Guest Column: IMBA Is A "Strong Partner" For The National Park Service

Editor's note: Mountain biking in national parks can be a controversial topic in some corners, with supporters and detractors debating whether there's enough space on trails for both hikers and cyclists. At the International Mountain Bicycling Association, Communications Director Mark Eller sees mountain biking and national parks as a great match. Here, to counter views that mountain bikes should be banned from park trails, he explains why.

Howdy Partner,

If I were a standup comic, I'd call this a tough room. Penning a pro-mountain bike essay for the National Parks Traveler website feels about as comfortable as delivering zingers in a boardroom meeting, but I'll give it a try.

The occasion for this piece is a recent dustup about a trail at Big Bend National Park, but first let me say a few things.

I wouldn't bother trying this if I didn't respect the Traveler's audience. For several years, I've read Kurt Repanshek's articles about mountain biking in national parks and engaged in the ensuing debates on the comments section. I get to do this from my work desk as the communications director for the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) — a role that I often point out when I post as "Mark E." Hearteningly, I'm usually not the only commenter who speaks favorably about mountain biking, and many of these discussions have been both civil and enlightening. On the Internet!

I think it's fair to describe Kurt and some Traveler contributors as concerned about the possibility of expanded opportunities for mountain biking in national parks (I considered terms like "hysterical" and "apoplectic" but l'll go with concerned.) In particular, the notion of bicycling on narrow, natural-surface trails sets off alarm bells.

The group I represent has long advocated for the idea that mountain biking is an appropriate activity for just those kinds of trails. IMBA holds a partnership agreement with the National Park Service and is the largest member-based mountain bike organization in the world, with 80,000 individual supporters and programs in more than 30 nations. We have published two books and hundreds of web-based articles on topics like trail design, recreation management and ways to encourage volunteer stewardship. IMBA's network of more than 700 grassroots chapters and clubs records nearly one million hours of volunteer service on public trails every year.

From my seat, that makes us a strong partner for national parks. IMBA only works with NPS units that invite us to help them plan or build trails — if park staff requests assistance, we're happy to help. If a park has no interest in adding shared-use trails we do not try to insert ourselves into their planning efforts. We have no plans to demand that "extreme" (or whatever derogatory terms you've read) mountain bike trails get built on Yosemite's Half Dome or down the middle of Yellowstone. Really.

Now, what about the trail in Big Bend?

Back in 2005, when IMBA signed its first partnership agreement with the NPS, Big Bend was called out as a potential site for a pilot shared-use trail project. A vast park with huge amounts of backcountry terrain, Big Bend offers many miles of dirt roads that are suitable for mountain biking. Heck, they are suitable for hiking too, but mountain bikers are like hikers in that we generally prefer an intimate interaction with the natural world that a trail provides.

At the invitation of the NPS, IMBA helped plan a short trail near the Big Bend Visitors Center. Over the years, the idea picked up steam, clearing regulatory hurdles and gaining support among park staff and in the local community. Although just a few miles in length, the trail will provide a welcome chance to stretch the legs after the long car trip that's required to reach Big Bend. On its own, the new trail won't lure many mountain bikers to the park. However, there is other good riding nearby (including the Fresno-Sauceda Loop, an IMBA Epic ride) and it will be a nice addition for walkers and, eventually, bikers (especially families with kids who might not want to tackle long-distance rides on the park's isolated dirt roads).

The Big Bend trail project is underway, but its future is uncertain. As the Traveler has documented, NPS regulations require a lengthy process before anyone will be allowed to ride a bicycle on the trail — a fact that has not prevented IMBA from supporting the project. My group has sent veteran trail specialist Joey Klein to Big Bend again and again, allowing him to consult with NPS staff on the trail layout and construction. We have done this in a spirit of partnership, in hopes that a successful trail at Big Bend will promote a better understanding of how mountain biking can enhance national parks.

