Mountain Bikes and National Parks

There's a new poll for you to take. But it's an old topic: Mountain bikes and national parks.
I first broached the subject in January of 2006. At that time, word had just surfaced that the Park Service and the International Mountain Bicycling Association were embarking on a five-year pilot study of mountain biking in the parks. Well, we're now entering the third year of this study.
Havomtnbikers_copy That pilot program called for mountain biking experiments in just three parks -- Big Bend, Fort Dupont, and Cuyahoga Valley. But in addition to those three, IMBA crews are fanning out across the park system to work on projects in a handful of other units. Last summer a crew visited Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to offer trail-building advice and even ran a 15-mile test event.
The 15-mile route included a 6-mile, 1700' uphill and loop trails over loose gravel, slick grass, and steep rocky stretches,
the park noted in a release about the event. To prevent the introduction of non-native plants and insects into the park, rangers helped riders clean their bikes, packs, and shoes before the ride.

Earlier this year an IMBA crew went to Whiskeytown National Recreation Area to again discuss trail building, and even spent an afternoon demonstrating its skills.
Now, Hawaii Volcanoes has allowed mountain biking on existing dirt roads, and I don't think that should be a problem. And Whiskeytown also has a history with mountain biking as part of its general management plan.
What spurs debate, though, is IMBA's lobbying to have single-track trails cut through more and more parks. At Big Bend, the group has its eyes focused on Grapevine Hills, a 20,000-acre slice of landscape that the association says "is pristine and offers great rolling terrain ideal for a sustainable trail and an engaging multi-use experience."
At Saguaro National Park, which a dozen years ago opened its 2.5-mile Cactus Forest Trail to mountain bikers, IMBA says it stands ready to help the park design additional mountain biking trails "should they decide to open additional trails to two-wheeled users."
How compatible are mountain bikes with national parks? Certainly, on existing dirt roads and two-tracks they shouldn't be a problem. Indeed, such opportunities abound across the national park landscape. But is it prudent to open all national parks to mountain biking with the understanding that single-track trails will be cut through the forests, across meadows, and along plateaus to accommodate cyclists?
There are many times when I've come upon moose or bison or elk or deer in the parks while hiking thanks to the quiet nature of hiking. Would that still be the case if trails were opened to mountain bikers, many who head to single tracks for speed and thrills they can't seem to find on dirt roads?
Regarding thrills, there are plenty of places to get an adrenalin rush in national parks: Climbing the Grand Teton or Mount Rainier, caving in Mammoth Cave, paddling Yellowstone's lakes, sea kayaking Acadia's waters. Why do we have to introduce mechanical thrills?
As I'ved noted in the past, there are already many dirt roads open to mountain bikers in the parks, and scores of two- and single-track trails in national forests and BLM lands. Must we introduce more trails in the parks?
What do you think?


As an avid mountain biker (one who logged over 2000 miles of mostly single-track one short summer on the west slope of the Colorado Rockies, riding on weekends!)I agree that there are plenty existing trails and we don't need to be building more trails in NP's for mechanized traffic. I also hike plenty and really enjoy -- no, crave -- the solitude of remote, hikers-only trails. Some things need to remain as untouched, untrammeled, and slowly-traveled as is humanly possible. Mountain-biking is fun but participants need to realize that they do have unpleasant impacts on other trail-users. By the way, I encountered numerous herds of elk in the backcountry of Colorado while riding. In fact, biking is often quieter than walking, to the extent that a rider can really surprise both hikers and wildlife, and not in a pleasant manner. Nothing worse than looking over one's shoulder constantly for that speeding bike...
I think mountain bikes can be compatible with National Parks. Leave No Trace ethics have limited the impact that hikers have on the environment. I think the same principles could be applied to Mt Bikers. Education is the key. Should every park and every trail be opened to mountain bikes? Of course not, but many parks can and should support bikers. How can we say that the rock or ice climber is having an acceptable thrill will the mountain biker is not? Everything we do in and to our environment has a cost. The question we must answer is where and when is the cost worthwhile.
