BOULDER, CO (BRAIN)—The majority of the nation’s national parks have historically been off limits to mountain bikers, but that could change if the National Park Service grants a rule change easing the administrative process for opening trails to bicyclists.
The National Parks Service is expected to formally announced the proposal for new rules later this year, which would treat bicyclist like other non-motorized trail uses, such as equestrians.
While this may be music to the ears of the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) which has been asking the Parks Service to revise its cumbersome policies since 1992, the pending rule change leaves little to be desired for the American Hiking Society.
The hiking group recently published a national action alert opposing the rule, saying the requirements for comprehension environmental review and public commentary before opening a trail to cyclists would be tossed aside if the rules are changed.
Leaders from IMBA and the hiking society met to discuss this issue several weeks ago.
“Unfortunately, the alert has rippled through the hiking community, causing consternation and confusion amongst the shared-use trails community. Some hiking-based groups have expressed concern that mountain biking will infringe on foot travel, but IMBA remains confident that shared-use trails can succeed in national parks, as they do in countless public land settings around the globe,” IMBA said in a press release issued this week.
The alert also suggests that this regulatory change could affect how Wilderness, or areas proposed for Wilderness, will be managed.
Not so, says IMBA.
The issues are completely separate, according to the advocacy organization. IMBA recognizes that cycling is not allowed in areas designated as Wilderness and the proposed rule change would have no impact on Wilderness regulations, the press release said.
National parks that are not interested in expanding opportunities for bicycling will not be affected by the rule change.
“The new procedures will not force mountain biking on any park unit, and superintendents that do not see opportunities for mountain biking in their parks will not be asked to adopt it,” IMBA said.
IMBA is encouraging mountain bike organizations to reach out to their local hiking trail partners and National Parks Service local leaders to address concerns and answer questions about the rule change.
Currently, just two of the roughly 24 national parks that allow singletrack mountain biking have been able to complete the onerous special regulations process required to open trails to bicyclists.
The special regulations process required for bicycles also applies to snowmobiles, jet skis, airplanes, commercial trucking and other similarly intensive park uses. IMBA believes local park management, using the inclusive NEPA process, can best make decisions regarding bicycle use on the trails that they oversee.
For example, Tennessee's Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, trail users and park staff worked for many years to open two existing routes to bicycling, detailing the process publicly in environmental reviews, park planning documents and rigorous scientific research. But, the trail opening was prohibited because special regulations had not been completed. While bicyclists, NPS staff, hikers and equestrians all support opening these trails to bicycles, the opening date is likely several years in the future, at best.