Wheels of Change

A growing number of Americans are hopping on mountain bikes as a way to connect with the natural world. But do knobby tires belong on national park trails?


By Amy Leinbach Marquis


In 1861, Major General Nelson A. Miles, a commanding officer in the U.S. Army, was cheering on cyclists from the sidelines of a six-day race in New York City when it hit him: Why not arm America’s military with bikes, too? “Unlike a horse,” he wrote, “a bicycle did not need to be fed and watered and rested, and would be less likely to collapse.”

Five years later, Miles set out to test his idea on a small group of “Buffalo Soldiers”—African-American men tasked with keeping the peace on the frontier and, in some cases, serving as America’s very first national park rangers in places like Yosemite and Sequoia. But Miles’ group had a new mission: to ride custom-made bikes into Montana’s wilderness. Off road. For an insane number of miles.

On August 15, 1896, the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps set out on a self-propelled, round-trip journey from Missoula, Montana, to Yellowstone National Park—800 miles, to be exact. Packed bikes weighed as much as 76 pounds, and the soldiers’ rations, which ranged from seven cans of beans to five pounds of prunes, added another 120 pounds collectively. At times, the trails got so muddy and the terrain so steep that soldiers had to push their bikes along railroad tracks instead. Changing a flat meant re-cementing loosened tires onto wooden rims—a cumbersome process compared with the five-minute fix we’re accustomed to today. Despite the setbacks, however, Miles hailed the trip as a success and quickly enlisted his team for a longer, tougher challenge: a 1,900-mile trip across the Rocky Mountains to St. Louis, Missouri.

The Buffalo Soldiers’ expeditions are some of the first documented cases of mountain biking in history. And they happened in our national parks, where, ironically, the same activity has turned into one of the most controversial forms of trail use today. As the sport continues to grow in popularity—especially among America’s youth (research shows that mountain biking is the gateway sport to getting more kids outside)—the National Park Service and other land-management agencies are coming face to face with a complex set of questions: Do mountain bikes belong in our national parks, which boast the highest standards of conservation? If so, under what circumstances? And if land managers decide to introduce that use, how will they ensure it doesn’t destroy the resources and visitor experiences that have long defined those landscapes?

A GROWING TREND

Despite national attention during the Buffalo Soldiers’ expeditions, mountain biking didn’t catch on with the public until the late 1970s, after a young Californian named Gary Fisher got kicked out of bicycle racing for having long hair. Eager to shed the road scene, he turned to casual races down Marin County’s fire roads on old “beater-bikes” pulled from dumpsters and supplemented with rugged parts. At one point, Fisher decided he wanted to be able to ride up the hills, too. So, borrowing parts from discarded motorcycles, he began building bikes with wider handlebars, adding front shocks to traditionally rigid forks, and fitting wheels with fat, knobby tires that handled better in the dirt. In 1979, Fisher and his partners started a company called “Mountain Bikes,” and by 1980, they were selling more high-end bikes than any other company in the world. Thirty years later, the sport is still evolving. High-end bike frames weigh about as much as a beagle. Front and rear shocks soften rides over rocky terrain. Special shoes attach to special pedals, giving cyclists an advantage on steep climbs.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that, 150 years after the Buffalo Soldiers took their first pedal strokes, today’s mountain bikers might set a longing gaze on our national parks and think, “I want to bike there, too.”

A MANAGEMENT CHALLENGE

Unless a special regulation has been put in place, current Park Service rules prohibit bicycling anywhere except on paved roads, in parking areas, and “along other designated routes”—a category that varies from park to park. It might sound exclusive, but there are actually 40 national park units that allow mountain biking on trails and dirt roads. Think seaside carriage roads in Maine’s Acadia National Park, Pacific-hugging trails in California’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and twisty, wooded trails in Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in Kentucky and Tennessee. Unfortunately, in some cases, the Park Service approved these trails without using a special regulation or soliciting public input. And that has stirred the debate.

Still, many positive projects have resulted from a growing relationship between the Park Service and the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA)—a nonprofit group that advocates for landscape conservation, trail access, and above all else, good trail etiquette. “IMBA has shown through hard work and cooperative attitudes that they share our passion for protecting and enjoying our nation’s parks,” said Park Service Director Jon Jarvis in a press release. “Bicycling helps draw new visitors—especially younger people—and gives them fun, memorable experiences in the national parks.”

If that sounds like a system-wide stamp of approval, think again. When the Park Service is deciding whether or not to unleash a pack of bikers onto a trail, it has a long list of consequences to consider first—the most obvious being potential harm to natural resources. But the research isn’t as straightforward as you might expect.

Mountain biking can take a toll on the land—a dozen or so studies conducted in the ’90s made that crystal clear. But those same studies also concluded that mountain biking does no more damage to trails than other forms of recreation: One study showed that hikers and cyclists trample vegetation at equal rates; another showed that hikers can have a greater impact on the behavior of wildlife—namely, bighorn sheep and eagles—but bikers are more likely to suddenly encounter bears (read more at http://bit.ly/t3Vjro).