I find it amusing that the terms "thrills" and "speed" always seem to be (mis) used by the earthy-crunchy, self-serving sector of our society. Obviously, you have never pedaled up a mountain on a bike. Speed doesn't enter the equation. Especially when we need to carry all our survival gear on our backs. If you want to protect the environment then the best way to do that is to get the most people out there to see and appreciate it. In addition, not dictate how they should accomplish this based on your opinion. Allowing greater usage will do accomplish this. In addition, you won't find a better ambassador’s for protection of the wild than a mountainbiker. From over ten years of experience, I have found we do not litter, as our walking brethren tend to do. It's hard to hold a 64 oz. slurpee cup while "speeding" around nature beauty. And the comment about scaring deer away is ludicrous. I have come upon countless deer, bear and all forms of natures creatures on my bike that I would have never seen had I not had this great, healthy outlet. It has always amazed me the superior mentality you pedestrians have. Somehow sitting in your recliners thinking that nature has been protected by not using it rather than using it. Mother Nature will do far more damage to itself than bike tires will ever do. and your attitude about it's protection.
Debri181, I think you're missing the point I was trying to make. I have nothing against mountain bikes. There are two in my garage, right next to our two road bikes, and they all get good workouts on a regular basis. And you're right, speed isn't in the equation when one is pedaling up a mountain. But it certainly comes into play on those downhills. The point I was trying to make is that there are plenty of opportunities inside and outside the national park system for mountain bikers, and that I don't see the need to cut any new single-track trails in the parks.
Why wouldn't you want more usage? More enjoyment? As our children grow more sedentary, you suggest reducing park usage. Why not cross country skiing trails too? Public use and or land closings are one of the biggest topics of the mountain biker community. So, for someone like you (I assume) works in the great outdoors it is no hardship. You have an abundance of woodland. In fact, you may even take it for granted. I am also fortunate that in New England we have an abundance of open public woodland to exercise in. Usually. I hear this is changing rapidly with public lands going private. As is the case with Federal lands. Correct? And again with the speed comment. I notice that the picture you choose was of people going down a fire road dust kicking up in the air. Not a "fair" picture of what mountainbiking is about. Most "downs" consist of the trials you worked so hard to climb. Yes, naturally you do travel faster downhill than up but when the only thing between you and a tree or a rock is a over priced piece of polystyrene you tend to rely on controlled descents not speed. Is erosion your point? Disturbing wildlife? If you want to have more support for more land reservations then more people need to see and feel what nature is all about. Not watch Discoery Channel for there dose of the outdoors. Who are the best ambassadors of the outdoors? The ones who actually make use of it. Expand the usage.
I feel there are plenty of opportunities out there for mountain biking without the need to further cut trails in the national parks. As I've written many times on these pages, the national parks landscape covers just 84 million acres, while the BLM and Forest Service landscapes combined encompass more than 450 million acres. By and large, a good chunk of those 450 million acres are managed for multiple use, while the 84 million NPS acres are not. And as I've said, there are numerous mountain biking opportunities already in national parks, ranging from the 103-mile-long White Rim Trail in Canyonlands and the 45 miles of carriage paths open to mountain bikes in Acadia to the old dirt roads of Mammoth Cave and the single track in Whiskeytown NRA. Why the need to cut more single track? If you say, 'Great, let's cut more mountain bike trails,' where do you stop? Segways, which are being allowed in Antietam National Battlefield this summer, rely on a trail footprint no bigger than a mountain bike trail. Should we provide paved trails for them? If so, how do you manage the traffic of hikers, mountain bikers, Segways, et al? Do we need separate trails for each type of use? The folks in Yellowstone seem to think snowmobiles don't pose a significant environmental impact to their park's environment; should we cut snowmobile trails through Yellowstone's forests and across the Hayden Valley for them? And that picture you didn't like? That was promoted by the International Mountain Bicycling Association, which went to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park last summer in a bid to further mountain biking in the parks. IMBA designed the trail; its 'ambassadors' are those pictured racing down the trail, kicking up the dust. I fear that's the type of picture that will be repeated across the park system if IMBA has its way. The national park system today is facing pressures from so many different angles. Mountain bikers want increased access, so, too, do snowmobilers, personal watercraft owners, equestrian groups. Cell phone companies want to erect cell towers in the parks. Gateway communities want more recreational opportunities in the parks. Developers are building subdivisions on park borders. Give in to all these interests and the national parks I fear will lose the luster they've struggled to hold onto for nearly a century. Give in to all these interests and what will the park landscape look like in another 50 years? What will your children and grandchildren see? An overcrowded city park? A landscape so overrun by this group and that group that it's no longer the magnificent place it originally was set aside for? Hyperbole? Perhaps a bit. But why take the chance when there already are so many other areas for these uses and when the national parks are, in large part, a limited edition?
