WASHINGTON D.C. (BRAIN)—The National Parks Service proposed a rule change on Thursday that would make it easier for the country's national parks to open trails to mountain bikes.
The rule would amend current regulations for designating bicycle use on national parks land by allowing park superintendents to make decisions at a local level about opening existing trails to bikes instead of requiring a lengthy regulatory process.
The International Mountain Biking Association has been working with the parks service to revise the current regulations since 1993.
While the association is pleased with Thursday’s development, IMBA communications manager Mark Eller cautioned that “we don’t expect to see hundreds of miles of mountain bike trails” opened right away. Rather, the rule change would lay the groundwork for a less cumbersome and time-consuming process to open trails to mountain bikers.
“We think that with the new regulations, it would probably be something that could be done in about a year’s time or something faster than that. Right now, it’s a multi-year journey to get trails adopted into the system,” Eller said.
Currently, about 20 national parks offer mountain biking on trails and another 20 allow riding on dirt roads.
Under the proposed change, parks superintendents would still need to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, which includes a public comment period, the National Historic Preservation Act and the NPS Organic Act when considering trails for mountain bike access.
Any new trail built for bicycle use must go through the existing, more extensive special regulations process, which requires various types of analyses and approval by the National Parks Service director and the assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.
The rule change proposal invokes a 60-day public comment period, which ends on Feb. 17.
Eller expects some resistance from the American Hiking Society, the Wilderness Society and other organizations, and urges mountain bike advocates to voice their opinions to the National Parks Service.
“We think it will take 20,000 or more comments in favor of the rule change to ensure it stays intact,” Eller said.
The American Hiking Society issued an action alert to its members last month asking them to oppose a rule change out of concern that it would scale back opportunity for public comment regarding new bike access; open wilderness areas to mountain biking; and ease environmental oversight during decisions on bike trails.
Eller said IMBA and the American Hiking Society have been in communication and are working toward finding common ground on the rule change. The hiking group issued a second, more balanced action alert on Thursday, Eller said.
Comments on the rule change can be submitted online at www.regulations.gov or mailed to National Parks Service Attn: Regulations Program Manager 1849 C St. NW. MS-3122 Washington, DC 20240.
Submissions must include identification number 1024-AD72. For more information visit www.imba.com.