So perhaps bicycles don’t threaten trails any more than activities we consider “low impact.” But when you add bikers to the mix, more people are using the trails, period. And increased traffic causes increased wear and tear.

Is this just another example of people loving the parks to death? Bryan Faehner, NPCA’s associate director for park uses, doesn’t necessarily think so. “The challenges facing the national parks are daunting, in terms of the millions and millions of Americans using them,” he says. “But you can meet many people’s interests at national parks through thoughtful management. So to a large extent, it’s not about too many people—it’s about managing those people and their expectations. This is why it’s so important for the Park Service to ask for input from the public before allowing new recreational uses that might be controversial or even inappropriate, like mountain biking on trails.”

A CULTURAL DIVIDE

But it’s not just about managing traffic. It’s also about bridging a deep cultural divide. Although most trail users are after the same basic experience—a genuine connection with the outdoors—the ways that people choose to seek that experience can cause conflicts. When a mountain biker comes around a turn and spooks a horse or surprises a hiker, tempers can flare. Sit in on a city council meeting in the Bay Area when the community is discussing open space, and there’s a good chance you’ll find red-faced neighbors yelling at each other over who should be banned from the trails.

Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky found a way to break that mold. It started several years ago, when Gov. Ernie Fletcher launched a campaign to boost the state’s adventure tourism. At the time, mountain-biking groups were small and fractured and, in many areas, found themselves at odds with the hiking and equine communities. “There was a lot of tension and distrust,” says Mike Dulin, a landscape architect, mountain biker, and former resident of Louisville, Kentucky. “We don’t have a lot of public open space, so what little land there is can get pretty crowded pretty quickly. In some parts of the state, it had almost come to blows between mountain bikers and horseback riders at some of the public meetings.”

Around the same time, Dulin assumed the role of president of the Kentucky Mountain Biking Association, and in late 2004, he connected with the director of the Kentucky Horse Council and the local affiliate from the Sierra Club who heads up a state-wide hiking club. “We realized we had something in common,” he says. “Despite very limited resources and very limited land, we seemed to be able to talk sensibly about sharing trails.”

They knew they had to sell that message to their user groups, so they formed a group called the Kentucky Trails Coalition and hosted a summit in February 2005. About 50 people showed up, including state and federal land managers. “Those who had traditionally been at odds stayed at odds, but a lot of the newer people understood that there’s power in cooperation,” Dulin says. “Soon, everybody started to buy in.”

In late 2005, the coalition helped some of the locals work through a planning process for Mammoth Cave’s trails, which ultimately led to a plan to refresh an existing trail in the park and build another from scratch with multiple users in mind. Under the plan, equestrians would be granted access to a trail they had used in previous years, and mountain bikers and hikers would share a new, sustainably built trail in another area of the park. Park Service staff at Mammoth Cave took action to finalize the new trail corridor, complete associated environmental and archaeological studies, and secure funding to help offset some trail construction costs. Although everything moved relatively quickly, the final hurdle—the passage of a special regulation authorizing the use of mountain bikes on the new trail—has yet to be cleared. Exactly when mountain bikers will get to ride in Mammoth Cave again is still something of a mystery, but Dulin doesn’t hesitate to call the process a success.

“This project at Mammoth Cave brought out the very spirit of the National Park Service,” Dulin says. “People were so passionate about this parcel of land, and some of them have a lot of history here. But they were able to get past the traditional hot-button issues and find common ground. It’s not like we’re all best buddies who are going out drinking every Tuesday, and we’re not even sharing the trails—the equestrians have their section, and mountain bikers have theirs. But the process of getting to this point was one of respect and appreciation and understanding. It’s a turning point in the way people behave and use their federal land, and that’s something to celebrate as we approach the parks’ centennial.”

ADDING NEW IDEAS TO AMERICA’S BEST IDEA

Cooperation among trail users is an important hurdle, but it doesn’t necessarily mean shared-use trails are appropriate in every park. There’s a significant difference, for example, between allowing mountain bikes in a place like Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in the Southeast, which was established with recreation in mind, and a more remote park like Glacier in Montana, where much of the landscape remains untouched by humans. Bikes aren’t allowed in designated wilderness, and for good reason. Although wilderness areas and national parks aren’t synonymous, many parks play an important role in preserving large areas where “the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man,” as defined by the Wilderness Act. And most mountain bikers are just fine with that idea. “We aren’t interested in inserting ourselves into parks where the conditions aren’t right,” says IMBA president Mike Van Abel. “Certainly, there are parks that are already overcrowded, or the trails are too rugged, or the terrain is otherwise unsuitable for cycling. But when park staff see an opportunity to include on-trail mountain biking, we’re eager to help them create a new success story.”

Sometimes, however, what park staff view as a good opportunity raises concerns in the conservation world. Consider what’s happening right now in Big Bend National Park, Texas: For several years, IMBA has been advocating for the construction of a 10-mile, multiuse trail in an undeveloped part of the park. Opponents are citing everything from resource damage to rangers who are too busy to manage yet another popular trail in the park. NPCA is raising a red flag, too, given talks of designating part of that land as a wilderness area in the future.

