Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mountain Biking in the National Parks? Apparently President George W. Bush has prompted a plan to open up our national parks to mountain biking. Now before the typical knee-jerk responses start coming in from various users groups, lets analyze this proposal.

Most of the National Parks policies were developed well before mountain bikes and the idea of them came into play.

The activity is generally low-impact and certainly is a healthy pursuit

It has an appeal to groups of people that can become potential activists for our public lands if they are included into the dialogue

Old roads and roads converted to trails in our national parks would in most cases make excellent mountain biking routes

This has already been proven in the Olympic National Park with the Spruce Railroad trail and Mount Rainer National Park with the West Side Road

And of course many trails and environmentally sensitive areas where hiker only or hiker/horse only trails currently traverse should indeed be kept off of the mountain biking route potential

The Wilderness act which bars motorized and wheeled equipment (ie. Mountain bikes) will keep these areas mountain bike free. So there is no need to fret thinking that our parks are about to become mountain biking havens. Olympic, North Cascades and Mount Rainier National Parks all currently have nearly 95% of their acreage in wilderness protection. These areas will not be open to mountain bikes. The law guarantees it and it can not be overridden by presidential or administrative decree. It can only be overturned by Congress, and since the Wilderness Act's inception in 1964, this has never occurred.

So how about the other 5% of these parks' land masses? Sure, let's look at it and if park managers (who will be responsible for implementing the new policy) and after public input has been taken- deem that a certain trail would make a nice mountain bike route-then so be it.

Now, me? I mountain bike-but primarily on old roads and logging roads. I prefer to hike on trails and I generally don't want to see many of our trails opened to bikes. I find that mountain bikers (in general-not all of them) are more into speed, challenge and the sport than being connected to the outdoors and being environmentally attuned. Of course this can be said for some hikers too and climbers. But, still I enjoy the sport-and when done responsibly it can be compatible with our parks and forests.

So, with that said- I look forward to say,mountain biking on the old Stehekin River Road in the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area (currently closed to them) but will still leave by bike behind once I get onto real trail.

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