Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bush to help open national parks to mountain bikes

The Interior Department under the Bush administration is taking steps to make it easier for mountain bikers to gain access to national parks and other public lands before the president leaves office.

Yesterday the National Park Service confirmed that it's preparing a rule that will allow decisions about some mountain bike trails to be made by park managers instead of federal regulators in Washington, a process that normally can take years. If adopted, the proposal would likely result in more mountain biking opportunities on public lands.

The plan would eliminate public review and comment for new bike trails, which could be opened in any park area not prohibited by law. Each park manager could designate backcountry trails open to mountain bikes by making a simple notation in an internal document called a “compendium” which is available to the public upon request but receives no public notice or public comment prior to approval. Nor would a park manager prepare any environmental compliance under the National Environmental Policy Act or other laws prior to adoption.

“The pending proposed bicycle rule is a step backward for park conservation. IMBA (the International Mountain Biking Association) is correct to anticipate that such a lax and nearly invisible process will open many more trails to bikes,” commented Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) Board member Frank Buono, a long-time former NPS manager. “We think the current rule is a good one. PEER does not oppose mountain bikes on trails in backcountry areas that are outside of designated, proposed or recommended wilderness but each proposal to allow bikes on backcountry trails should be thoughtfully and publicly considered.”

I really can't think of any trails in Great Smoky Mountains or Shenandoah National Parks where mountain biking would be appropriate (other than those that are already approved: the Gatlinburg Trail, Oconaluftee River Trail, and the lower Deep Creek Trail). For these two parks in particular, it would seem to me that problems with trail erosion as well as potential conflicts with hikers and horseback riders would be too much of a deterrent.

However, I would think that mountain biking in some of the western parks such as Canyonlands, Teddy Roosevelt, or Joshua Tree, as just a few examples, would be appropriate on some of the trails within these parks.

What do you think? Should individual park managers be allowed to make decisions on allowing mountain bikes on trails? Should the public still be allowed to give feedback before any changes are made to trail usage regulations? Should bikes be allowed on any national park trails?

Jeff Detailed information on trails in the Smoky Mountains; includes trail descriptions, key features, pictures, video, maps, elevation profiles, news, hiking gear store, and more.

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