlege-based employment, freer trade, and globalization are not going away no matter that some people wish them to, and thus it's inevitable that federal agencies will adopt more generous policies toward mountain biking despite the rearguard battle now being fought?

6. Do you think that hiking alone has a sufficiently broad constituency to ensure political support for wildland preservation? If yes, what would be your guess about:

(a) The average member's age in the Sierra Club, PEER, the Wilderness Society, Wilderness Watch, the Pacific Crest Trail Association, and like-minded groups?

(b) The percentage of members of the Sierra Club, PEER, the Wilderness Society, Wilderness Watch, the Pacific Crest Trail Association, and like-minded groups who are over age 65?

(c) The absolute numbers and percentages of people under the following ages who are interested in the mission of the the Sierra Club, PEER, the Wilderness Society, Wilderness Watch, the Pacific Crest Trail Association, and like-minded groups:

(i) 40

(ii) 45

(iii) 50

(iv) 55

(v) 60

(vi) 70?

(d) The absolute number and percentage of kids who are interested in hiking?

7. Do you view the demise of the rather anti-bicycle Continental Divide Trail Association as an ominous portent of demographic trends?

8. Does this debate take place in countries other than the United States? If so, which ones? If not, why is the United States unique in having it?

9. Since you imply that mountain biking has salutary aspects but note, I think reasonably, that it has a social impact greater than zero, what would be your suggestion on managing it in the national park system?

10. Do you think that the overall utility to society of other things like automobile ownership should be measured by the "thrills and spills" that are a staple of automobile advertising?

11. You refer to "the recreation industry['s] . . . increasing clout in the current political climate."

(a) What is it about the current political climate that gives it the increasing influence you allege?

(b) If there is such a trend, is the National Park Service not wise and prescient to adapt to activities like mountain biking that seem to be rising in popularity?

(c) If it is wise to do so, why is the trail in Big Bend National Park not a good place to start, and what would be wrong with IMBA's helping the National Park Service to "build a stronger constituency for opening up single-track hiking trails in the National Park System to mountain bikes"?

Thank you.

Though I'm getting on in years and may already be a hate-filled curmudgeon, I do enjoy biking. In fact, my son and I biked this morning for a couple hours in a regional park (mix of paved and dirt). Out here on the prairie, we don't get to do high-thrill downhills. We pedal. We say "good morning" to the hikers and joggers and they say "good morning" back. We also use cute little bells to warn people we're coming. And we don't seem to have user conflicts.

I'm a hiker first, but I don't mind bikes. I do mind *some* bikers. This issue is a conflict between users -- bikers don't have unlimited rights, and shouldn't, if their actions infringe on the rights of others. The downhillers seem to infringe the most. The proposed Big Bend trail isn't congenial for the offenders, so I don't think we'll see them there and any conflicts will be minor. (So will use, I expect.)

Bikers get an angry response on NPT and other sites because many hikers have stories of rude bikers infringing on their rights. Too many rude bikers, and too many stories.

Maybe there are stories of rude hikers yelling "clear." Or rude hikers who stand their ground and force bikers off the trail and off a cliff. I haven't heard those stories.

When the biking advocates manage to convey respect for other users, I think they'll get more respect back.

It's worth a try, guys.

I would be glad to respond to some of imtnbks questions. But he also knows I can't answer most of them, and doubt anyone can without nationwide surveys. But before I try to answer them I think his bio should include more info on his interest in the issue. Is he a paid member of IMBA or some other mountain biking group. Does he have a financial interest in mountain biking?

Roger Siglin

Thank you, Bill Foreman. You summed it all up very well.

Hi, Roger — None of those. To be precise, and in case I'm misunderstanding your question, I am a paying member of IMBA but not a paid member. I have no financial interest in mountain biking. I am merely an avid mountain biker who feels a strong engagement with the access aspects of our endeavor.

I did note your appeal that people post under their own names, and it is honorable of you to do so and fair for you to ask the same of your correspondents. I prefer not to do so, however, because if I did, I feel that I wouldn't be able to speak as plainly as a nom de plume enables me to do. The cost of that to me, of course, is that it enables people, quite reasonably, to wonder if I have something to hide beyond just my name. The answer is no, but I do have to bear that cost.

Few comments on this website over the years have caused me as much despair as Bill Foreman's. (This will no doubt gladden the hearts of some!) If an apparently avid and talented mountain biker is (as we more militant access advocates would frame it) drinking the Kool-Aid and eloquently expressing a case against any mountain biking in national parks, what hope is there?