“We’re not against mountain biking in the parks,” says Suzanne Dixon, director of NPCA’s Texas regional office. “We just want to be sure the parks are asking all the right questions and making decisions based on the big picture.”

National Parks Traveler blogger Kurt Repanshek argues another point: “Questions are being raised over whether Big Bend officials are… bending over to placate a special interest group that already has more than 300 miles of mountain biking opportunities in the park,” he writes. In other words, why do we have to give them this trail, when they can just ride down those dirt roads instead?

THE ALMIGHTY SINGLE-TRACK

No one seems to take issue with mountain bikes—or any type of nonmotorized bicycle for that matter—on asphalt or dirt roads open to vehicles. In fact, in many parks, cycling is encouraged as a way to stay fit, cut emissions, and relieve vehicle congestion.

But most mountain bikers are trying to get off the road. It’s noisy. It’s dangerous. And the terrain simply isn’t challenging enough. Instead, the type of trail they covet is called “single-track”—an off-road path that’s wide enough for just one bicycle at a time. It’s the kind of trail that leads to views without buildings, roads, and vehicles—views unmarred by humans. It offers a special kind of rhythm, engages a different part of the brain. It forces you to be present with whatever’s happening in that moment, because when you’re truly focused on the trail, unnecessary thoughts simply fade away.

Although some mountain bikers may be reckless, speedy, and inconsiderate (every group has its bad apples), the majority don’t actually look that different from other trail users: They’re parents with kids, conservationists who work with nonprofits, and volunteers who dedicate entire weekends to restoring trails. And in most cases, the experience they seek isn’t so different from that of a hiker or equestrian. So as tempting as it might be to shoo mountain bikers onto flat, dusty roads, it also risks alienating a group of people that the Park Service might want in its corner: a group that understands what it takes to design safe, sustainable trails; a group that’s really started to prove itself as a valuable conservation partner.

A DESIGN CHALLENGE

This summer, trail construction and design professionals from IMBA’s Trail Solutions team partnered with more than 1,000 Boy Scouts and Park Service staff at West Virginia’s New River Gorge National River to build 20 miles of new shared-use trail. IMBA also worked closely with the Park Service to ensure that the trails were built in a way that wouldn’t hinder the park’s ability to protect several globally rare plant communities and animal habitats, including local species of wood rats and bats.

Their secret? Good trail design. Which promotes not only healthy landscapes but happy trail users, too.

“To minimize user conflict, you have to design sustainable trails, and sustainable trails are just as much about education as design,” says Morgan Lommele of the Subaru/IMBA Trail Care Crew. That’s why she and other IMBA staff and volunteers often host educational meetings and visit trailheads to alert users about whom to expect on the trails, encourage them to communicate and be friendly, and dole out tips on how mountain bikers can help horses feel at ease.

Behind the scenes, there’s another layer of thought that goes into trail design—like “sight lines,” or the ability to see what’s ahead in plenty of time to react. Most people assume that wide, open trails are safer for multiple users, and in some cases, they can be, but here’s a surprising twist: Land managers claim that most accidents occur on wider trails, simply because people can go faster. “On single-track, you have the perception of speed—you think you’re going fast—but you’re not going as fast, because there are a lot of obstacles around you on the trail,” says Lommele.

Basic regulations can help limit conflicts, too. In Tsali Recreation Area in North Carolina, the U.S. Forest Service alternates the days that horses and bikers can use the trails. “Users police each other,” Lommele says. “If you’re mountain biking out there when you’re not supposed to be, you’ll hear the riot act from other mountain bikers, because they want to be seen as a community that respects the law.” A popular trail west of downtown Boulder, Colorado, prohibits mountain biking on Wednesdays and Saturdays, giving hikers a break in traffic. In the city of Golden, just 30 minutes south, trail users are required to travel in the same direction, a practice that helps minimize conflicts around blind turns and on steep, technical terrain.

“Building trails isn’t just about digging in the dirt,” Lommele says. “It’s about knowing who’s going to use the trail, how they’re going to use it, and what their expectations are, and acknowledging that it takes a lot of work to design trails with good sight lines and gradual turns that help prevent surprises. It takes more time on the front end, but it will alleviate more conflicts once users are actually on the ground.”

Fortunately, IMBA has a lot of help. Across the country, its members log more than a million volunteer hours every year. And an increasing amount of that labor has been directed to restoring and creating trails within the national parks.

A LONG ROAD AHEAD

“As the Park System expands and evolves and our society gets more diverse, mountain biking is going to be the first of other more intense and frankly debatable uses coming down the pike, like ‘mountain boarding,’ or skateboarding on trails,” says Sean Smith, policy director for NPCA’s Northwest regional office. “So it’s good that the Park Service is figuring this out now. The more conversations we have, the more we can educate other groups on how the process works, and the more they can engage in thoughtful comments and thoughtful participation. Because that’s ultimately what the Park Service wants—to craft rules that protect the resources but allow for the most use possible.”

As different debates about mountain biking take shape in parks across the country, a few things are becoming clear: No matter what their mode of self-propelled transportation, most trail users are seeking the same trail experiences. Respect and collaboration are key. And every American deserves a voice in the conversation.