Several web pages on the NPS website address the topic of partnerships. The partnerships landing page opens with these words: "Increasingly partnerships are essential and effective means for the National Park Service to fulfill parts of our mission and foster a shared sense of stewardship that is so crucial for our future." Mountain bikers want to see better and more widespread opportunities to ride on NPS-managed lands, and we believe a partnership approach is the best way to get there. We don't demand that singletrack trails should be opened in every corner of every park — far from it. Where park staff sees an opportunity to work with IMBA and its local affiliates we will take them up on it, moving ahead on a case-by-case basis. We firmly believe that mountain biking, and IMBA, can be good for national parks.

I'll close with a top-ten list (always a reliable shtick). Sincere thanks go to Kurt and the National Parks Traveler for allowing me to post this.


10 Reasons IMBA and Mountain Bikers Make Great Partners for the NPS

1. Prolific Volunteers: IMBA members conduct almost one million hours of volunteer trail building each year and advocate for public lands. With more that 700 bike clubs and chapters, chances are an IMBA group near you stands ready to volunteer at your park.

2. Relevancy: Kids love to mountain bike and opening appropriate trails to kids is a great way to help make parks relevant to today’s recreating public. According to the Outdoor Industry Foundation, bicycling is one of the most popular outdoor activities for kids.

3. Professional Trail Design: IMBA’s team of professional trail designers has vast experience. From Parks Canada to U.S. facilities managed by city, county, state and federal agencies, IMBA has helped create some of the world's most popular trail systems.

4. Bicycling is Already Popular in the NPS: Mountain biking is already successfully managed in 44 national parks and more superintendents are considering places that might be appropriate for mountain biking. IMBA partnered with a half dozen parks in the last two years to build and repair trails.

5. Savvy Fundraisers: Mountain bikers rise to a challenge and our community is known for writing grants, holding fundraisers and working to make sure public lands, facilities and trails have proper funding.

6. Gets Visitors Into Natural Settings: Bicycling allows park visitors to smell, feel and fall in love with the natural world. Parks are meant to be experienced and bicycling is one of the best ways to get people out of their cars and engaged in a nature-based experience.

7. Building the Recreation Economy: Bicyclists spend money on food, lodging and might not even take up a parking space. Adding mountain biking as a park amenity builds on the activities offered by the park and lengthens visitors stays, building gateway community economies.

8. Where Can I Ride My Bike? How many cars or RVs visiting parks right now already have bikes on top? The demand for cycling is growing, and IMBA has a wealth of experience and success stories that show how it can be managed as a low-impact recreational activity.

9. We Wrote the Book: IMBA literally wrote two of the best regarded books in the world on the art of sustainable trail building and managing mountain biking. Complimentary copies go to NPS staff at their request.

10. We Play Nice in the Sandbox: IMBA clubs and chapters know the importance of reaching out to other trail user groups, getting unlikely constituents involved in parks and realize the diverse constituency that embraces national parks.

Mark Eller is the communications director for the International Mountain Bicycling Association.

Comments

Excellent perspective on the whole story! I really feel strongly as well about getting children in the wild outdoors...on foot, on bike, in a canoe.....the more ways we can teach our children to be stewards the better chance Mother Earth will have! Its also important to note that with some parks that are slowly losing staff and revenue, could actually get back in the ballgame by simply allowing mountain bike use. Its fairly clear to many that bikes - human powered, non-polluting, obesity fighting, cheap, and efficient forms of transportation and outdoor recreation could save our world.

Thanks for the well written opinion. I cherish our National Parks, and I very much enjoy mountain biking. The two are not inherently incompatible. The key is to fit the trail to the park, not the other way around. Done right, mountain bike trails are a plus to the park. Done wrong, they detract from the experience of others. IMBA does an excellent job in promoting a healthy outdoor activity in a sustainable manner. When I visit a national park, I want to experience wilderness, wildlife and solitude. That does not mean I do not enjoy driving on a park road as well, and I look forward to riding my bike on trails designed for that purpose.

Thanks for the well written opinion. I cherish our National Parks, and I very much enjoy mountain biking. The two are not inherently incompatible. The key is to fit the trail to the park, not the other way around. Done right, mountain bike trails are a plus to the park. Done wrong, they detract from the experience of others. IMBA does an excellent job in promoting a healthy outdoor activity in a sustainable manner. When I visit a national park, I want to experience wilderness, wildlife and solitude. That does not mean I do not enjoy driving on a park road as well, and I look forward to riding my bike on trails designed for that purpose.