The most I can say is that I can't equate, as Bill does, mountain biking per se with "thrills" of the "testosterone-poisoned" kind. I like longish rides with challenging, long, difficult climbs. I descend in a manner that's respectful of others. Based on perhaps 30,000 or 40,000 miles of mountain biking experience, I think that something similar is true of the (I would guess) 99.9% of mountain bikers who don't wear face helmets and body armor. Put otherwise, I suspect that out of every 1,000 mountain bikers, 999 would, and will, ride on National Park Service trails for the values Bill expresses—seeing the scenery and appreciating the wildland setting. Yes, the ride—being on the bicycle—is probably more important to the whole experience than the actual walking is to the hiker (the former being objectively so much more enjoyable than the latter in terms of blisters, aches and pains, insect harassment, and cleanliness, and of course flowiness rather than choppiness). But for almost everyone, the thrill is in the relatively slow-moving unfolding of the experience, one appreciative of the terrain and not a testosterone-poisoned thrill quest.

But there is that one-in-a-thousand mountain biker who is a reckless jerk and whose mode of transportation can endanger others in a way that hikers' can't. I admit it. It would be foolish to deny it.

Still, I think the notion of national parks as outdoor museums, which I gather Bill embraces, is inadvisable even if it is feasible. (I also find it difficult to square with the reality of thousands of RVs and SUVs trundling through the national parks.) If that's going to be the only acceptable model, it's going to spell budgetary trouble for the National Park Service. The Shakers too were pure in their approach to life and death, but they are no more. Wise administrators at the NPS seem interested in avoiding the Shakers' fate, and building the Big Bend National Park trail is evidence of that.

"we members of the HOHA (hateful old hiker association) love our parks to ourselves, and really really don't want to share with the "

No wonder "Zebulon" doesn't want to use his/her real name. Mountain bikers keep repeating this lie over and over, no matter how many times I prove that it is a lie. Bike bans don't keep mountain bikers out of the parks, because all of them are capable of walking -- just like everyone else!

What mountain bikers don't want to admit is that there is no good reason to allow bikes off of pavement. They destroy habitat, create V-shaped ruts that wreck the trails, and drive all other trail users off the trails and out of their own parks. And for what??? Only so mountain bikers can have some cheap thrills and pass through the parks without really seeing anything! Nature is unpredictable, so a mountain biker can't pay attention to anything except controlling their bike, or ther will crash. And often do.

For more information: http://mjvande.nfshost.com/mtbfaq.htm.

"imtnbke", and others who refuse to give their real name, aren't being honest in other ways, as well. "imtnbke" claims that 99.9% of mountain bikers are honorable and respectful. But the science, and our personal experience, says just the opposite. A few years ago, IMBA posted an article on their website describing an experiment where 83% of the mountain bikers broke the law, NOT .1%. When they realized what they had done, they quickly removed the article, because they can't stand having the truth be told. Luckily, I saved a copy of it: http://mjvande.nfshost.com/mtb76.htm. Maybe if mountain bikers would start telling the truth, they would get some respect. But I have never seen it happen in the 18 years I have been following this issue....

As visitorship continues to decline at our national parks including Big Bend National Park what do you suggest be done Mr. Siglin to make the park more attractive to other than the aging, traditional and more ardent fans of the NPS system?

Not speaking for Mr. Siglin, Anonymous, but if kids of any generation are looking for thrills in the parks, they should trying climbing the Grand Teton, floating any number of rivers in the parks (ie Colorado, Yampa, Green, New, etc, etc), spend five hours crawling through Mammoth Cave on a wild cave tour, climbing in Yosemite or Black Canyon of the Gunnison, backcountry skiing, kayaking around Acadia, snorkeling or even scuba diving at any number of parks. If mountain biking is the only way to get the attention of youth, then we've done a poor job of showing them what else is available out there.

A few comments. The atttitude of many mountain bikes is aggressive--not only in defending their activity, but also on the trail. The attitudes I've encountered with mountain bikers is similar to those of other thrillcraft users like dirt bikers, etc. There is even a close similarity in clothing, iconology and demographics. Most dirt bikers are youngish male as are most avid mountain bikers.

The NPS strives to encourage respective comtemplation. Sure you can find examples of where this has not been followed--like snowmobile use in Yellowstone--but in almost all cases, allowing exceptions to activities that are more about pure recreation, speed, and so forth has contributed to a decline in respective cometmplation. That is why with a few exceptions, there are no ski areas in our national parks. There's a place for downhill skiing--but not in our national parks. Ditto for mountain biking and other thrillcraft.

The goal of the NPS isn't to be a theme park or a recreation attraction. Too many mountain bikers--as emplefied by the comments here--do not seem to undertand this difference.