“Not everybody is going to get 100 percent of what they want all the time,” says Mike Dulin. “But we are a trail-loving population—whether we’re on foot, horseback, or bicycles. These parcels are incredibly valuable to the American landscape, and to fight over them is to do the American landscape a disservice. No matter who we are, we’re all after a great trail experience in a beautiful place, but if we’re fighting all the way to the front door of the supervisor, we’re not going to get a damn thing. It’s a breathe-deep kind of lesson. Stop, think about what you have to say, take a deep breath, and strip it down. What are we really after?”

A good question to ponder, next time we hit the trails.

Amy Leinbach Marquis is associate editor of National Parks magazine, a Kentucky-raised equestrian, and a hiker and mountain biker in Boulder, Colorado.

This article appears in the Spring 2012 issue.

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WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Berkeley Mike

February 17, 2014

This article represents the movement away from arcane exclusion regulations to the acceptance of mountain bikers as reasonable users of trails. This is alrming to folks who do not want to share. Yet this is the future of trails usage and it will continue to move forward. Exactly what shape that integration will take becomes the issue.

Tree Hugger

August 28, 2013

We have shared trails in the park near where I live. At first it sounded and worked out pretty well. Then can the bike races. So the bikers wanted to practice and go fast all the time. Then the yield signs disappeared. Bikers are suppose to yield to all other users. This never happens. Now we have bikers, it's not safe for anyone else. The trails are eroded and the wildlife disappearing. Sorry bikers, I was once was on you side. One too may near misses by a speeding biker, and a lot of ripped up land. If your a hiker, you have to hug a tree or you get run over, and hiking is no longer enjoyable. Don't agree with the article based on experience. What ever happened to conservation? Who enforces speed limits on shared trails?

Bruce Hoffman

November 16, 2012

You all might be interested in Mountain Bike Advocates trying to regain access on the Pacific Crest Trail: http://www.sharingthepct.org/ http://www.facebook.com/SharingThePct

Mike Vandeman

November 2, 2012

Amy Leinbach Marquis has obviously been drinking the Cool-Aid. Her article is nothing but mountain biker propaganda copied from IMBA and other mountain bikers. It is chock full of errors or outright lies. For example, those so-called mountain biking "studies" have all been refuted (see http://mjvande.nfshost.com/scb7.htm). In every case, the authors' conclusions don't follow from their own data. The most characteristic trait of mountain bikers is their dishonesty, as shown in this article and the comments above.

chuck

September 23, 2012

well since the national parks are just that i think there should be room for everyone! I'm not much of a walker as i have a bad lower back but i can cover a fair amount of ground on my bike and love riding it in the woods!I see no reason i can't enjoy my form of getting lost in the woods as well as anyone else.For the hikers and horses out there i'll most likely stop to let them by so they have no reason to complain about me. Just as an afterthought i've been paying my taxes for more than 50 years.

sam black

May 24, 2012

I work as a BC Ranger in a park that is about half wilderness and half managed as such. My time off is spent riding my mountain bike in areas that allow it. In the park where biking is not allowed, I am constantly aggravated by the cutting of switchbacks and subsequent erosion, the picking up of toilet paper tulips, the human waste piles that are either directly on the trail or next to it, the trash that is left in the BC campgrounds, and the collection of natural resources to build shelters in the campgrounds. And yes I write tickets and enforce to the best of my ability such actions. When I'm on my bike outside the park I find gu wrappers, old tubes, more buffed out trails but with switchback cuts as well, but minimal toilet paper and human waste. I did run over a snake this morning that I probably wouldn't have stepped on though if I was walking. He seemed ok when I stopped to check on him and then warn the oncoming hiker and his off leash dog. Anyway, I like wilderness areas and I like riding my bike. And I ride a mule at work too! There are lots of differently managed federal lands. Everybody likes there own activity. BC skiers get annoyed by the snow machiners, the hikers get annoyed by the bikers, the bikers get annoyed by the horses..... and vice versa. There is a finite amount of land on the earth yet plenty of space for all of these activities if we all respect each other. And yes I would like to see the the land in the park that is managed as wilderness, but not designated as such, opened up to bikes!

AZ.

May 20, 2012

Equity for all users would be the preferential course of action. Mountain Bikers have demonstrated time after time that given the opportunity they are and will continue to be excellent stewards of the land. Contrary to what some user groups would have the general public believe, mtb's impact the landscape far less than our equine friends. It is time for the exclusion of one user group to stop.

Nate

May 19, 2012

nothing wrong with bikes on the occasional trail. we all need places to go. as a hiker, I am not upset by seeing any old bike. true, I do get bothered by the inconsiderate bikers, but I also get bothered by inconsiderate hikers and horse riders. as a biker, I am friendly to everyone I encounter and I give them space. we're all out there to enjoy the trails, so why should I be the jerk to ruin someone else's day? I encountered a few guys on bikes when I was backpacking at Mammoth Cave NP a number of years ago, when they only had a fairly small amount of trail. know what they were doing? hauling some camping gear out in backpacks, just as I was doing. bikes are not the enemy.

wibbs

May 19, 2012

Hikers are talking about being startled by mtbkrs, and mjvande has been documented attacking bikers with saws! Straight up slashing! It's time to grow up and admit that in this country, we share our lands and our parks. (Period)

friendly biker

May 18, 2012

Just another vote for bikes on trails in National Parks. Seems reasonable enough to allow for a few trails for bikes while allowing other trails for other users. Sharing of tax-payer lands, how thoughtful! Those against this really are some selfish folks who need to learn to share.