I know that my perspective on this is very limited, because the only interactions I've had with cyclists on trails have been locally in the mountains around Ogden, Utah. Many -- perhaps even most -- of my encounters with bikes on trails have not been good ones. But that may be because the people riding on these trails are city folks. Many of the worst seem to be teenagers. Perhaps those who make the extra effort to travel to a national park would be different. Hopefully.

I guess what worries me most about bikes in national parks is the idea that somehow pressure is on to allow riding anywhere on any trail. I might be much more accepting of the idea if I could be assured that bike use would be carefully planned and regulated.

Absolutely, Lee. IMBA's philosophy is that mountain biking benefits from good management. Many trails and park areas are not suitable for mountain bike access. But there are also lots of great opportunities to add our activity to national parks. With good planning, trail design, signage and all the other strategies that IMBA has become well versed in when it comes to shared-use recreation I know that mountain biking can (and does) make a good addition to NPS properties.

Thanks for the thought-provoking piece. Like many, my first reaction is I don't want mountain bikes on the trails in my favorite National Park - the Smokies. I can see them in some other parks, but not "in my backyard." After all, the Smokies are surrounded by National Forests with ample mountain biking opportunities, right? Then I paused to consider the many individaul trails in the Smokies. Many of them allow horses, so why not bikes? Several trails are old roadbeds that are wide enough for both hikers and bikers. Maybe there is room for compromise after all. I'll try to keep an open mind on the topic from now on.

Volknitter — so gratifying to read your comment! With a considered, reasonable approach I'm hopeful we can find a path (preferably singletrack) forward.

Like Lee, many (most?) of my interactions with bicycles in multi-use areas have been negative. And I'm not talking about whether they disturbed my commune with nature - a purely subjective view that would be irrelevant to this argument. I label them as negative because I feel like if I hadn't been at peak attentiveness my saftey would be compromised. Getting nearly impacted (or in two cases, actually impacted) isn't fun. In fairness, I don't encounter the fat tire corwd much. It's suburban and near-rural trails where I encounter problems, which has, possibly unfairly, colored my opinion of whether I want to see a bike on a National Park trail.

The funny thing is, I have some friends who are avid cyclists (of the road variety) who tell horror stories about vehicles that are akin to my complaints about bikes. "Don't they realize they're driving/riding a fast, heavy piece of equipment that could smash a bike/person?" My cycling friends will also tell me the reckless riders I encounter aren't true cyclists but just yahoos (my euphemism for the word they really use) who shouldn't be on bikes. Well, that's fine, but there seem to be an awful lot of yahoos out there.

I'm sure I'd have a positive interaction with any IMBA members on the trail. But how many of the bikes I'd encounter on any given NPS trail would be said responsible folk? I guess my concern isn't with the mountain bikers that I see debating here on the Traveler, it's with the ones who aren't. I understand why the IMBA feels maligned and marginalized in this crowd. I've experienced the same with some of my hobbies. I just don't enter the discussion anymore in the same way I don't complain about crazed bike-riders to my cycling friends. "Those aren't real cyclists" doesn't keep me from feeling unsafe. Stopping reckless behavior will.

Mark, I have read your reply to Lee:


"With good planning, trail design, signage and all the other strategies that IMBA has become well versed in when it comes to shared-use recreation I know that mountain biking can (and does) make a good addition to NPS properties."


Call me cynical (really, everyone does...it's ok), but I don't think this accounts for the self-centered and reckless nature of many humans. Do people really think signs apply to them? Let's just say I have a lot of faith in the IMBA's intentions and abilities, but little in Joe Q. Public. The fact that Kurt gave you this space and you took the time to stand in the lion's den does go a long way toward making me feel guilty for not having a more open mind, though. In the long run there are much worse things that can happen to the parks than mountain bikes. When the next President wants to sell parcels of national parks for mineral extraction, we'll be squarely on the same side, I think.