At Point Reyes N.S. you can mtn bike for miles on a dirt road until a sign says wilderness area, which is 1/4 mile from the ocean. But if there is a fire, they take big tankers on those roads and cut trees so they can get to the fire. Which has more impact? Which belonngs in a wilderness? Why is it even wilderness when you can view boats plying the waters, and bbq grills at the campsites?
Wow looks like you had your coffee.. LOL Let's only talk about mountain bikes. I'm not here to support vehicles with engines. That's another conversation that I'm not interested in being part of. First things first. If it were up to me, I would have the more land "protected" and not given up for development. I would also allow exploration by approved methods of those lands. Hiking, snowshoeing, cross country sking, mountain biking etc. As noninvasive as possible. But also allow usage of the land. Paved trails? For mountain biking? That's not mountain biking. Rail trails are for those people. Which is also cool but off topic. I’m for anything to get people outside and exercising. All we mountain bikers want is equal access to the hiking trails. No money need be spent. We know the common rules of trail courtesy even if our hiking brethren do not. Do not heap mountain bikers in with dirt bikes and ATVs using terms like “mechanical devices” when it comes to governing (controlling) trail usage. We are not noise generating, smoke spewing, oil dripping and nature destroying threats to nature. Well we do hoot and howler on occasion. I can agree that more trials do not need to be cut. In fact, we would prefer it that way. Dual access to existing trails is all we would like. I seldom see hikers on these trails anyway. Why not have them being used by someone? It is unfortunate that Antietam National Battlefield and other historic "hollowed" ground is being (an has been) overrun by development or to simply further developed to increase business which the NPS is also guilty of. As a lover of American History I find it a shame that most Americans take for granted what was fought for by past generations. But all of that is also another topic for another day.
We could bat this topic back and forth for days, perhaps weeks, but it doesn't appear as if we'll see eye to eye on it. I do think, though, that you should look more closely at what IMBA wants, for they do indeed want to cut new single-track trails in the parks. And I have yet to see a plan from them as to how they would control biker-hiker traffic on dual-use trails. Do you implement an odd-day, even-day schedule, and if so, what do you tell backcountry hikers who don't look at that schedule before they leave the backcountry? Can you imagine a group of three or four hikers with 50+-pound packs on their backs rounding a corner to see a group of mountain bikers screaming down on them? Are they supposed to nimbly leap out of their way? I agree that wouldn't be an every-day occurrence, and I also would agree that most mountain bikers are courteous. But I've also found myself jumping out of the way of them. Too, how do you keep bikers from riding into designated wilderness, which is off-limits for bikes? Do you restrict bikers to front-country trails just a few yards off roads? Would the biking community like that? And would every park do as Hawaii Volcanoes did for that test event last August and require that rangers check bikes and gear for invasive species that bikers might carry into parks? These are just some of the issues that revolve around the current push by IMBA to gain more access for mountain bikes in national parks. I'm sure there are others.
Simply put you see the hikers as being good and righteous and mountain bikers as invaders. Why? Because shoes came before bikes? And mountain bikers "screaming" down into hikers who have to be nimble. Please. Always the worse case scenario. How about looking at this way: Some mountain bikers descending into some trudging hikers who refuse to give way. I see it far more dangerous for the bikers. The hikers are the obstacles not the bikers. But that's me and that's you. Can't a hiker bring "species" into undesired areas? How many forest fires have mountain bikers started? I bet the hikers have the edge in that category. Camp fire litter? Trash on the trails? Heck, look at the top of Everest. It's a dump from hikers who discard their garbage once it's use is finished. Want me to find more? How about the same rules for all. Courtesy. Give humans more credit for getting along and problem solving. At most maybe some downhill trails next to hiker specific trails would need to be creating. And we would do the work. Your using this space to promote your views and only your views without conceding that there are other views that are valid and just. We taxpayers support your way of life. In my world you are overhead. You provide no income to support yourselves or this country yet you want to dictate policy. You’re using this space provided by taxpayers to promote your propaganda. Step aside and let us decide how we want to use the lands we paid for. We won’t destroy the world. In fact, we may save it for future generations. The couch potatoes you seek support from will not. See you on the trials some day. I'll try not to run you over as I scream by.