JQ

May 18, 2012

Ray, I assume on your 3500 mile tour you in no way used public roads, if so you have used in your words "public lands to support your passion." Also, if public lands should not be used to support passion as you state, then close the gates and not allow anyone into the parks, including hikers.

Lucky Strike

May 18, 2012

After reading all the comments, it becomes clear to me how wrong and selfish I have been. To think I, on my Mtn Bike, had the nerve to help hikers, give them some water, or bandage up a cut, while being out to enjoy myself and get away from the masses for a day. I have alot of nerve telling people how to get back to the Trail-head, because they lost their way. How dare me to have picked up and moved a bull snake that had stopped on the trail so that a mother and kids could walk past it cause they didn't like snakes. And to think volunteering time out of my life to help pick up trash,not left by me, on trails was inconsiderate on my part. Odd thing is, I've never had a hiker help me, probably because I don't need it, as a father I have to be able to get up the next morning and work, which means I had better be responsible and self-sufficient when riding. To all you hikers out there reading this, get a clue, it's not all about you, although in my travels it has been.

Tom

May 18, 2012

I used to hike and back pack a lot. I still love the activities, but I don't get out as often as I use to. I mountain bike too. And to all those that are saying that bikers destroy trails and environment I have to respond that I don't think you actually understand the mountain biking community. I never did a trail work day in my life until I got involved in a mountain biking club. Building sustainable trails, and maintaining them, is central to serious mountain bikers. Basic, self imposed rules like no skidding, stay on the trail, and keep the single track single are part of what we live and promote. Also, there are many different sub groups within the large "mountain biker" group. The riders blasting down trails at crazy speeds and launching off jumps are downhill riders. You wont encounter these riders on multi-use cross country trails that are winding around through the woods. Their bikes are heavy and not suited to pedaling around in the woods. These bikers seek out downhill specific trails that fit their riding style and offer them the fun and challenge they are looking for. Cross country mountain bikers ride light weight bikes and enjoy pedaling through the woods enjoying the nature experience. We really aren't much different from hikers or horse riders, we just use a different form of travel. Yes, there are some bad apple bike rides that get going too fast or are not real friendly. Every user group has some bad apples. Be it leaving litter behind or something else. Some of you need to stop being so hateful.

Slee

May 18, 2012

Just ban trail use for all users and be done with it. Some people need a taste of their own selfish medicine.

WS

May 18, 2012

I am an avid outdoorsperson, hiking, biking, camping every chance I get. I think that biking access is vital to the long term viability of the national parks, since the major biking organizations work very diligently to help maintain their trials (as do the cyclists themselves). Regarding segmenting trails between cyclists and hikers - I doubt that's necessary. The trails in the state and national parks in AZ do just fine with a mix - as do the parks in many states.

Donny

May 18, 2012

Most hikers just don't like bikers, so they complain about bikers harming the environment. They tend to ignore their own impacts from hiking, pooping in the woods and leaving toilet paper all around, burning vegetation and leaving fire rings, cutting switchbacks, etc. Then there is the horse contingent - basically a non-native invasive species that causes way more trail damage and leaves all the horse poop. If the hikers and equestrians really believed that the parks were there for preservation of the ecosystem they would have to ban themselves - not likely. The fight is really over who gets the privilege of using the resource. Some folks don't want to share.

Jim

May 18, 2012

Wow! As both a hiker and a mountain biker, I find the lack of respect and tolerance toward the mountain bike community astonishing! Asking a biker "Why isn't walking good enough for you?" is as foolish as asking a hiker "Why isn't biking good enough for you?". Everyone enjoys different aspects of being outdoors and it is unfair to pin point a specific group and try to conform them to another group. Granted, there are idiot bikers out there who can ruin trails or speed by hikers. However, there are those kinds of people in every group, regardless of what the activity is. How many hikers have actually tried mountain biking? I bet if they did, they would find out about the pure and wonderful qualitites that bikers enjoy everday. After all, it's about getting out and enjoying nature, pushing yourself to new heights and having fun!It would be nice if more tolerance was shown all around!

scorch

May 18, 2012

The reason mountain bikers don't want to just walk on trails in parks is because they enjoy cycling along them. That is pretty simple. Anecdotal evidence is not evidence.

heyoh

May 18, 2012

Wow, you people are crazy. I bet most of you own no less than 12 cats each. I think some of you misunderstood. The article is about human powered, no emissions bicycles, not Hummers.

Ken

May 18, 2012

It is clearly time to update the policies. If horses are allowed, I see no reason why mountain bikes are not. Hypocrisy.

