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.