Earlier this month I wrote a post about a pilot project that would
bring mountain biking into a more, shall we say, intimate relationship with the
national park system.
In light of some new information I've come across, the question that now needs to be asked is this: Were the International Mountain Bicycling Association and the National Park Service both upfront with the public when they worked out a deal to gain mountain bikers more access to national parks?
In my previous post, I recounted how, when that deal was put
together last May, the IMBA folks
seemed only interested in finding new dirt roads for cycling in the
In fact, when the agreement was announced, IMBA's press release stated that "a benefit to millions of bicyclists is the potential opportunity for new access to hundreds of dirt roads in national park units that have been closed to bicycling. While National Park Service rules require a lengthy process to open single-track to bicycle use, appropriate dirt roads may be opened with a more straightforward administrative process."
In my first post I pointed out that IMBA, despite the 160 miles of existing bike-accessible routes in the national park system and the fact that park superintendents already had the authority to open dirt roads to mountain bikers without the need for pilot projects, really did have designs on developing single-track trails in the parks. And now it sounds as if IMBA has much bigger plans in mind than a few single-track trails in Big Bend National Park, one of the parks involved in the pilot project.
The other day Jenn Dice, IMBA's government relations director, told a member of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees that the organization's members want to see single-track trails in the parks because a majority of the membership finds dirt roads "boring and mind-numbing, and not the kind of fun they are looking for."
In fact, IMBA's official stance when it comes to developing mountain bike tourism is that "single track is essential." A little box attesting to that tidbit can be found on IMBA's website. Elsewhere in the website is this gem: "Mountain bikers crave single-track and designing interconnecting single-track trails will bring them in droves."
Combine those tidbits with Dice's comments and they should raise concern that a day soon could come when numerous single-track trails are cut through the parks' forests and riders are ripping through the woods, across meadows, and through streams.
Think Moab's Slickrock Trail is popular? Imagine the slick-rock biking possibilities in Canyonlands, Arches, and Zion national parks.
Bill Wade, chair of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees' executive council, told me Dice's comments are disturbing.
"We are very concerned that this represents a breach of good faith in the intent involved in negotiating the original agreement with the NPS," said Wade.
Of course, when the NPS drafted the memorandum of understanding that governed the pilot projects, it said only two parks, not three, would be involved, and it also didn't mention anything about single-track development.
While IMBA says it’s interested in pursuing lesser hiked trails to avoid conflicts with hikers and horses, how does one define a lesser hiked trail? Isn't one of the beauties of heading off into a park's backcountry enjoying solitude? I certainly don't head to the crowded trails, and I definitely don't want to constantly look over my shoulder for a convoy of mountain bikers.
Also, while IMBA says it’s not interested in pedaling into wilderness areas, a court ruling earlier this month demonstrated that the National Park Service is behind in its work to develop management plans for wilderness and potential wilderness, so what’s to stop IMBA from pushing for trails in wilderness study areas that fall within park boundaries?
As I said in my initial post about the Park Service’s partnership with mountain biking, this is a thorny issue. And as you can see, the thorns are starting to get prickly. We might see more next month when IMBA folks sit down with officials at Big Bend to discuss single-track bike trails.