RIVER29

May 18, 2012

Oh, mjvande, I'd like to answer your question,"You can WALK on any trail in any park, just like everyone else. Why isn't that good enough for you?! I have never been able to get a mountain biker to answer that simple question." I could walk just like you could ride a bike but what this question is really asking is, why can't you be just like me and and be passionate about the same things I am? The answer: I'm not you. I connect deeply with the forest, the Earth, and nature when I ride my bike. You feel that when you hike and I'm happy for you but policing other people experiences won't improve yours in any way.e

RIVER29

May 18, 2012

Wow, I can't believe the self righteousness being expressed here! I volunteer to work on trails, donate a lot of money, pay park entrance fees, and yes Federal Taxes. I pick up trash on the trail, help hikers and bikers in need, respect the forest and those who are trying to enjoy it in their own way. The most damage I've ever seen done to a trail was by a horse after a good rain. Everyone has a right to experience these places responsibly and there will always be some jerks hiking, biking, horseback riding. Don't be selfish, these forests belong to all of us!

Eazy_E

May 18, 2012

Just remember guys, if you wear boots with deep tread, you'll displace hundreds of pounds of soil a day walking a trail. Those treads fill up with dirt, then it gets kicked out with each step, times hundreds of steps per hour. It's not just bike tires that displace soil and cause erosion.

Big Terry

May 18, 2012

The most disappointing aspect of all of this, is that overall it is the mountain bikers who seem to be the most willing to adapt, and share space with other users. Riding a knobby-tired bicycle on pavement or fire roads is no fun, about as much fun as hiking/backpacking or horse riding on one is. MTB trails are every bit as low impact as hiking trails are, and decidedly better than equestrian trails. You folks who are rabidly anti-mountain bike need to take a step outside of your rigid views and look at how silly you are over your "not on my trails" point of view. Mountain bikers pay taxes that support these parks too, and most MTB trails are built and maintained by volunteers anyhow. Instead of whining about mountain bikes ruining your hike or horseback ride because they were on YOUR trail, think how annoying it is for a mountain biker to have to deal with hikers and horses at the same time... and how much better it would be for all involved, if the bikes were on a trail of their own.

Really?

May 17, 2012

So an animal over 1,000 lbs on the trails is not an issue but a biker is. Fascinating. I have ridden horses, hiked, and now mountain bike. Such an amazing reaction by a number of narrow minded individuals. When was the last time any of you spent days volunteering for trail work? As another commenter stated, there is not a mountain bike group that does not do trail work to ensure trails are maintained. Further, they work for sustainable trail design. What do you do?

HyltonHiker

May 17, 2012

I think Mtn Bikes need to be on Forest Service trails not in the parks, keep them out of the parks!!!

jpd

May 16, 2012

Do knobby tires belong on National Park trails? NO! In town, bikes are considered to be vehicles and must use the road. It should be the same in Parks. For more reasons why bikes should remain on roads, see the following article about bikes at Big Bend NP at peer.org: Jerry DiMarco

Hiker

May 10, 2012

Very disappointed to see the NPCA publish this endorsement for bikes on park trails. The NPCA will never get another nickel from me, guaranteed. Courteous trail riders, sadly, are an exception on trails where bikes are permitted. Instead, they recognize that their speed and mass grants them a brutal, undeniable physical advantage during biker-hiker encounters, and deep in the backcountry, all the IMBA share-the-trail happy talk/lip service vanishes in a vapor. That's because bikers know they clearly intimidate hikers and can force them to flee into the bushes while they callously zoom by. Not all trail bikers are that insensitive, but my experience has taught me the vast majority are. Hikers have no shot at safety when a cyclist comes barreling around a blind turn at 10 to 15 mph. It's indulgent, sinister fun for the biker; sheer terror for a hiker. Sad news for hikers: Over time the bikers will gradually win this standoff; the notion that land managers must "monetize" parks by "incentivizing" nontraditional visitors to parks is growing more pervasive and will lead to the inevitable death knell for serenity and tranquility on footpaths in wild spaces. It's so sad, so disappointing.

wildlife first

May 7, 2012

Exactly Ray!!! Stellar post!!!

Ray

May 5, 2012

I've done a dozen or so triathlons and completed a 3500 mile tour through the states of NV, CA, OR and WA, so I know of what I speak when it comes to bicycles. They are a really nice way to go. However, I would be concerned about the effects of "mountain biking" on the environment. If you want to get "out there," hiking is a lot easier on the land. If you want thrills, I don't believe it's appropriate for public lands to support your passion. Form a club, buy some land and develop a park of your own.