I ride bikes myself, as do many who prefer to have nothing to do with mountain bikes in national parks and other areas (like wilderness areas). There are appropriate locations for some things and activites and inappropriate locations. We make these distinctions all the time in society.

You can go 75 mph on the interstate, but we don't want people driving 75 through the middle of our residential neighbhorhoods. Prohibition against driving so fast in neighbhorhoods is not seen as an "infringment" on the rights of car drivers. We even have pedestrian malls where walkers are favored.

In the same light, i am a staunch proponent of bike trails and lanes in our communities in part because I want to separate the cars from the bikes so it's safe to bike. Similarly, mountain bikes using the same trails as hikers is like the mix of cars and bikes. It's unsafe.

I started with the National Park Service in 1961 and to a lesser degree, continue to today. I was an avid hiker but now MB because of bad feet. I applaud the passion and conscientious and generally well-thought out dialog of the opposing views and understand that neither will convince the other. So, I do not have anything intelligent to add to this issue OTHER than to say that if it were not for the "keep-it-as-a-museum" bunch, you would not be having this discussion today!

If it were not for the "museum" mentality down through the years, those places that we all probably agree are worthy of protection from greedy developers (how much would a lot on the edge of the Grand Canyon go for?) or fence-them-out ranchers (all of Texas is private property except for a few places like Big Bend), would no longer be available for either side of this disucssion. So, sort of like the liberty we often take for granted in this country, I might suggest those who denigrate the "museum" crowd, consider thanking them for making it even possible to have this discussion...

"Similarly, mountain bikes using the same trails as hikers is like the mix of cars and bikes. It's unsafe."

Well, one solution would be to ban hiking, for hikers' own safety. I'll ask my member of Congress to get right on it! Problem solved.

While this worthwhile legislative effort is pending, hikers can stroll city sidewalks, where it's safe. Which is the same as what George Wuerthner asks of us, i.e., to stick to "bike trails and lanes in our communities."

I now feel like I understand the situation better. Thank you.

And yes, hikers would still be most welcome in our national parks and wilderness areas. Of course you are—as long as you ride your bike. No one would be kept out. Everyone has a bike. Well, almost everyone; for those who don't, charities can step in.

Thanks to others' explanations and commentaries, everything is becoming clear for me now. I am much benefited. Nor I can I take any personal credit for this new insight. Like Sir Isaac Newton, "If I have seen farther it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

I note that none of Imntbike's questions were answered. Quite telling. :)

.....

Butch, your comment is well taken, but seems to imply that the choice is either get with the hiking respective contemplative bunch or sell the land to the developers. Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems to me that reality is not that black and white. Another bit of information for the anti thrillcrafts, cyclists probably spend 75 to 80% of their time climbing (at anywhere from 3 to 7mph). Not exactly earth shattering speed.

I would be interested in knowing at the demographics of the most ardent anti bike on this website.

I also met three joggers on a single track yesterday while I was riding and everybody had a good time, so it's also doable in national parks.

This comment was edited to remove a criminal allegation the Traveler has not been able to verify. It did not alter the message. -- Ed.

IMBIKE

You may not be aware but there and are issues about whether to allow other things like whitewater kayaking/rafting in national parks as well. For instance, canoeing/kayaking is banned on the Yellowstone river in Yellowstone Park. I also canoe and kayak. Do I feel like I'm being discriminated against? No way. There's plenty of other places for me to practice these activities. And thankfully the NPS continues its ban on use of these things on the Yellowstone.

Part of the reason the NPS has continued to ban kayaks, rafts, etc is ecological--to avoid disturbing wildlife on the river. But it's also a practical thing--avoiding one more activity to monitor and patrol.

Again the NPS has learned to its dismay that some activity that may seem innocuious at first can become a real problem later. I was around when Yellowstone decided to allow snowmobiles. The reason they were permitted is because no one anticipated that there would be very many of them. Only after time did it become apparent that snowmobiles were a major impact on the park experience for others as well as impacts on wildlife, air and so forth.

If the NPS had a choice, and could back in time, I know they would not allow snowmobiles.

I think the agency has to be very careful about allowing any new activities.

BTW, you can mountain bike in Grand Teton NP--on a nice bikepath that follows the existing road. So if you need to ride in a national park, there's a place for you. But backcountry trail riding is inappropriate. I really wish MB were not allowed on any national forests, or other public lands other than on old roads. But I guess they don't provide enough "thrills" for serious MB.

