Guest Opinion: Say no to the Sustainable Trails Coalition

Former IMBA board president speaks out against new trail advocacy group

Opinion
The battle for access to — and use of — our public lands is heating up once again.

The battle for access to — and use of — our public lands is heating up once again.

Editor’s Note: This guest editorial was written by former IMBA board president Ashley Korenblat. Besides her time with IMBA, Korenblat was a founding board member of the New England Mountain Bike Association (NEMBA) and the creator of IMBA’s Public Lands Initiative. “I am one of a handful of people who have worked diligently on bikes and Wilderness for over 20 years,” she says. “Not just opining about it, but actually negotiating to keep trails open.” This letter is in part a response to a letter written by NEMBA founder Philip Keyes, which Mtbr reported on here. You can also read the STC response here. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent the opinions of Mtbr.com or its editorial staff.

To Mountain Bikers,

If you want to get involved in bikes and Wilderness you need to keep two ideas firmly in your mind:

1. You have no inherent right to ride your bike on any public land anywhere. Just like any other public land user you have to earn that right. So if you want to drill for oil or protect endangered species habitat, you have to prove that your proposed use of public land provides the greatest good to the public. All of the legislation and regulation used to manage our public lands is centered around this concept.

2. Mountain biking has gained access as our numbers grow and as we continue to prove the value of our constituency. NOT by legally proving we have the right to anything.

While I was president of the IMBA Board, we determined that a lengthy legal battle against the entire environmental community would damage the sport of mountain biking in three ways:

Financially — I raised some of the first corporate dollars for IMBA (and NEMBA, by the way) and I learned that you get more bees with honey. Subaru would not have been interested in sponsoring a group such as IMBA if their largest budget item was a legal battle against many of their other customers. (Turns out Sierra Club members buy Subarus, too.) That sponsorship alone has helped make possible untold miles of trail around the country.

Maximizing Mileage — By concentrating IMBA’s efforts closer to where populations exist we brought more trails to more people faster, as opposed to tying up our resources on a few miles of trails in remote areas.

Politically — To build and promote trails IMBA needs political allies. This is how democracy works.

I stand by the decision the IMBA Board made years ago not to challenge the Wilderness Act and strongly recommend you think deeply about it before you support anyone who does.

In a time when more and more people, corporations, and organizations are committed to working on living sustainably in a changing climate, the Wilderness Act was the first time we as a species decided that there should be some places that were substantially untouched by man.

I have spent countless hours pouring over maps of millions of acres in dozens of states looking at bike trails. I make a living by taking people on backcountry bike trips. If anyone in the mountain bike community needs access to remote trails it would be me. But I support the Wilderness Act because it is a critical tool for protecting the surrounding areas where we ride. In fact, the ideal situation is Wilderness on both sides of the trail.

While many of us have had the unfortunate experience of visiting a trail that was recently closed to bikes—few of us (yet) have had the experience of visiting a trail that was destroyed—no longer there at all—replaced by a 30 ft wide gravel haul road to a timber cut or an oil well pad. I have been involved in negotiating the opening of many trails from the the Middlesex Fells in Massachusetts to the Wheeler Peak Wilderness in New Mexico and saving many others from resource extraction, but once a trail has been obliterated you cannot negotiate it back into existence. Trails bordered by Wilderness are protected from development.

The Sustainable Trails Coalition (STC) thinks that if they raise enough money they can hire a fancy D.C. lobbyist and just give the Wilderness Act a little tweak. The massive environmental community and all their supporters won’t even notice. Let’s take a moment to think through this strategy.

Filing a lawsuit: Who do you sue? The Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management What is your suit based on? Their interpretation of the Wilderness Act, which bans all mechanical conveyance in Wilderness? What federal judge is going to rule that a bike is not mechanical or that the BLM, and USFS do not have the discretion to define it in this manner? Again we have never gained access by force but rather by proving the value of including cyclists on public lands.

Passing a bill:
Only a member of Congress can introduce a bill. And what congressman will STC recruit to tweak the Wilderness Act? First it will anger more of his or her constituents than it will please. Do the math? What congressional district has more mountain bikers demanding access to Wilderness than members of environmental groups? Second other members of Congress will immediately line up in opposition. Further congress people have corporate supporters of all types who simply have bigger issues at stake, from corporations with green credentials and brands to resource extraction companies—all of whom have other business with Congress.