Thanks for taking the time to write this column. For what it's worth, my imaginary vote on this issue has gone from "no" to "present".

The basic problem is too many; Two many trails, too many mountain bikers, too many hikers, too many dirt bikers and ATV's, too many rude people, and last but not least too many people for the world to support. We might all be able to get along if there were far fewer of us.

Kirby Adams said: "When the next President wants to sell parcels of national parks for mineral extraction, we'll be squarely on the same side, I think."

Exactly right! And thank you for the well-considered post.

There are places within the national parks where mountain bikes are appropriate, but not many. Mountain bikes exist very well with hikers on the carriage paths at Acadia, or on dirt roads in other parks. They will never coexist well with hikers on narrow singletrack trails. There are a number of reasons:

- They just go too fast. They endanger children and elderly people (I have several times seen elders knocked over by careless mountain bike riders), and detract from the natural experience we all seek in our national parks.

- Because they go much faster than a hiker, they make us hikers feel that there are many more people on the trails. If 50 hikers are spread out on a 10 mile trail, you won't see a lot of other hikers - there will be distance between them and some feeling of solitude. But put 50 mountain bikers on the same trail, you'll see every one of the bikers because they go so much faster, and will pass every single hiker.

- They cause erosion. No matter how well a trail is designed, it only takes few rogue bikers who feel that they have to go up on the edges for the thrills, and the trail starts degrading.

I lived in Boulder Colorado for many years. Mountain bikes destroyed the hiking experience in virtually every place that they were allowed. There were a few wide trails/roads where the hikers and bikers could coexist relatively comfortably, but most trails that allowed bikers didn't have many hikers. Our national parks are our last great places, and we should be able to go there for a relatively natural experience. If we are willing to work for it and hike a distance from the roads, we shouldn't see many other people. Bikers will destroy that feeling of solitude.

Despite the seemingly well reasoned arguments of this article, it just doesn't work to have bikes in the parks.

Um, how come shared use on trails works in every other country in the world except for (allegedly) the United States? Could it have something to do with America's unique Puritan tradition and the hostility to play and fun that are among its modern manifestations?

If I believed Anonymous's comment that hikers and cyclists can't get along safely on trails, I'd have to ask him/her why hikers shouldn't be banned in that case for their own safety. After all, no one has yet produced a study showing that hiking is inherently more worthwhile than riding a bicycle, so why not restrict trails to cycling? Especially because mountain bikers don't seem to have a problem passing one another on narrow trails and generally don't complain incessantly about the presence of others.

Since I don't think Anonymous is correct, however, I'll set that aside. I think Mark E. and others have mentioned that bicycles shouldn't be on every trail in every national park. I agree with that. In fact, there are many miles of trail that we either couldn't ride or wouldn't want to.

Where trails are as crowded as Anonymous mentions (a small subset as far as I know), the NPS could limit people's numbers by permit or provide for alternate-day trail use so that uses perceived to be incompatible won't encounter each other. That, after all, is what most public swimming pools do: faster swimmers at this time, slower ones at that. Seems to work.

The erosion complaint is a long-discredit canard and I think IMBA's website has a plethora of independent scientific studies showing this. Rain is a bigger problem than either a tire tread or the human shoe. Horses are another question—one that doesn't seem to come up among people who assert that mountain biking causes erosion. Hikers aren't free of criticism either, by the way. You should see all the cut switchbacks in my local parks, all caused by hikers, not the mountain bikers who safely share the same narrow trails.

imtnbke, since the first horseless carriage arrived, pedestrians have been trying to get out of the way of machines;-)

While I'm straddling the fence a bit myself, I thought I'd share the following items a quick Google turned up.

Some of these items are somewhat dated, but nevertheless point out some of the dangers that can exist when bikers and hikers share trails. Among the interesting items is a trail system in Michigan where they warn hikers about heavy mountain bike traffic on weekends "to the point it's best to avoid hiking these trails on the weekends."

And then there's the one where a downhill biker in California ran into a woman hiker who had to be airlifted out of the area. The biker also sustained some injuries that required medical attention.