George, can you explain why mountain bike is "inappropriate"? It sounds to me like an unsupported opinion. And the main reason why mountain bikers seek a single track experience is exactly the same as hikers prefer it: to provide an experience closer to nature. The whole "thrill" angle is a red herring that HOHA use to tarnish what is simply a fun environmently friendly way to experience nature. Maybe, just maybe, your average hiker who opposes cycling is just jealous of the fun that one can have while riding. :)

As for Mr. Vandeman, the NPT can look up the docket at the following URL: http://www.acgov.org/sheriff_app/docket/docketSearch.do

docket No: 562037
Court: WILEY W. MANUEL COURTHOUSE

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I drafted a response to each of imtnbke's quetions but it became longer than I wanted to submit to NPT. I would however be glad to submit it to imtnbke and zebulon and others if there is a way to do that but here are a few brief points.

1. The nearby state parks contain hundreds of miles of rough 4-wheel drive roads and old cattle trails. There is no Wilderness or Organic Acts to consider. State Park staff promotes mountain biking and I did the job I was asked to do. Besides I am not opposed to mountain biking per se.
2.The NPS organic act mandates public use. Read it again.
3 . Most of his questions cannot be answered by me, but in the final analysis the Organic Act and subsequent congressional acts form the basis for most NPS regulations.
4. His generation and future one's may decide they don't like them and congress has the power to change them. If park visitation declines enough businesses and politicians will push that or find ways around them with pressure on park managers and decreased funding for parks. We see that happening nationwide on all manner of public lands and public resources in general have many enemies..

Beyond those points the issue has become too much of a pissing contest. I got involved because of attacks on some people I know and I felt responsible because of my comments on the bike trail. It is pretty obvious that peoples positions are locked in stone and we might as well debate religious beliefs. I do hope the article I sent and the comments clarify individuals opinions. At least we know more about them. Thanks to Kurt for having the courage to print them. Now I think I will concentrate on finding a solution to the middle east problems.

Zebulon,

I can tell it's election time, time to sling mud away from the real issue. We just love red herrings.

Everyone else,

The real issue is access to our parks and keeping the wilderness wild and the scenery beautiful and natural life alive. I have bad knees and walking great distances is difficult. Biking is getting me back there very slowly. Biking on roads and paved bike paths that is...I can enjoy nature in small doses so can the gentlemen with bad feet. Biking liberates us but mountain biking hurts nature and those who abuse it by riding fast on mixed use trails. You want to mountain bike, buy your own land and be my guest.

Otherwise, hike the trails, bike the pavement and seek thrills like spelunking or the other opportunities raised in this blog/discussion. My bike is off the trails in our NPS and I want you to keep yours off as well. No double standards here...

George, thank you for your candid remarks. I understand your perspective and appreciate your summarizing it in your 8:03 comment. In fact I agree with you in part, namely that the National Park Service has to be careful what precedents it sets regarding permitted uses, lest it make a mistake that it cannot later undo, at least not easily.

However, Zebulon eloquently explains why we want to ride our bikes on singletrack and I agree with him 100%. Singletrack is usually beautiful, quiet, and able to provide a meditative and contemplative experience. Dirt roads do not usually offer these qualities; at best, they may be in a beautiful setting.

As Zebulon alludes to, mountain biking is hard work and not everyone is willing to spend the years needed to learn how to do it capably, any more than everyone is willing to spend years learning a martial art. Hiking, by contrast, can be mastered in two hours. The reward for all this work is—I say this as a backpacker and hiker since the 1970s—that it is a delightful way to see America's wildlands. All you have to do is read the Pacific Crest Trail discussion threads to see how much physical discomfort there is in hiking—dirt, dust, insects, joint and orthopedic problems, and on and on. And it's slow; you can't see much in one day, so to get very far you have to camp night after night, which has environmental effects. And mountain biking confers a lot of physical fitness benefits.

Frankly, I now find it boring to hike a placid meandering trail, even though I'm well into middle age and will soon be a senior citizen if I'm lucky enough to get that far. I still like hiking, however, on challenging trails that no bike could navigate. For example, a couple of years ago I climbed to the top of Wheeler Peak (13063') in Big Basin National Park. There's no way to ride a bike up the 45° boulder field that the last 1500' of climbing involves.

Would you not agree that your preference for no mountain biking on any narrow trail in the United States is a pipedream? So how would you propose to manage mountain biking on singletrack in a way that everyone can live with?

I, like Zebulon, find it telling that the essay's author has not replied to my series of questions that I posed earlier. Nor has anyone else. So I appreciate your taking the time to respond to my later post.

Thanks, Roger. Let me say prefatorily that if you register on this website your comments will appear immediately and the "not verified" label will disappear.