But let’s expand on the weak legislative argument of STC and let’s say they did find a Congressman or Senator to introduce their bill. To pass a bill you need allies. Democracy works through alliances. Who will they ask to be their ally? What will they have to give to get them? Even if they were willing to allow motorized access or provide for timber harvests in Wilderness areas as part of their ‘tweak’ to the Wilderness bill, neither the motorized community nor the timber folks will join them in their quest, because both these groups are currently negotiating with environmental groups on a multitude of issues. These issues are more important to them than changing the Wilderness Act, so they will not choose to use their clout to help. You are back to square one. Tweaking the Wilderness Act does not benefit enough Americans.

After serving as the chair of IMBA’s board, I returned as staff, specifically to work on bikes and Wilderness through the IMBA’s Public Lands Initiative. Through that work, which is supported and carried on today by IMBA’s staff, we negotiated many wins. Including a recent historic moment in New Mexico. With our allies in the conservation community, we passed a bill which moved the boundary of a Wilderness Area created in 1964 to open a 20 mile bike trail. Repeat: the Lost Lake Trail had been closed for over 50 year and we pushed a bill through Congress that opened it.

Other active bills expand on this win by keeping trails open and creating entirely new trail systems before the Wilderness boundaries can be finalized. Sadly we lost a key set of trails in Idaho, but we kept over 30 miles of sweet single track in that same area and Sun Valley locals already have new trails already in the works. If the loss in Idaho motivates more people to get involved in bike advocacy that is great. But do it with a sound strategic plan, not a misinformed passionate threat.

The STC will not succeed through litigation or legislation. The single minded pursuit of every inch of single track in Wilderness is not in the interest of the public at large. The number of trail miles STC is fighting for is pitifully small and in the face of climate change and the urgent need for environmental progress, there is no chance of winning. Instead our constituency of mountain bikers—who love the out doors, who value health and fitness, and who, as part of the recreation economy, have become a powerful economic force in every state in the Union—will be seen as selfish brats who care nothing about the greater good.

The way to keep remote backcountry trails open is to develop strong relationships with your land managers and your local and national elected officials, while simultaneously working with the environmental community directly. We bring youth and enthusiasm and economic value through recreation assets. Played right, we are powerful far beyond our size—which is why the tactics are so important.

I am currently working on one of the largest public lands / Wilderness bills in the history of the Wilderness Act. This bill is in Utah and it will be bike friendly because bike trails are part of the business fabric of the state of Utah. Outdoor recreation contributes billions of dollars to the state and all of our elected officials know that, so my congressman and the local and national Wilderness groups are happy to work with me to keep bike trails open.

This strategy is available to every state. Access to recreation assets, such as trails, is a key recruitment tool for business. Nearly every county in the country whether urban or rural has a growing interest in trails. This is how we win—by making mountain biking mainstream, not by becoming a radical self interest fringe group with no political allies. By encouraging elected officials to support trails both in the front country and the backcountry, not only will we protect the vast majority of existing trails, but as IMBA and local groups of all types are doing everyday, we will continue to build more.

Ashley Korenblat
CEO Western Spirit Cycling
Former President IMBA Board
Managing Director, Public Land Solutions


About the author: Mtbr

Mtbr.com is a site by mountain bikers for mountain bikers. We are the best online resource for information for mountain bikers of all abilities, ages and interests.


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  • Steve says:

    Wow, I’m at a loss for words. As a mountain biker I’ve been viewed-as/called many things, but this takes the cake. Well done IMBA you’ve lost my support.

    “Instead our constituency of mountain bikers—who love the out doors, who value health and fitness, and who, as part of the recreation economy, have become a powerful economic force in every state in the Union—will be seen as selfish brats who care nothing about the greater good.”

  • Sean says:

    My understanding is that without changing the Forest Service’s interpretation of the Wilderness Act and exclusion of bikes (and tools like chain saws and wheel barrows for trail maintenance) that land managers of Wilderness designated areas have no discretion whatsoever in allowing bicycles into those regions as it’s black letter law at that point. Is that not correct? Maybe the STC strategy isn’t so futile after all…

    • AC says:

      Exactly. And it’s not tinkering with the WA itself, it’s tinkering with the USFS administrative decision to exclude bikes that occurred with no public process, at he behest of anti bikes, some 20 or 30 years after the law was passed. STC is doing work that IMBA should have done long ago. Even considering that though, multiple national scale organizations is a sign of maturity for the sport, and should be viewed as a good thing by all.

