How naive could I have been? I thought the upcoming "listening sessions" being staged by the Interior Department were intended to help DOI and Park Service officials identify "signature projects" that would go towards celebrating the Park Service's centennial in 2016.
Others, though, see these sessions as an opening to pressure the Park Service to allow more recreational opportunities in the parks, opportunities that might not be in the best interests of the parks.
Doubt me? Check out this release from the International Mountain Bicycling Association.
IMBA urges mountain bikers to attend the listening sessions, in order to strengthen the productive relationship that mountain bicyclists have forged with the NPS, and to ask for increased bicycling opportunities in national parks.
IMBA likes to tout its "productive relationship" with the Park Service. I guess how productive that relationship is depends on how you measure productivity.
Does having to dodge mountain bikes on hiking trails make you want to head out for an afternoon hike? That's the situation at the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. Under an experimental plan launched last summer hikers get the area's trails exclusively on weekends, and have to share them with mountain bikers on weekdays. Who wins in a collision between mountain bikers and a hiker?
I've long been uneasy with IMBA's desire to open the parks to mountain biking. As I've previously pointed out, there are hundreds of miles, if not thousands, of already existing dirt roads that mountain bikers can access in the parks. And I have no problem with that. My concern is what's already happening at Big South Fork, and what could happen down the road at other parks.
As I've already reported, IMBA has its sights set on cutting single-track trails in the parks for mountain bikes, trails that not only leave little room to avoid collisions between hikers and bikers but also would increasingly slice up the parks' landscape.
And now the group figures the centennial listening sessions are the perfect opportunity to push its agenda. In its release, IMBA even provides "talking points" mountain bikers can use at the listening sessions.
Why do we need mountain-biking single track trails in the national parks? Aren't there enough miles of trails on other public lands, lands that have different management missions than NPS lands? Must every recreational opportunity on U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands be permitted in the national parks?
I would say no.