VoiceOfReason

May 4, 2012

Geez commenters, how about addressing the real issues instead of straw men. Anecdotes and prejudice are easy to come by . Such uninformed points don't serve one side or the other (or the public good) in this debate. If your answer is "all" or "nothing" in response to this article, you are almost certainly wrong, whichever side you are on. If wilderness and/or national parks need to be protected FROM humans, then we should consider banning all human use, including cars on roads and hikers on trails. If you love it so much, you should be willing to give up your access too. If wilderness and/or national parks need to be protected FOR human contemplation, developing a land ethic, and connecting with nature, then perhaps there is room for everybody to enjoy America's best idea in a responsible way? The question simply seems to be where you draw the line and why. Luckily for bike supporters, demographics and time seem to be on their side. The folks w/ serious and real concerns about the impact bikes might have on wilderness/national parks would do well to consider whether they have more leverage to define how bikes will be introduced in a limited and responsible way in national parks now, or in 20 years as the inevitable flow of time puts more mountain bikers in positions of influence.

wildlife first

May 4, 2012

ZERO offroad biking, and ZERO hunting on ANY National lands! What is wrong with our country these days--seems that everyone in elected offices or in management positions have tipped the scales of insanity. It's time to kill agendas and reurn to 1776 American values! And, shouldn't we consider the wildlife that are driven by human over-population, over-development, and hunting (that have to rely on our park systems for habitat) before we invite hunters and bikers to trespass on the only remaining habitat they have? How would you like hunters and bikers destroying your "backyard" in the name of "sport"(?), recreation, and "progress?

Bonnie

May 4, 2012

The vitriol expressed in some of these comments is exactly why this article was written. I would not say it is one-sided. It is compassionate to all people who love and use the parks, including a newer group that is laboring under serious misconceptions. A few things to keep in mind about Mountain Bikers: First, they travel further, faster so they are not concentrated at a handful of trailheads (looking at you Shenandoah National Park - only 5% of visitors to that park actually leave their cars). They are not going to go off trail, most mountain bikers are not interested in running over vegetation (tires get popped that way). They can be a valuable monitoring resource for parks (my local open space uses Mountain Bike volunteers to help monitor the park and it's users). By and large it is a community that cares immensely about the condition of the trails. Especially since they have no interest going off trail. They will be some of the first to help an area rebuild (if you don't believe me, go to the website of your local IMBA chapter and tell me you don't see a huge list of volunteer trail maintenance days - then check the local riding club). They also don't crap in the middle of the trail. I myself am not a Mountain Biker, I am a hiker but I have a great relationship with the outdoor enthusiasts that I share open space with. With obesity being our nation's big challenge, I say whatever gets people moving and engaged in our parks is a good thing, so long as it is done cooperatively and not with knee-jerk reactions.

gw

May 4, 2012

I am astonished that the writer of this one-sided article would promote the propaganda that mountain biking is no more harmful for conserved land than hiking. I even know of mountain bikers who wouldn't agree with that. The writer seems to refer to one oft-repeated study (conducted by mountain bikers, btw) as basis for her claim. Mountain biking is a relatively new phenomena with impact more in need of study before expansion into protected areas. Land managers know what the problems are. A nature park near me is recovering with a full bike ban after having been over-run by mountain bikers. So you think it should be wrecked all over again? This is not a user-group issue. It's about ecological impact and land management policies that responsibly protect the health of public land.

Bob

May 3, 2012

"Do knobby tires belong on national park trails?" The short answer is, "No, they do not." The primary purpose of National Parks is to preserve our natural heritage for future generations. Only those activities (such as the quiet comtemplation of nature) that are compatible with this primary purpose are appropriate in national parks. Bikes are mechanized vehicles--even though human powered--and intrude upon the national-park experience through the suddenness of their appearance on trail. Only if completely separated from other trail users should bikes be allowed in nationl parks, and only where conditions can support bike traffic without harm to the environment.

mjvande

May 3, 2012

MikeMac, the only thing stopping mountain bikers from being "full throated advocates for the land" is themselves and their INSISTENCE on bringing their bikes where they don't belong. You can WALK on any trail in any park, just like everyone else. Why isn't that good enough for you?! I have never been able to get a mountain biker to answer that simple question.

mjvande

May 3, 2012

It's unseemly for NPCA (National Parks Conservation Association) to publish pro-mountain biking propaganda like this. It's chock full of obvious lies, starting with the one about bike bans "excluding" mountain bikers. If mountain bikers are, as they claim, "just hikers on wheels", then they should have no problem WALKING on national park trails, JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE! But no, they will never admit that they can walk! And the claim that mountain biking is no more harmful than hiking was refuted by me in 2004: http://mjvande.nfshost.com/scb7.htm. And yet they continue to repeat that lie. If mountain biking is such a good thing, why do mountain bikers always have to LIE about it? I've lost all respect for NPCA, for your dishonesty in dealing with this issue. You really need to remove the word "conservation" from your name, because you don't believe in nor understand it.

bikesrok

May 3, 2012

I live, bike and hike in the San Francisco Bay area and have since before mountain bikes existed. We have a lot of parks and areas (some mentioned in this article) where hikers, horses and bikes are allowed. In those areas there are also hiking only trails which are too sensitive for bikes or horses. We've had our "range wars" and I'm happy to say a better model has emerged. It is false, imho, that hikers can lay claim to being virtuous, though most are, just as most bikers are. I have seen hikers cross cutting trails and littering so let's please focus on positive outcomes and not demonize people whose preferences differ; that's a way to reduce contention and acrimony. Coalitions are the best way to go forward, including volunteer work groups (yes, bikers maintain trails, at least in our neck of the woods). The "wilderness" is a community resource and we are the citizens of that community. To keep it wild and suitable for all we have to work together.

bilguana

May 3, 2012

I did not nor imply say that mountain bikes should have any trails. They are vehicles - machines - intimate objects and environmentally destructive. Period.

