The International Mountain Bicycling Association is running a campaign to gain access to National Scenic Trails, such as the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, and is being opposed by the American Hiking Society and watched by other groups.
While IMBA touts the campaign as a way to allow mountain bikers to "continue to enjoy our nation's best trails and open bike access on more," the American Hiking Society counters by stating that it "believes that trails that allow hikers to explore the outdoors without competing with bicyclists are in some instances entirely appropriate."
Across the country there are a number of national scenic trails -- the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, and the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail, just to name a few. While many of the trails are managed by the National Park Service, others are managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. As might be expected, these different entities have different regulations when it comes to mountain bikes on national scenic trails.
The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, which is managed by the Forest Service, permits mountain bike use "along those segments that are outside of designated and recommended wilderness areas, and have been approved by the federal land managers. However, these activities may only occur as long as they do not 'substantially interfere' with the nature and purposes for which the trail was created- namely foot and stock use."
The Park Service, meanwhile, prohibits mountain bikes on the Appalachian Trail. Bikes also are prohibited on the Pacific Crest Trail, which is managed by the Forest Service.
IMBA Communications Director Mark Eller did not respond to a Traveler inquiry as to which national scenic trails his group wants access to. However, in a blog post on IMBA's site in August he wrote that there obviously are some trails too rugged for bikers.
"The Appalachian Trail is specifically designated as a foot-travel route, and as someone who spent many years leading backpacking trips on the AT in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania I can tell you that it ... would not make an appealing venue for mountain biking. Other trails traverse wilderness parcels where biking isn't an option," he wrote.
"IMBA is not being absolutist in our approach. We are more than willing to discuss how to advance more opportunities for long-distance trails, and where bikes will, and will not, be a welcome addition," he added. "It's a discussion we hope to have with many groups, and land managers, in upcoming weeks. Ideally, we could all talk while enjoying a nice hike, or bike ride, together."
IMBA's efforts to expand biking access onto national scenic trails is being watched by a number of groups, including the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
"The National Scenic Trails community, as well as the American Hiking Society, is aware of IMBA's push for biking access on some portions of National Scenic Trails. ATC has seen recent rhetoric and we are working collectively with the Partnership for the National Scenic Trails and the AHS to address concerns with IMBA's initiative," Laura Belleville, director of conservation for the Conservancy, said in an email.
"The A.T. is designated 'footpath only' by Congress, and we have not had any specific proposals for bike access on the A.T. Thus far we have not made any organizational statements about IMBA's 'campaign,' but we fully support PNTS and AHS," she added. "We are carefully watching the campaign and will offer a statement at the appropriate time if necessary."