Washington, DC — A coalition of national park, hiking and wilderness advocacy groups today urged Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to withdraw a late lame duck Bush administration plan to carve mountain bike trails across the backcountry of the national park system. Millions of acres of potential and recommended park wilderness would be adversely affected by the plan contends Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the Association of National Park Rangers and other signatories.
Today marks the end of the public comment period on the hastily drafted plan unveiled in the last days of the Bush administration. In a teaser for an action alert last week to its members, the International Mountain Biking Association, the lead proponent of the rule change, described the stakes this way:
“…over 170 forests and grasslands administered by the NPS [National Park Service] and a potential 130,000 miles of trails, the move is a mouthwatering prospect for cyclists.”
The proposal creates a short-circuit process for opening trails to mountain bikes. Among the concerns raised by the coalition are –
- Increased User Conflict. Introducing mountain bikes on backcountry trails will drive off hikers, horseback riders and other users, as fast moving bikers, sometimes in large groups, whiz down narrow paths;
- Introduction of Extreme (BMX) Mountain Biking Trails. The wording of the proposed rule appears to endorse, for the first time, construction of trails designed specifically for high-speed, bicycle motor-cross (BMX) racing, to the practical exclusion of other uses; and
- Aggravation of Maintenance Backlog. High volume biking on backcountry trails will multiply the demand on the Park Service for erosion control to keep unpaved trails functional. The agency already reports a $9 billion backlog in maintenance projects.
“While we endorse the use of bicycles through the developed areas of park units like the C&O Canal in D.C., these proposed rule are designed to facilitate mountain bicycles in undeveloped park areas – the backcountry, far from paved park roads,” commented PEER Board member Frank Buono, a former NPS manager. “This rule could not only negatively change the backcountry experience for park visitors, but would allow a non-conforming use in proposed and recommended wilderness.”
The proposed rule was first unveiled in mid-December, under directions of a top level Bush appointee that it be published before President Bush, an avid mountain-biker left office. Secretary Salazar has vowed to reexamine the slew of “midnight regulations” unleashed prior to Inauguration Day. Since the mountain bike rule is still in a proposed status, Sec. Salazar could simply withdraw it, as the coalition is urging.
“This mountain bike rule is a classic example of special interest influence over management of our national parks,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that mountain biking groups forged a special “partnership” with Bush park appointees. “There is no shortage of other venues for mountain bikes that would justify opening up the last, best places within our national parks.”