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Traveler's View: International Mountain Bicycling Association Shouldn't Twist Facts To Raise Funds

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With hopes of raising money to further its efforts to gain access for biking trails, the International Mountain Bicycling Association is smearing the Traveler as the evil villian.

Unfortunately, IMBA's PR machine is twisting the facts and casting aspersions.

In a fund-raising e-letter it sent out to its membership, IMBA claims that "the National Parks Traveler website erroneously asserted that an IMBA-led trail project at Big Bend National Park will be built in an inappropriate piece of backcountry Wilderness. In fact, the trail is adjacent to the visitors center. Nor did IMBA pay to play by funding the environmental analysis, as the Traveler stated."

The e-letter went on to say "mountain biking has powerful opponents that want you banned from all trails, right now. It takes significant funding to pay the professional teams IMBA employs to prevent them from winning."

("Pay for play" is a phrase coined in response to organizations and businesses that try to gain access by offering some form of renumeration. In the case of the multiple-use trail at Big Bend National Park, some say the Park Service was persuaded to consider building the trail after IMBA and other biking groups offered to help pay for the environmental analysis.)

Now, fundraisers take all forms, and don't always hew hard to the facts. We feel the record has to be set straight on two items:

* The Traveler in its stories about the Big Bend multiple-use trail did not describe it as being located in an "inappropriate piece of backcountry Wilderness" (nor did we spell 'Wilderness' with a capital W.) The story did, however, note that some consider the land as having wilderness potential, and at least one group in Texas has included the tract in its preferred package of wilderness for the park.

* While IMBA claims that it did not "pay to play by funding the environmental analysis," a paper trail maintained by the National Park Service claims that the organization did indeed help pay for the EA:

On June 6, 2011, the National Park Service responded to a Freedom of Information Act request from PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) of May 11, 2011. The PEER FOIA requested all documents related to the NPS’ EA for the bicycle trail, including all communications with the International Mountain Bicycle Association (IMBA), and its local “affiliate” the Big Bend Trails Alliance (BBTA) and the NPS regarding the trail.

1. In an e-mail of October 31, 2005, Park Superintendent John King wrote to former and retired Park Superintendent Jim Carrico, owner of Desert Sports Texas, in Terlingua, Texas and Jeff Renfrow of Big Bend Trail Alliance. He declared “Good news. I just received word that Bikes Belong has approved and funded our recent grant application in the amount of $10,000. (Government Affairs Director) Jenn Dice from IMBA tells me that they will kick in at least $1,000. Jenn Dice tells me that a member of their Board has also made a $1,000 pledge.”

He concluded his e-mail with “So, we’re off to a great start.”

2. In an e-mail of November 22, 2005, King wrote to Jenn Dice of IMBA “We have received the check from Bikes Belong in the amount of $10,000. When we amass a total of $20,000 we’ll begin the EA. Any confirmation yet on what IMBA will be willing to contribute to the cause (Editorial comment - King’s choice of words here may be telling ... ) and when that would be forthcoming.”

3. In an e-mail of November 23, 2005, Jenn Dice responded to King “IMBA put a check for $2,000 in the mail to you today.”

4. On November 29, 2005, King wrote an official memorandum to the Comptroller of the Intermountain Regional Office requesting $8,000 of NPS monies for the EA and said “We submitted a grant application to an organization named Bikes Belong and have received funding from them in the amount of $10,000. IMBA has provided $2,000 to support this project…”

5. In an e-mail of January 13, 2006 Park Superintendent John King wrote to his boss, NPS Regional Director Mike Snyder, explaining the origin of the mountain bicycle trail idea. It was not the NPS’ idea. He wrote “Following the signing of this agreement (the General Agreement between the NPS and IMBA of March 17, 2005), the park was approached by representatives of the Big Bend Trails Alliance (a local group of mountain biking/hiking enthusiasts) and they asked if us if we would consider the possibility of expanding mountain biking opportunities in Big Bend NP.” King then detailed how the fundraising goal for the environmental review was now met. “$10,000 has been provided by an organization called Bikes Belong, $2,000 from IMBA, and $8,000 from the IMRO contingency account.”

6. Two NPS documents entitled “Big Bend Mountain Bike Trails Scoping Meeting” summarize meetings at Alpine, Texas on January 30, 2006 and Study Butte, Texas on January 31, 2006. Both explain that the NPS will obtain funding for the EA from “Bikes Belong” (($10,000), IMBA ($2,000) and BBTA ($1500). The NPS Intermountain Regional Office would fund $8,000. Thus, early in the NPS’ review process, the advocates for establishing a new mountain bicycle trail in the park committed to fund a large portion of the EA.

When asked about that paper trail Monday, IMBA officials maintained that, to the best of their knowledge, they had decided "against making any financial contribution for the EA."

Was that before, or after, the check was in the mail?

Now, as we noted in a comment the other day, businesses and organizations in the past have paid to have public land agencies conduct environmental studies on proposals they want to see on public lands, so whether IMBA contributed to the EA by itself isn't that big of a deal.

Beyond that, Traveler fully understands and appreciates the recreational value of mountain biking, and in the past has noted the many, many opportunities for mountain biking in the National Park System.

While it's somewhat flattering that IMBA is trying to leverage donations by making the Traveler out to be an opponent to mountain biking, it's also disingenuous.

As any careful reader knows, Traveler covers the entire range of recreational use and management issues, and our articles often produce extensive and at times heated public comments from passionate perspectives on both, and even all, sides of an issue. Traveler's editors and writers strive to provide that forum based on well-researched, editorially independent articles.

Bottom line—National Parks Traveler is not at all "against" mountain biking or an appropriate role for the sport in national parks. We are however determined to be sure that the facts are honored in the often controversial debates partisan recreationists find themselves in as we balance what's best for our parks.

