Bikes Not (Really) Welcome in National Parks

I’m catching up on my reading since returning from vacation, and just noticed this story in High Country News’s Range Blog about the new rules governing mountain biking in national parks. You can read the details in the article, which also provides a link directly to the new rule. I want to offer a few observations about the rule, and the park service’s mentality toward mountain biking, that really don’t require specifics.

First, I’ll come right out and state that I believe the National Park Service is hostile toward mountain biking in national parks. I believe this new rule, which governs under what conditions mountain bikes may be allowed on trails and roads in national parks, is heavy handed and creates hurdles that unreasonably impede the development of mountain bike trails. Two specific requirements under this new rule – requiring a rule-making for new bike trails, and requiring the Regional Director’s signature to approve bike use on trails – are completely unnecessary, and seem intended to cause unnecessary expense and delay in the planning of bike trails. It’s easier from a procedural standpoint to build a new road through a national park than it is to get a new mountain bike trail approved.

I know all of the arguments about how mountain biking causes resource damage, scares wildlife, and interferes with other users – particluarly hikers.  Most of these concerns are easily alleviated with proper trail design and by separating users. But the new rule stands common sense on its head by making it more difficult to build bike-specific trails, and easier to simply open existing hiking trails to bicycle users. That’s the opposite approach to good recreation management.

I write these words as a mountain biker, trail runner, family hiker, and lover of national parks. I can’t explain the park service’s hostility toward mountain biking. I’ll tell you that the culture of the agency is rooted in an era before mountain biking became popular, and that there is an agency perspective that hikers are low-impact nautre purists while mountain bikers are thrill-seeking extremists. But I’ll tell you for what it’s worth that I just spent a night tent camping in a Yellowstone National Park campground where I was surrounded by 300 motor homes/RVs and approximately 1,000 other campers. The park service has no problem with development and catering to those who can’t leave mechanization, civilization, and creature comforts behind, so long as they don’t bring their mountain bikes along for the ride.

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