Maggie in Waco

May 3, 2012

Mountain bikes can be allowed, but as "bilguana" made apparent, hikers & bikers need to have separate trails. Most of the average hikers are not out to climb mountains & go long trails. Most seem to be the average folks who are there weekends & vacations. These aren't the extremist athletic types. Therefore, they hike the lower, shorter trails. Bikers & horses should be prohibited from these trails & have different more challenging trails.

Albiker

May 3, 2012

Only on established paved roads.

NPlover

May 3, 2012

I read all the comments so far posted and agree most with the later ones which show great concern about the trails and their maintenance. I hiked with my husband in the South Fork area in the Pisgah National Forest area around Brevard, NC and did not like the effect of mountain bike riders had on the trails there (Horses are as destructive, but not as fast and surprising as bikers. I'd like to recommend use of bike bells to warn hikers!). Sharing hiking trails and supporting their upkeep are a huge problem and likely very expensive. I have not seen hike/bike trails and wonder what fortifications have to be made to keep them "ridable" as compared to the way hiking trail usually look and feel to hikers. Are their mixed-use examples of fortified trails one can see and "try out" in the North Carolina area? NPlover

Incubar

May 3, 2012

Biker-specific trails in most cases would be ok. The same logic ought to apply to horse and mule. I'd make a wider allowance for bikes in the slickrock parks.

Neal

May 3, 2012

I have grave concerns about allowing mountain bikes in parks. On April 14th my brother and I hiked the Sam Merrill/Mt Echo trail in the San Gabriel Mountains near LA. In the upper reaches the self made bike trails crisss cross the official trail confusing the hiker. The erosion damage caused is obvious.

Local Park

May 3, 2012

I live next to a greenbelt in my town which has a very active biking community. The mountain bikes are incredibly destructive in my local park, and, as best I can tell, the bikers don't care. I will fight tooth and nail to keep them out of the national parks!

bilguana

May 3, 2012

The mountain bikers are the elitists. They ruin the trails they use. MBs are environmentally destructive and run over small animals and plants and dig up streams. They do go off trails and cause severe damage as they bank the turns. They are disruptive to other visitors’ peaceful enjoyment of nature. And there are many documented and undocumented cases of MBs hitting hikers. I have been hit myself by them and a close friend was severely injured by a MB. They will and do chase other park visitors away from the trails they dominate. They do rut the trails and make it difficult to walk on the trails causing foot sprains and pains long after they have passed. Contrary to what they say, the mountain bikers are not well behaved in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreational Area where they are allowed so we can believe that that they will not be well behaved in the NPS. And they know that the parks are understaffed and have virtually no enforcement. The riders are welcome to walk in the park with the rest of us, but leave their machines at home.

Isando

May 3, 2012

There seems to me to be another unmentioned difference between riders and other users. A bike rider has to remain focused on the trail and perhaps notices what is a few degree left or right of the trial. If he takes his eyes off the trail itself, he risks a header. It is great exercise. It requires skill. The surroundings however are less relevant and, can even be ignored. Hikers are out for a very different exercise and the surroundings are the goal of a hiker and not simply the place through which the trail happens to pass.

concerned

May 3, 2012

I completely agree with Dino's sentiments above. There are so many other places to bike, please leave the FEW areas of wilderness left in this country alone. National Parks are meant to preserve intact ecosystems and that is the paramount concern, recreational use is secondary. To simply view these areas as playgrounds is tragically short-sighted.

Dino

April 19, 2012

I'm an avid bicyclist, and I would absolutely love more trails on which to ride . . . HOWEVER, I'm also a strong advocate of the LEAVE NO TRACE philosophy. Let's leave the National Parks and Wilderness areas alone, fellow cyclists! My other love would be my Dogs--I'm not allowed to take my dogs on national park trails, but I'm ok with that because I know that's not the purpose of NP trails or areas (and yes, I'd like to ban horses as well!). Let's keep our NP and Wilderness areas as pristine as possible. There ARE other biking options out there!

RH

April 19, 2012

I am with most of the above commentators. I was riding trails with a road bike about the time that the mountain bike movement started. I appreciate that some trails are too crowded already and others are not suitable for mountain biking for other reasons. But as long as there is a blanket ban on mountain bikes riding wilderness and national park trails, I refuse to support new additions to the systems and oppose the Sierra Club which seems to be the center of this elitist thought process. There are cyclists who are reckless and disrespectful on the trail. But the impatient "I want what I want and I want it now" attitude that underlies their behavior will keep most of them away from distant isolated trails. By selecting/designing appropriate trails and otherwise regulating mountain bike usage, some limited off-road cycling should be able to occur with minimal disruption to the land or to other visitors. It is time for the purists to loosen up and accept a little change. Expansion of public access to wild places is not going to occur unless you get more popular support and that requires some reasonable compromise. You don't have to open the floodgates but you can work to allow a controlled stream of us in.

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