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


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.


NPT editors, you've got some nerve to take IMBA to task about accuracy when discussing the Big Bend trail project! To review the flawed allegations you've published:

Error 1) “This would be the first backcountry trail to allow mountain biking in a National Park, and it was the result of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Park Service (NPS) and the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) designed to explore new opportunities for mountain biking in National Parks.”

The trail at Big Bend is not the first of its kind in a National Park. Trails at Saguaro National Park and Mammoth Cave National Park are working through the regulatory process. Other National Park Service properties such as Golden Gate National Recreation Area and New River Gorge National River already feature trails that are open for mountain biking.

Error 2) “Current regulations do not allow this type of trail, and a new rule would have to be passed and implemented before the trail could be open to bikers.”

IMBA is aware that mountain bicycles will not be allowed on the new trail until the necessary Special Regulation has been promulgated. Nonetheless, we are happy to help the park build a sustainable trail that will offer visitors an exceptional experience and access to a beautiful place. As leaders in building and designing sustainable trails, IMBA has worked with many national park units to build new trails and refurbish unsustainable trails.

Error 3) “The area in question is part of Citizen’s Proposed Wilderness, and it has been the subject of national conversations for inclusion in wilderness legislation.”

While it is true that a citizen’s group has suggested this area be considered for Wilderness status, that proposal has failed to elicit support from the National Park Service. Park management at Big Bend has not included this area as potential Wilderness in any of its plans. Big Bend staff excluded this area from the potential Wilderness recommendations in 1975 because of the numerous utility lines and potential development of water resources. The 1984 recommendations also did not include the area as potential Wilderness. Most recently, the 2004 General Management Plan did not propose the area for Wilderness.

Error 4) “Big Bend Breaks Ground On Single-Track Bike Racing Trail — Precedent-Setting Embrace of Converting Park Backcountry to Thrill Sport Venues”

This inflammatory and misleading headline comes from PEER, and the language has been repeated on the Traveler website. In fact, the trail has been designed with excellent sightlines and moderate grades to encourage a friendly hiking and — if the special regulation is promulgated — bicycling experience.

Error 5) “The pay-for-play aspect where a user group, IMBA and its local affiliate, paid for the cursory Environmental Assessment.”

IMBA did not pay for the Environmental Assessment. It was conducted by the NPS in accordance with their usual NEPA processes. IMBA and our local affiliate have contributed time and expertise to the design and construction of the trail to ensure that it is built to the highest standards of sustainable trail design. IMBA only undertakes trail projects in the NPS system when it is invited to do so by parks staff.

Hi Mark,

A few questions for you:

Regarding Error 1, if Mammoth Cave and Saguaro are still working through the regulatory process, and therefore the trails don't yet exist, would the Traveler's statement still be accurate that the trail in Big Bend would be first? Also, the examples you mentioned are a National Recreation Area and a National River, which don't bear National Park designations, so in that sense would the Traveler's description be accurate?

Your explanations of Errors 2-4 make it sound as if there wasn't anything actually erroneous in what the Traveler said. Or am I missing something? And if so, which facts did the Traveler get wrong here?

Finally, with respect to Error 5, what do you make of the documents that show the IMBA contributed $2000 to fund the EA?

Thanks for showing the other side of the conversation.

I agree with justinh that what is pointed out as errors do not seem to be. Even if they were, Mark E could easily have approached the subject with much more consideration to National Parks Traveler editors.

National parks are special places, and the landscapes and creatures within deserve to be treated with respect.

If this is how IMBA members (and perhaps IMBA as an entity, as there is a Mark E listed on its website as communications director) treat other people, will they show any respect to park plants, wildlife and fellow visitors? If the attitude shown above is representative, it would change my opinion about allowing mountain biking - I'd want to keep these people out.

Let's hope this is an unfortunate communication - an error, even - from one person and not indicative of IMBA members.

In reply to Justinh:

Shared-use trails that allow bicycling at Mammoth Cave, Saguaro and many other national parks do, in fact exist in the national park system. For example, IMBA has designed a shared-use trail that is open for riding at Fort Dupont national park. So, no, the NPT statement is not accurate.