Sigh. First of all, I created this blog to spur discussion and debate of national park issues. You and others are more than welcome to toss in your two cents, as you've certainly done. I don't claim a monopoly on right and wrong; I invite discussion to encourage different views, for only through rational discussion can we reach rational decisions. Secondly, this blog is not taxpayer supported. Not one taxpayer penny goes into it, so I'm not sure where you got that idea. I do not work for the federal government. And what's with all the "couch potato" talk? It takes a lot more sweat, effort and desire to hike 20 miles with a 45-pound pack on one's back than to pedal that far. As I said before, it's not likely we're going to see eye-to-eye on this issue. But then, isn't that the beauty of living in this country?
Jees,Debri81-- Cut Kurt some slack. He does this because he loves parks and thinks they are important. The only thing that sustains him is the dialog that his blog generates. Most of that dialog is pretty good natured, even when people disagree. Too bad yours isn't.
My comments were not meant to offend. Sorry if they did. I'm not a forum flamer by nature. And in all my posts (if you read them) you would see a willingness to meet "you" half way. All I read in response were the typical adjectives that are used to mount an counter argument against "us" mountain bikers. I also apologise for misunderstanding the source of this blog and your profession. I do love parks. Why wouldn't I? I just want to enjoy too in a manner in which I choose. Not you. So you're correct we won't agree. So be it. I did go to IMBA website and didn't see the "screaming bikers" picture there. It is, however, the cover picture on the website for the Hawian Trail use article of course. I luv marketing. Also my "coach potatoe" was not a reference to you personally but to the usual supporters of land use who never actually use it but "feel" better knowing that others aren't allowed to use it either. I have actually witnessed this in action. Elderly voters organizing against expanded land use by mountain bikers because "bikers" will "chew up" the trails. And finally the "run over" comment. I mean it. I might not. ;-) Take care.
This is an important discussion and desperately needs to be fleshed out, particularly if we are interested in expanding the Wilderness Preservation System. There is no reason that Mt. Bikers should be pushed into the arms of the Blue Ribbon Coalition. It's happening. I have been following this issue for some time now. What is not clear to me is what is the objection to bikes? I've seen no literature showing that they have any more negative ecological impacts than either hikers or packstock. It can't be the noise because most packstock users complain that bikes are too quiet. So is it the speed? If so, lets be clear about the issue. Also, the "mechanized" issue I find an unconvincing arguement. Extend it logically and you eliminate aided climbs and boat rowing becase both could be classified as mechanized. I have a few other questions but I would be interested in hearing responses to these initial comments.
I do not agree with the "cutting" of any additional trails in Our National Parks. This pristine 20,000-acre slice called Grapevine Hills in Big Bend National Park sounds like the type of place I rely on Our National Park Service to protect from any type of development. What are the differences between a foot trail and a bike trail? Are we still cutting trails through meadows? I seem to remember decades ago an effort to reroute existing trails to the edges of meadows.
Erik-- You bring up a good point. I don't want Mtn. bikers in the arms of the Blue Ribbon Coalition either. Certainly the impact of mountain biking on park service area roads is much less than the impact of snowmobiles on the environment of Yellowstone or jet skis in the various park service areas where they are now permitted. That said, I still favor the ban on mountain biking in NPS wilderness areas. There are plenty of dirt roads in parks where biking is a perfectly acceptable use. But NPS wilderness areas are different. They represent some of the most pristine places we have left in America. I am not in favor of cutting new single tracks through these areas so that bikers can use them. And that's what we would have to do. Biking and hiking aren't very compatible on the same trails. The argument that stock use is more harmful in wilderness than biking is is a good point. At least in the American West, stock use is very traditional. It would be very difficult to regulate this use more than it already is. I read somewhere that Death Valley has 785 miles of dirt roads open to mountain biking. Big Bend, one of the pilot projects within the NPS-IMBA agreement has great dirt roads for biking. I see no reason to cut more trails through parks to augment the already-existing opportunities. If one googles "mountain biking in national parks", one finds information on the areas in parks that are already open to this activity. Thanks for your thoughtful response.