Washington, DC — The Interior Department today formally proposed to jettison a two-decade-old regulation that protects parks in favor of opening more backcountry trails to mountain bicycles. As a result, thousands of miles of existing national trails could be opened to bike use, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Assistant Interior Secretary Lyle Laverty had ordered the NPS to ease its existing mountain biking rules before President Bush, an avid mountain biker, leaves office, according to an internal document obtained by PEER. The current National Park Service (NPS) rule requires that backcountry trails may be opened to bikes only after adopting a park-specific regulation in the Federal Register, a process which allows public review and comment. The Bush Administration now proposes to require a special regulation only for bike use on yet-to-be-constructed trails. As a consequence of this change –
- Nearly 8 million acres of recommended or proposed wilderness lands in approximately 30 parks would be opened up to mountain bikes, which would be prohibited only in officially designated wilderness (the Wilderness Act of 1964 prohibits bicycles). This proposal also reverses a commitment made by former NPS Director Mainella in an October 4, 2005 letter to PEER that parks will not open trails to bikes in recommended or proposed wilderness areas; and
- It will be easier to open trails that are now open to hikers, horseback riders and other uses to mountain bikes whose introduction often creates conflicts with these users.
“The pending proposed bicycle rule is an example of special interest intrusion into national park management,” commented PEER Board member Frank Buono, a former NPS manager. “The need for this change is mysterious as several parks have designated bike trails under the current Reagan-era rule.”
In addition to PEER, a number of national park advocacy, hiker and other outdoor recreation groups are mobilizing to oppose this change.
“While we support mountain biking or other activities that get park visitors out of their cars, it is important that one of our national parks uses does not preclude other uses,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “The other concern is that mountain biking on narrow backcountry trails can create damage and new maintenance demands which is precisely why the Park Service adopted regulations for mountain bikes on backcountry trails only after a stringent decision-making process.”
The fate of this proposal will be up to the Obama administration, as the public comment period on the Laverty rule closes on February 17th, after Bush has left office. PEER will ask the new Secretary of the Interior to abandon this proposed rule and discontinue other park-hostile Bush policies.