Comments

Looks like this thread has come to an end. With surprisingly little rancor overall. Happy Memorial Day weekend to all.


Random Walker, you may be taking chances inviting Imntbike and his thrillcraft to your neck of the woods. :)

I've read and heard great things about the Pacific northwest. I really want to visit Oregon where the riding seems quite spectacular in some areas.


Thanks, Random Walker. I plan to do that this summer (Oregon and Washington). I hope you'll support, or at least acquiesce in, our efforts to gain legal access to designated Wilderness too. I'm sure Washington has many nice Wilderness areas, and I'd bet that many of the trails in them are underused. My feeling is that anyplace a commercial packtrain or even a lone horse and rider are allowed, a mountain biker should be, given the difference in impacts between the former and the latter.


Can anyone provide a link to IMBA's fund-raising e-letter that is quoted in parts here? Thanks! (To all mountain bikers, I invite you to my neck of the woods Washington State, where more than 55% of all trails on our public lands are just waiting for you to enjoy!)


The biggest problem isn't mode of transport, it is numbers of users. The childish "I was here first" attitude found in crowded places like California, where I grew up, does not exist where I live now (I ain't tellin ya where). We don't have a single National Park within a couple hundred miles of my neck of the woods and I hope it stays that way. Instead of lots of people and few trails, we have lots of trails and few people. Sheer numbers are the ultimate basis of user conflicts, regardless of mode of transport. I am old enough to remember hikers versus horses, the latter leaving huge piles of dung, sometimes in the only available flat campsite, which is a serious problem in our local Wilderness area. The trails in the local (well known) designated Wilderness are wide, deep, dusty and manure covered, whereas other trails a short distance away, where motorcycles and bicycles are allowed, are narrower, more compact with less erosion and less people. When I want solitude, I avoid National Parks and Wilderness Areas. They are human zoos.


Hi, Kurt — Yes, hiking is messy. I know whereof I speak. Not only have I backpacked and hiked many miles in the U.S., but I recently spent two weeks in Cape Verde, doing strenuous hikes. After one of them I was left with filthy clothing and blisters, and I was reminded of how blissful it is to drift a few inches above a trailbed rather than wade through the dust on it, being chafed through one's socks and soles by every rock under one's poor abused feet. Thanks heavens for moleskin—a product unknown to someone who only mountain bikes. And then there are knees and backs, other topics of woe for many inveterate backpackers and hikers.

If we want our kids to enjoy the outdoors, we have to save them from their grandparents' efforts to enthuse them about hiking. They won't go for it given the modern alternatives available, any more than I'd like to revert from my iPod to a collection of 78 vinyl records. That's the truth, although of course a niche of kids will accept hiking.

In fact, here's a suggestion: do a story on the average age of the members of the Sierra Club, Wilderness Society, and like organizations. Is it under 60? I doubt it. Groups that like only 19th century means of travel in wildlands are facing the fate of the Shakers over time, I would suggest.

"Voice" is bad when it introduces an element of advocacy into what is supposed to be reporting. To the extent The Times, Fox News, or anyone else lets advocacy "voice" drift into news articles, their credibility suffers. A good counterexample is The Economist. It has a voice, but the voice it strives for, and seems usually to strike, is that of a dispassionate observer chronicling economic and social events from some lofty perspective.


Kurt, sorry about that dinner. The guy who writes (pretty well actually) on the blog www.fatcyclist.com talked about his RAWROD (ride around white rim in one day). Now, that's amazing. There is absolutely no way that I would ever ride 100 miles off road miles in one day.

If Kurt, I might try as well. Should make for a fun ride, as long as we take more than 1 day.


Zebulon, I really should be working on dinner, but you've lured me out....I don't see where that exchange I had with Mark a year ago paints me as anti-mountain bike. Just the opposite! You yourself have moaned about the "boring" White Rim Trail, a ride many see as a fantastic way of visiting Canyonlands National Park, but one that doesn't meet your criteria.

Fair enough. But are you going to drive four-five-six hours from the nearest airport to ride a 10-mile loop under a hot blazing sun? I think not. It certainly doesn't sound like something imtnbke would do, judging from his recent comment. Even the Park Service doesn't expect it to attract more than a few hundred people a year.

And imtnbke, "Puritans"??? "Not filthy from the thighs down"?? You don't sweat??

More than a few of the mountain bikers in my burg wear body armor and full-face helmets to protect themselves from the trees that occasionally get in their way and rocks they encounter on the way down. Hikers, of course, don't need such protection from encounters with the landscape.

That's not to denigrate bikers or raise up hikers. These are two different approaches to the enjoying the outdoors. But do you want to put a biker in full body armor, or one not happy with the "sporting equivalent of an inflatable backyard pool for 2-year-olds," on the same trail as someone with a 40-pound backpack on or a couple in their 60s or parents with an energetic 5-year-old?

As for "voice," that can be a good thing. And you see it in just about every means of communication, including legal briefs as I'm sure you're aware. Fox News anyone? The New York Times? The Wall Street Journal?

The problem starts to arise when folks disagree with your "voice," or when you don't hear another's "voice." That doesn't necessarily make your voice wrong, or their disagreement wrong. But when things escalate beyond being constructive and civil and start to devole into brick throwing, well, that's where the problems start.

We make no bones that we advocate for the national parks. That's a big part of what the Traveler is all about. And while we might not write a ton of stories "glorifying" mountain biking, we have noted when trails are going in (such as at New River Gorge, and Mammoth Cave, and I think we've even mentioned those at Whiskeytown NRA and, of course, the White Rim Trail). And we will continue to write about conflicts, actual or perceived when they are merited.

And if I ever get around to riding the White Rim Trail, I promise I'll write about that trek. Heck, I might even ask Zeb to join me!


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