The Traveler has repeatedly published statemets from PEER and Our Texas Wild that are erronuous, or dramtically overstated, as IMBA's release shows in points 2-4.

Finally, I'm working on a detailed reply to clear up any remaining questions about IMBA's financial contributions at Big Bend. On the one hand, the NPT editors say it's not unusual or problematic for outside sources to contribute to NPS projects: " whether IMBA contributed to the EA by itself isn't that big of a deal."

On the other hand, they have repeatedly alleged that IMBA's contributions at Big Bend represent a "pay to play" arrangement.

No matter -- I'll provide a clear accounting soon.

Thaks, Mark.

With respect to Mammoth and Saguaro, these trails aren't in designated wilderness, right? And neither is the one proposed for Big Bend, which the Traveler doesn't seem to have ever claimed (despite the IMB fundraising letter). And, of course, Fort Dupont isn't a National Park; you seem to be blurring the "park" designation with other kinds of units managed by the National Park Service.

As for the Traveler publishing statements by PEER, etc., quoting comments from others, as part of the process of reporting, isn't the same as making those comments, right?

Justin, everyone agrees that none of the trails you mention are located in designated wilderness. The Traveller did not say that the Big Bend trail is in a wilderness area, but it did cite the Our Texas Wild release which claims the trail is in proposed wilderness -- perhaps vaguely true because a citizens group has made the proposal, but effectively empty because the park has documented why it won't recommend that option. And, the NPT's decision to publish and extensively quote from the Our Texas Wild and PEER releases, both of which which stridently attack the Big Bend trail, is clearly an editorial stance. Fair enough -- we all have our ideas about how mountain biking should be handled. As IMBA's spokesman, I'll try to represent our side of the story.

The Traveler stands by its editorial.

Some additional points:

* Through the many years of our coverage of the Big Bend "multiple-use" trail, the Traveler has stated specifically that it does not go into any proposed or designated wildereness. But that does not make it erroneous to mention groups that see the land in question as meriting such designation. Not an acre of Yellowstone or Glacier is official wilderness, but many groups desire to see it so.

Also, for what it's worth, in their EA on the trail, Big Bend officials state that the trail would offer "an experience of the primitive backcountry currently not available to bicyclists."

* Current NPS regulations require a special rule-making process to be followed before mountain bikes can ride the Big Bend trail once it's completed. There's no error in noting that.

* Attributing a PEER headline, or wording, to the Traveler's position on mountain biking is misleading and disingenuous.

* Through the years Traveler has covered mountain biking possibilities in other units of the National Park System. If reporting on the views of PEER and Our Texas Wild demonstrates an editorial bias, what bias does reporting on biking trails in New River Gorge National River or the 100-mile White Rim Trail in Canyonlands or the riding opportunities at Whiskeytown NRA demonstrate?

For IMBA to describe the Traveler as a "powerful opponent" to mountain biking is woefully off-base and nothing more than a sensationalized effort to solicit donations.

Briefly ...

"Current NPS regulations require a special rule-making process to be followed before mountain bikes can ride the Big Bend trail once it's completed. There's no error in noting that."

No -- that's why IMBA has repeatedly pointed out the same fact.

"Attributing a PEER headline, or wording, to the Traveler's position on mountain biking is misleading and disingenuous"

Then why does the Traveler routinely quote PEER on the topic of mountain biking in national parks?

"Through the years Traveler has covered mountain biking possibilities in other units of the National Park System. If reporting on the views of PEER and Our Texas Wild demonstrates an editorial bias, what bias does reporting on biking trails in New River Gorge National River or the 100-mile White Rim Trail in Canyonlands or the riding opportunities at Whiskeytown NRA demonstrate?"

The bias is that these examples, all quite successfully managed, routinely call into question whether cycling is appopriate in the NPS. As I've written today, it's fair for the Traveler to have an opinion -- but the line between journalistic reporting and opinion pieces gets blurry on the NPT. IMBA, on the other hand, does not claim to be a news source.

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