National Park Service officials say they are not averse to cutting single-track mountain bike trails in the park system, as long as "potential impacts" don't arise.
That position comes three years into a five-year "pilot project" of increased mountain bike access in the national park system and less than a year since a mountain bike trail at Big Bend National Park was deemed a centennial project.
That position no doubt will be warmly received this week in Park City, Utah, where the International Mountain Bicycling Association is holding its "World Summit" at which National Park Service Director Mary Bomar is listed as one of the keynote speakers. The summit opens June 18 and runs through the 21st.
According to Jerry Case, the Park Service's regulations guru, before single-track trails can be cut in the parks "(C)onsideration needs to be given to the (National Park Service) Organic Act and specific park legislation, and an assessment of potential impacts" must be made.
IMBA officials are working hard to see single-track trails become a reality, even though there already are hundreds of miles of mountain bike opportunities across the National Park System and thousands of miles elsewhere in the national forests and the lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Traveler learned in December 2007 that the cycling industry association was working quietly to see if it could convince the Park Service to change its rule-making policies to shorten the process for getting such trails approved. Apparently the group has continued to make inquiries at the Interior Department about that matter.
Beyond those efforts, officials at Public Employees for Environmental Ethics believe illegal mountain biking already is occurred at Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in Tennessee and Kentucky, at Mammoth Cave National Park, Point Reyes National Seashore, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, and Valley Forge National Historical Park.
"These parks are all allowing bikes on particular 'TRAILS,'" says Frank Buono, who joined PEER after more than 33 years with the National Park Service, a career that saw him serve stints as assistant superintendent at Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park. In 1994 the National Parks and Conservation Association conferred upon him the prestigious Mather Award for public service. "I emphasize that word because PEER does not want to confuse these clear cut cases with parks having dirt roads (like the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park) open to bikes. Such parks do not need a special rulemaking.
"There may be other parks that are allowing bikes on what are indisputably 'trails' in the backcountry (technically, under the NPS rules, trails outside of "developed" or "special use" zones.)," he adds. "PEER just doesn't have any evidence on other parks yet."
Back at the National Park Service's Washington headquarters, Mr. Case didn't think creating more pathways for mountain bikes might lead Segway proponents to argue successfully for their own distinct pathways in the parks.
While the footprint of mountain bike trails and imagined Segway trails are similar, he said that Segway trails wouldn't be allowed because those are "motorized vehicles."
As to how the National Park Service, which is mandated by the Organic Act to conserve the park system's landscapes unimpaired for future generations, will avoid becoming simply another public, multiple-use landscape as more and more user groups demand access to the parks, Mr. Case wasn't entirely sure.
"That is our greatest challenge, to encourage use and enjoyment of this national resource, while preserving it for future generations. There are no easy answers to the user capacity question," he said.