If you'd like to send your longer comment version to me, please forward it to Kurt. He knows how to reach me and I'm quite sure the same is true of his ability to contact Zebulon.

Nevertheless, I have the impression that your reply contains the gist of your thinking and I wouldn't ask for anything beyond it. On your point #4, did you notice that the NPT website has a gloomy recent article on funding cuts and layoffs for Parks Canada? Attendance there has dropped steeply in just three years or so.

I don't detect the same "pissing contest" that you refer to. It is true that this issue has been debated countless times on NPT and as far as I can tell no one's mind has been changed. Yet I think the thread that followed your essay has been reasonably civil. As you say, "At least we know more about them," i.e., people's opinions. I think that's valuable in itself.

Thanks for your response imtnbke. If you are ever close to Big Bend, Kurt would know how to get ahold of me. I would like to sit down with you, Zebulon, or anyone else,as I have with Jeff Renfrow. At one time I was on the board of his Trails Alliance but had to resign over the differing opinon on Big Bend NP. I will not bore you with a detailed response and I was probably a little extreme in my name for the discussions.

Thanks for the invitation, Roger. Maybe I will be near Big Bend someday.

If I may provide some evidence for a pretty good level of civility in this thread, here's how some people are behaving in Indiana, in sad contrast:

http://www.theindychannel.com/news/31126554/detail.html

Imagine being the land manager in that situation!

Now that we're winding down -- for more fun, we can all download the General Management Plan from Mammoth Cave, which has shrunk hiking and biking opportunities to serve the horse lobby better. We could combine this thread with the Sierra horsepacking thread and have a three-way scrum.

I'm kidding about that, but these are tricky issues and it's not always the hateful old hikers who win.

Roger,

Thanks for the invite, but I highly doubt that I'll make it that way. Too many other trails on the bucket list that would take precedence.

Bob,

Great funny ending!

Fortunately, NPT has courteously provided the more disputatious among us with another opportunity for, er, shall we say vigorous debate:

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2012/05/npca-worried-house-legislation-would-open-national-park-system-hunting9984

I'm surprised that the foregoing page isn't already larded with comments. But those who eagerly anticipate a robust discussion will, I suspect, not be disappointed for long. :-)

Mount guns on the front of mountain bikes for hunters in national parks . . . sounds like a winning political coalition! (Kidding again.)

Actually, Bob, in the mid-1990s I rented a mountain bike from a bike shop in Fairbanks, Alaska. When I asked what the two metal hooks on the handlebars were for, the shop employee explained that that was my gunrack. Bears, you know. He was entirely matter-of-fact about it.

Then, on my own mountain bike, I rode out from near Girdwood, Alaska, over a pass (I think it may have been called Jefferson Pass). On the ride I encountered about 25 hikers. As best I recall, all were armed. Some had more than one gun (a pistol and a long-barreled weapon), but as I recall, everyone had at least one. Again, bears.

I can't remember the latest go-round on NPS rules on guns in parks, but I bet that to the extent they're restrictive, they're not obeyed in Alaska except in the parking lot of Denali Nat'l Park and on those buses that take people from the Lower 48 out on park roads.

On hiking sites you can always get a lively discussion with, "I'm visiting bear country, should I bring bear spray or a gun?" :)

When I arrived in Alaska as Superintendent of Gates of the Arctic NP,I found most people scared of bears and carrying guns, big ones on their hips and shoulders.Although used to hiking without a gun in Yellowstone I thought they might know something I didn't. So I started carrying a 12 guage pump shotgun with a pistol grip and the shortest legal barrel. I used it once to sit down on in wet mossy ground. I also used it a couple of times as an ice axe to control my descent on steep snow fields. Then I decided it was ridiculous and carried only bear spray. Many if not most bear attacks happen so fast a gun is not much help. You might have a better chance to spray a bear and as a last resort can spray yourself then you won't care about the bear and it may decide you don't taste good. Seriously bear spray kills no bears and probably saves as many hikers.

Based on that level of experience, I defer to you, Roger! That's most interesting. I don't know if you know this, but all you have to do is post something that contains the words "gun" and "bear spray" and this site tends to light up like a Christmas tree. (See Bob Pahre's comment above.) But perhaps because we're talking about a different topic, that won't happen this time.

Thanks, Rick B., for the link to the Alaska moose attacks on mountain bikers. I was in a dowhill mountain bike race in Anchorage circa 1995 whose course descended from Glen Alps to essentially sea level. As I reached a checkpoint halfway down the course marshal asked me if I'd seen a cow and calf. I said no and was allowed to proceed, but people behind me had to stop their thrillcraft and wait because apparently a moose and her offspring had gotten ornery.