I left out the stories about bikers who killed themselves on rides.

And there are a couple letters/petitions from groups concerned about damage to trails system.

http://www.parkspreservation.org/EllisonParksPlan/incidents

http://altadena.patch.com/articles/biker-vs-hiker-on-the-way-to-echo-mountain

http://mjvande.nfshost.com/mtb104.htm

http://www.headwatersmontana.com/news/mountain-biking-its-fun-trail-user-conflicts-rise

http://michigantrailmaps.com/Washtenaw/PinckneyRA/PinckneyIntro.html (6th graf warns hikers to avoid trails due to speeding bikers...)

http://www.socaltrailriders.org/forum/rider-down/50933-biker-vs-hiker-peters-canyon-hiker-airlifted-out.html nice photo!

http://www.savestrawberrycanyon.org/documents/Letter_2012-02-06-Biking.html

http://www.isu.edu/~nickbenj/bike/mtbdic.htm

http://www.sosboulder.org/organizations/sosboulder.pdf

As for trail wear-and-tear, it continues to be a problem in my burg, which, interestingly, IMBA recently designated as its first-ever "Gold Ride Center," a designation bestowed for Park City's many miles of biking trails as well as its restaurants and hotels.

Problems I'm seeing involve v-shaped trails caused by the amounts of riding, widened trails where riders either swerve to avoid going over rocks or roots or when they decide they'd rather ride around a hiker than dismount and let the hiker pass, and banked turns. Other problems are created when well-intentioned but unskilled trail crews try to create water bars by simply scraping a trench into the trails. These do a great job of funneling top soil away when it rains.

Granted, not all (if any) of Park City's trails were constructed by IMBA crews, so perhaps better designed trails would alleviate these issues. But could they possibly be an issue if mountain biking is permitted on existing trails in parks, as opposed to trails built from scratch and designed to handle the pressures?

That said, I agree with you that hikers create trail problems as well. Social trails in some parks are a nuisance, and in some areas you can find spider webs of trails where hikers like to set out two, three, or even four abreast so they can chat before filing into a single line.

Mark E and Kurt R, thank you for providing this relatively sane thread for expressing opinions in a professional manner. I have resisted posting until now because as we all know, you can't win an emotional argument with facts.

Anonymous 2:13 pm refers to concepts of spatial economics, a subset of economic geography. Places become much bigger when we are on foot. As an example, the occupants of ten row boats in a small lake will be happy and content, as each boat has plenty of room to roam around and the occupants can easily avoid conflict with the occupants of other row boats on the lake. Replace those row boats with motor boats, however, and competition for space enters the equation. Suddenly the lake seems to have shrunk in size, because ten motor boats are now zooming around the lake, disturbing other boaters with wakes, noise, collisions, etc. Substitute for hikers for row boats and mountain bikes for power boats, and the principle is the same, yet exacerbated even more because the lake seems to have shrunk yet again, from two dimensions (lake area) to one dimension (a trail); therefore, conflicts increase even more.

There is a place for everything, and I do not believe that the purpose of national parks, in general, is consistent, with mountain biking. Exceptions exist, of course, but as a rule, no. Premier mountain biking opportunities exist outside of the national parks. I invite those who have not already read it to read "Mountains Without Handrails: Reflections of the National Parks" by Joseph L. Sax, which available online at http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/sax/. Mr. Sax articulates the concepts that are applicable to this subject better than I have seen them articulated anywhere, and certainly better than I can articulate them myself. The book was written in 1980 and although the author does not discuss mountain biking specifically, the subjects and principles that he does discuss are parallel with mountain biking.

Who am I? My name doesn't matter, I could be anyone. Where do I live? I have lived in 22 states (so far), so that doesn't matter either. Nor does it matter what I do for a living or what I like to do for fun, as I have both worked and played on both sides of this proverbial fence. I have worked in the oil fields (yes, I drive a car), on a road construction crew on some rather, um, controversial, paving projects, as well as in the national parks. My backpacking miles measure in the thousands, and I have won more than my fair share of mountain bike races. Once I even, accidentally of course, killed a squirrel on my mountain bike -- in a national park, gasp. The squirrel ran directly into my path and it was over before I could even react. That was 27 years ago, and it still bothers me to this day. I am fortunate it wasn't a small child that I hit.

