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International Mountain Bicycling Association Wants Access To National Scenic Trails


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."


Go IMBA. The legality of the PCT closure is questionable, and it's about time that mountain biking becomes legalized again on the non wilderness portions of the PCT. Although, it really makes no difference on the ground. People ride the perfect cycling trail all the time.

People ride the perfect cycling trail all the time.

Zeb - That really doesn't help your cause. You know I am not anti biking, and having never been on the PCT I can't opine on its suitability for biking. But what I do know is that if folks are breaking the existing rules, its unlikely they will get much trust in following new ones. Please encourage your constituents to obey the existing rules and petition for change through legitimate channels.

I'm one of the founders and a core member of the Pacific Crest Trail Reassessment Initiative (PCTRI), which since 2010 has sought to restore the bicycle access to the PCT that existed before the summer of 1988. It was in that year, a quarter-century ago, that three Forest Service employees typed up an order excluding bicycles from the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (PCT). The three gentlemen found a forest management provision that's ordinarily used to close a campsite for a couple of weeks to clear out a beehive and mistakenly invoked it to issue a long-term order. Then, everyone forgot that this type of order is supposed to be temporary; moreover, in 1988 no mountain bike group was around to point out to the Forest Service its mistake. The no-bikes signs went up and so it was until 2010, when PCTRI began its work.

The 1988 typewritten closure order plainly violates the federal Administrative Procedure Act. There was no public notice and opportunity to comment. It is not codified as a regulation. It is thus unlike the bicycle ban in federally designated Wilderness, which, although foolish, outdated, and misguided, at least is in a regulation that was enacted following an opportunity for public comment, although at the time (circa 1977-1984) there were almost no bicycles on trails so the public comment response was tiny, maybe just one comment on one key occasion.

As for the Appalachian Trail, no one seeks bicycle access to it. First, unlike the PCT and Continental Divide Nat'l Scenic Trail, on which the governing statute expressly authorizes bicycle use if otherwise justified, the Appalachian Trail is statutorily designated as a footpath. Second, anyone who's ever walked any part of the AT will soon see that it's unsuitable for riding a bike. Frankly, it's unsuitable for hiking too, because its design is so bad. But many hikers who are not also mountain bikers tend to know little about modern trail design (it's mountain bikers who are spearheading those advances) and will put up with dreadful trail layouts.

Although PCTRI welcomes IMBA's support, and that support is key to restoring access to the PCT, IMBA did not launch this effort on its own. It came from PCTRI, and we should be the target of any criticism, however misguided.

Meanwhile, the American Hiking Society's (AHS) campaign has been, and continues to be, laughably clumsy. It has consisted of Jim Crow-style rhetoric that readers of this page can assess for themselves. (See To wit: its campaign slogans have been "Some Trails Weren't Meant to Be Shared" (which is what apartheid-minded whites also said about the beaches in Durban, South Africa) and "Is a hiking-only trail really too much to ask for?," which overlooks that the entire Wilderness Preservation System trail network is already limited to hikers, the only other allowed users being the profit-making dude ranch outfitters who despoil Wilderness trails and meadows with their giant trains of lumbering mammals.

It may be noted that the American Hiking Society gets only a mediocre two-star rating from Charity Navigator (, which may be contrasted with IMBA's top four-star rank ( Also, the latest statistics for the AHS show, also according to Charity Navigator, "Primary Revenue Growth" of -8.0% and "Program Expenses Growth" of -8.1%. So one has to wonder whether this antibike campaign is born of desperation.

But I digress . . . .

Back to the PCT. The PCT is mostly empty most of the year. Major parts of its are overgrown from underuse. The Pacific Crest Trail Association has been unremittingly hostile to PCTRI, but it admits that the trail cannot be properly maintained under present circumstances, in which it is set aside basically for a few hundred through-hikers that traverse a particular section during a period of few weeks, leaving vast swaths of the trail unused for the rest of the year. PCTRI seeks the restoration of access only to the 60% of the trail that lies outside Wilderness. Sooner or later, we will succeed, and everyone, not just mountain bikers, will be better off for it, as will be the PCT itself. In fact we'd like to set up a system to ferry water to the PCT hikers who run out of it and have occasionally had to be evacuated because of dehydration.

We invite readers to see our two websites for more information:

Hi National Parks Traveler -- I'm the Mark Eller mentioned in the story. Never received a request from you for comment on this piece. I'd be happy to do so if you plan a followup story. An important note I'd like to add is that IMBA fully accepts that the Appalachian Trail was enacted as a foot-travel-only route. Many other National Scenic Trails may have potential for improved bicycle access, as the story describes.

Mark, wonder if the request got eaten by your spam filter...sent it August 23. As for the A.T., I hear there are some IMBA groups near the trail who are eyeing it lovingly...;-)

But now that you're here, could you explain what National Scenic Trails IMBA is interested in accessing, aside from the Continental Divide Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail?

Well that can't be right. Are you saying, as fact, that the USFS is blatantly violating their own rules?

How would a group go about "fixing" that? They can't simply ignore you can they?

Hi, Sarah,

Yes, the no-bikes rule on the PCT does, in our view, violate federal law and we've pointed this out repeatedly to the Forest Service, which, as of this writing, continues to contemplate our arguments, although the agency did reject our initial petition earlier this year. Ultimately, if we can't persuade the agency to follow the Administrative Procedure Act, someone is going to have to challenge the 1988 closure order in court.

My view has always been that horses do far more damage

Absolutely no doubt about that. However, I must dispute imtbikes contention the AT is a poor hiking trail. This is a great trail as thousands of through and section hikers will attest each year. And, while mostly not conducive to bikes, there are actually a few sections that could easily accommodate bikes. (the 30 miles north of Harpers Ferry immediately comes to mind)

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