Bill could reverse MTB ban in Wilderness
September 1, 2016
A bill introduced by Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) requires the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior to authorize relevant local officials to determine all permissible forms of recreational use by nonmotorized transportation methods over any permitted routes within their jurisdictions. If passed, the bill would allow mountain bikes on trails that are located within Wilderness boundaries as long as local officials approve the use of mountain bikes in the area. The bill, titled Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act, defines local officials as officers or employees who are the heads of units or jurisdictions of the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the Forest Service, or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. If a local official fails to make such a determination about a permitted route more than two years after this bill’s enactment, then any form of recreational use by nonmotorized transportation methods shall be allowable on that route, according to the bill.
The term nonmotorized, with respect to a method of transportation, means that the method does not use a propulsive internal or external motor with a nonliving power source.
When Congress passed the Wilderness Act in 1964, mountain biking was barely in existence. The Wilderness Act banned any “mechanical transport” in Wilderness areas referring to carts sleds, or any other vehicle. The act was updated in 1984 when mountain biking began gaining popularity. Mountain biking was then officially banned from Wilderness Areas without exceptions. The bill could mean that some trails, even here in Grand County, which are currently hiking only, could begin to see mountain bikes.
But can trekking poles and handlebars coincide on these trails that are currently exclusive?
Keith Sanders, President of the Grand Mountain Bike Alliance, says yes.
Sanders supports the bill, and feels it could really unite Grand County by connecting trails that currently pass through Wilderness areas. He said the issue is very contentious and feels a large part of it is because many people want to have the trails to themselves without having to navigate around mountain bikers. Sanders does not feel that every single Wilderness trail should allow mountain bikers, but that the right officials should be able to make educated decisions on which trails can allow mountain bikes and do so with minimal impact.
On the argument that bikes tear up trails, Sanders insists that the mountain bike community, nation-wide, is one of the most active groups for trail maintenance, and this bill would expand local ability to work on trails in Grand County. Sanders said this bill could only have a positive impact on Grand County and it could unite the county through our trails, which belong to everyone.
The Sustainable Trails Coalition is a nonprofit working to reverse the “blanket ban” on mountain bikes in Wilderness areas. A blanket ban refers to the banning of mountain bikes entirely without any exceptions.
The Sustainable Trails Coalition, however, does not support a “blanket permit” either.
Instead, they believe the trails in Wilderness areas need “a big dose of cooperation, common sense, and repair; living power sources like hikers, cyclists, equestrians, cross country skiers, snowshoers, etc., need to get along, work together, and partner with land managers to decide what is in the best interest of each trail,” according to their website.