As we all do, I learned from each experience in my life. I go to parks for contemplative recreation, not domination. I want to see the wildlife, not scare it away and see nothing but my front tire and the trail about a foot in front of it. During one mountain biking trip around the White Rim in Canyonlands NP (one of those welcome exceptions referred to previously) I lagged far behind my compadres. Occasionally one would drop back to make sure I was okay. "Sure," I said and pointed, "I was just watching that group of desert bighorn sheep over there." To the next person I pointed out an archaeological site that we were standing right in the midst of. I reached down and picked up what he described as "Wow, that's a really cool-looking rock!" It was cool looking because it was actually a scraper that been well-used by the Anasazi many centuries before. Before long my entire group slowed down and became more attentive to their surroundings and began to see wildlife and find really cool things on their own, too. They just had to learn how to see, and slow down enough to be able to. You can't do that if you're barreling along on a purely physical challenge. In fact, the White Rim might appear "boring" to someone on such a mission.

The more one knows, searches, and understands, the greater the interest and satisfaction of the park experience. Those in search of domination over national parks and wilderness areas only intrude on those in search of contemplative recreation. Opportunities for dominion outside these boundaries abound. Because the purposes are not compatible, my vote is to keep mountain biking out of the national parks, save for the wonderful and welcome mountain biking opportunities that already exist within the parks. Competition for space within the parks is already an issue, and adding bikes to hiking trails will only increase the number of conflicts.

I do a lot of hiking in the San Francisco Bay Area, where many of the trails are open to mountain bikes. I have never had a negative encounter with people on bicycles. If fact, they tend to go out of their way to be respectful of the rights of hikers, runners, and equestrians. My one gripe is that some of them ride on trails where it is clearly posted that they are not allowed.

Perhaps a few national park trails could be designated for mountain bikes on a trial basis. New trails could be added if it works out.

Mark Eller has made an excellent argument and gotten a good response in return. I fear that I may already have committed the sin of dragging the thread off-track with my prior post. So let my reply to Kurt be quick: (1) no one ever said mountain biking is completely safe, either to mountain bikers or other trail users; the questions are whether it has value and whether it can reasonably be accommodated; (2) I looked at the one picture Kurt recommended and noticed the accident occurred on a fall-line fire road with total visibility, and even the more vociferous mountain biking critics don't object to riding on dirt roads with good sight lines. I'll stop this post here! Apologies to Mark for veering away from his main points.

Mark: well said. Hailsham, the flaw with your reasoning is that you believe that there is only one way to experience your surroundings. I'm not into contemplative meditation in the middle of the trail, but that does not mean that my enjoyment is not as pure as yours.

Kurt, there are also plenty of hiking accidents that happen without any biker intervention. How many hiking deaths occurred last year in the National Parks?

Zebulon, there is no "flaw with my reasoning." I offered my opinion, which I am entitled to as equally as you are entitled to yours. We are all already well aware of yours.

In reply to the anonymous poster who lived in Boulder, well that's my hometown today. I agree that you can draw some parallels to NPS bike access based on Boulder's trail management, but of course I reach a different conclusion.

Here, we have the West Trail Study Area (TSA) standing out as the crown jewel of open space, kind of like a national park. Recently, mountain bikers asked for a short, shared-use trail in the West TSA but were denied any access. There are about 60 miles of hiking/equestrian trails in this area and the bikers asked for a 2-mile segment that would allow us to ride from town to a different trail area that's open for biking.

The usual arguments — camel's nose under the tent, slippery slope, etc — were used to deny this very reasonable request. The local biking group offered to pay for the trail design and construction. Meanwhile, the existing trails (open only to foot and horse travel) are in terrible shape: wide and eroded with many miles of hiked-in social trail. Bikers did not cause any of that damage, but we would be happy to help repair it.

Boulder's open space management conducted a study that showed of all user groups bikers have the best adherence to staying on the trail. It also said that conflicts between bikers and hikers on existing shared-use trails is extremely low. Boulder's shared-use trails in other TSA areas are exceptionally popular with both hikers and bikers, and the ones designed by trail experts (the city has some excellent trail crews) are holding up well.

None of this was enough to convince the city council to open even a short trail in the West TSA to shared use. Sigh. There are still a lot of people who think that they have to keep mountain bikes off every trail, or at least every trail that matters to them. I think they are being unreasonable in their absolutism.

There's nothing else to do than keep building the case that adding more options for mountain biking — in a careful and considered manner — can benefit the public, and public lands as well.

Hailsham, my opinion does not exclude other human powered recreationists from the National Parks.

As a public good, the parks should be managed to maximize citizens enjoyment of said parks while preserving the conservation goal. There are zero arguments that show that bicycling is inconsistent with conservation. Meanwhile, packstock commercial outfitters are busy crapping all over the trails that they churned to moondust, and nobody seems bothered (except for a few dedicated hikers in the Sierras). That sure looks like a double standard to me.

Deep-seated suspicion of and hostility to fun and play runs through the no-bicycles-in-parks comments here. One gentleman asserts that he has "won more than my fair share of mountain bike races" but proceeds to speak in the classic HOHA manner, i.e., that bicycles are all about domination and conquest and "see[ing] nothing but my front tire and the trail about a foot in front of it."

Well, to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, I am a former mountain bike racer and many mountain bike racers are or have been friends of mine. From this experience, I can say that few people have the talent to win a number of races; it is difficult to win even one. I know of no one in that rarefied category, or even mountain bike racers several notches below it (like me), who has such a blinkered and essentially negative view of what mountain biking is all about. It would be like Jesse Helms or Strom Thurmond talking about their civil-rights work in Mississippi in 1964. The gentleman must be, if not unique, possessing a highly unusual combination of background and perspective. I might also add that any mountain bike racer who looks only one foot in front of his or her wheel is going to have a sad, short, painful, injury-filled career and will not come away with an illustrious palmarès to show for his or her racing efforts.

LIke many others, I have always had a negative view of mountain bikers in the national parks. I have stopped hiking on any Forest Service land because I was sick of almost being run over by mountain bikers. Almost every experience I have had has been negative. But reading some of these comments have made me think and I realized I have also had negative experiences with other hikers, but I never ended up with the negative view the way I did with mountain bikers.

Reading this article and comments have made me rethink my position. I can't wait to see how the trail at Big Bend turns out.

Traveler, a well written article by Mark E., thank you for posting. I disagree with Mark, primarily because public lands have been set aside for different legislative purposes. One size cannot fit all. Our National Parks are the most protected of these public properties, mechanized transport in our parks has been legislated against for good reasons. I would and do support mountain biking on many USFS, BlM, and State lands (not all, wilderness being one such designation), but do not support it in the National Parks. In our National Parks, lets leave only footprints, opening the door to trail bikes is inviting nothing but new problems in my own humble opinion.

Most of you are likely not aware or have forgotten that during the end of the last administration our mountain biking president, in a large part from pressure by IMBA, forced the NPS to publish a proposed rule that essentially eliminated public participation in decisions to create bike trails in National Park areas. The existing regulation requires rulemaking and public participation to establish bike trails and this proposed rule would leave that decision with the unit’s superintendent. Not that most superintendents would not be looking out for the greater public good but one could see the potential for lobbying pressure from IMBA. The existing regulation provides an opportunity for all to comment on proposed bike trails outside of developed areas. (36 CFR 4.30(b)).

Not that all superintendents can be pressured by IMBA to create bicycle trails without appropriate consideration, but I find the thought that even one superintendent could open the door to by-passing the public process as objectionable. If IMBA is confident that most American’s would like to see more bicycle trails then why object to an open process?

Fortunately when the administration changed in 2009 so did the effort to remove public participation from developing bicycle trails. Be aware . . . . this idea might again be raising its ugly head.

Ed A., the current rule making process is complete red tape that basically ensures that nothing ever gets done without a tremendous amount of work (Big Bend being the perfect example of the current state of nonsense). The rest of your post misrepresents everything... "pressure from IMBA", "bypassing the public process". Puhlease..

Zebulon makes a valid point, the NEPA rule making process can appear to be a never ending process. Unfortunately it sometimes is used to make a predetermined decision and that can complicate things. The attorneys on this website can correct me if I am wrong, I am certainly no expert, but basically, all the agencies are required to do is correctly complete the rule making process, once that is completed, the agency can make the final decision. Citizens can only litigate on process. The agency must comply with law and policy however. My objection to opening National Park trails to "trail bikes" is based on the issue of introducing a new recreational activity that currently is not allowed. The pressure on our park managers to expand visitor uses of parks is enormous, from trail bikes, to dogs, to hunting, to carrying firearms, permitting marathon runs, well the list is quite lengthly. I can remember once a gentleman who requested a permit to ride an elephant from Devils Postpile to Tuolumne Meadows. Another citizen had a pet mountain lion. Could go on and on. I have nothing against mountain bikes, I just do not think we should add another level of recreational activity to already high visitor use levels on the National Park trails. National Parks are the most protected of our public lands, they simply cannot maintain this status and still accommodate all the citizens and their recreational choices at the same time.

Ron, I don't buy the slippery slope argument. Adding bike riding, which is really akin to hiking on a bike, is congruent with the park's objectives.

Other activities should be judged on their own merits. And frankly, there is no link between hunting and cycling (unless of course you carry your firearm on your handlebars...).

Zeb, what about Segways? Get a motorized version with heavy off-road tires that can handle multiple-use trails. Would those be OK. No pollution. No increased footprint. Akin to hiking like the Jetsons!

Enjoy the road less traveled with the Segway x2. It's rugged, tough, and designed to take you places.

With the x2, you can chart your own course. Its innovative design moves you over a variety of terrain, be it the grass in your backyard or the gravel and dirt in your favorite off road spot. Deeply treaded tires, scratch resistant fenders and higher ground clearance give you a smooth, stable ride, and the durability you've come to expect from Segway. And with the unmatched performance of Segway's LeanSteer technology, your body will anticipate and conquer the trail ahead.

http://www.segway.com/individual/models/x2.php

Responding to Ed A and others — I stay away from the national parks. They come across to me as overpoliced, overregulated, overcontrolled. Gun-toting rangers, magistrates and jails, no-parking signs, tow-away zones, $20 entrance fees, and concessionaires with airport prices or higher for food, drink, and (sometimes run-down) lodging. Not to mention the honky-tonk towns and settlements that spring up on their outskirts. The whole scene is to be avoided, and one can only hope that no more national parks are created in any areas with wildlands worth visiting, lest they be ruined.

Even remote Big Basin National Park, where I climbed Wheeler Peak (13063') in 2010, is swarming with federal employees driving around in big pickup trucks. It's bureaucracy run amok. I preferred the area when it was the modest Lehman Caves National Monument.

I bet it's not fun to work for such a regulatory octopus either if you have much of an independent spirit. Didn't this site have an article on that topic recently?

So, given that that is the big picture as far as I'm concerned, the notion that the parks will be impaired or somehow diminished by letting an individual superintendent decide that a bicycle may be ridden on some remote trail somewhere seems laughable. How is someone sitting at a desk in Washington who last rode a Schwinn in 1964 going to be able to decide this issue?

So if IMBA has worked to ease the staggeringly bureaucratic process regarding trail access—I don't know if it has or not—then more power to it.

Kurt, I'm only talking human powered contraption here. :)

I hear you Zeb, but you know how that slippery that slope can be...;-) I'm sure an argument can be made that Segways make no more, and possibly less, impact than a bike, so why not?

I think Segways on NPS trails would be fine in principle, for the reason Kurt mentions: i.e., they are quite low-impact. Low social impact, low environmental impact. So why not? If they make a trail too popular, then you limit access by daily permit. Might save a bunch of knee joints.

Ultimately, permissible activities have to be decided on their own merits, and how they comply with the parks stated goals.