  • AC says:

    Ashley, thank you for confirming that my decision to send $ to STC rather than IMBA was the correct choice.

  • AC says:

    “By concentrating IMBA’s efforts closer to where populations exist we brought more trails to more people faster, as opposed to tying up our resources on a few miles of trails in remote areas.”

    A bike park near town does not replace remote backcountry trail. IMBA strategies may have gained net miles, but at the expense of hiqh quality, remote trails that epitomize the epic singletrack experience. To say we’ve gained access relative to this discussion is laughable.

  • Brian says:

    Ashley,
    The thought you put into the response here is appreciated and all the work you’ve done is appreciated. However, there’s some serious issues with logic in points you brought up, and many other articles recently seem to agree with the other side of the argument, that maybe you should reconsider. (I’ll cite the outside magazine article pro STC and Bike Mag also as well as the NEMBA post).

    Issues with your post:
    1. “You have no inherent right to ride your bike on any public land anywhere. Just like any other public land user you have to earn that right. So if you want to drill for oil or protect endangered species habitat, you have to prove that your proposed use of public land provides the greatest good to the public.” Where did equestrian or hikers earn that right, and how is it specifically only to them but not for mountain bikers?

    2. “Subaru would not have been interested in sponsoring a group such as IMBA if their largest budget item was a legal battle against many of their other customers. (Turns out Sierra Club members buy Subarus, too.)” Does that same logic hold for the Sierra Club which advocates against mountain bikers and receives Subaru sponsorship? It turns out mountain bikers buy Subarus too…

    3. Nothing in your post addressed the e-bike issue which was a major point in the NEMBA letter. Silence there is eye-opening.

    4. You seem to feel that people wanting to go another direction with trail advocacy somehow hurts the IMBA efforts. (See the People’s front of Judea/Judea People’s Front from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”). It doesn’t

    5. Finally you use the term “I did… ” quite a bit in this article. You are not all of IMBA. If you’re trying to convince people to your side maybe use “we” a bit more often. Also the NEMBA letter is not a personal attack, you don’t need to defend yourself quite so much.

    Regards.

    • Bobby says:

      Hello, Brian!
      In defense of Ashley’s argument (not sure whether I agree or not yet):
      1) They don’t have an inherent right, either. Their use is just more entrenched, and therefore if, say, we wanted to GET THOSE GODDAMNED HORSES OFF THE GODDAMNED TRAILS, it’s much more difficult to make a case for their exclusion considering their historical use.

      2) The point is historical: back then, there were far more Sierra Club members than MTBers, so Subaru would have weighted their interests accordingly.

      3) She probably takes e-bikes for granted; if normal MTB’s are excluded, then so are eMTB’s.

      4) Her argument is that it does, by both reinforcing negative stereotypes of MTBers that groups like the Sierra Club (who have a historical antipathy to MTBers) can use to justify their exclusion, and by threatening partnerships with environmental groups (who are NOT behind this) who are willing to work with us now, but not if we are perceived as attacking the idea of wilderness. (Which, whatever we might think about bikes, they feel that the mere presence of a bike endangers the wilderness character of a place, whatever that means. The more cogent argument is that increased use will endanger the wilderness character of a place, but that argument doesn’t exclude bikes, just overuse.)

      5) I think she’s trying to A) separate out her own opinion from others, even at IMBA, for whom she recognizes that she doesn’t speak, B) she’s building her own credibility to speak on the issue (which I think she’s earned).

      I’m not decided yet what I believe with this issue. However, after arguing with some of the hikers on Outside Magazine’s site, I will say that it’s refreshing for there to be an argument about it, rather than just a flame war.

      • Brian says:

        Bobby… good discussion!
        1. No one is saying lets get the horses off the trails. And certainly historical use is a certain leg up for them. However for others to say “we have access because we always have, but no one else new!” seems wrong.

        2. Is IMBA catering to subaru or the members? I would rather it didn’t take money from Subaru if the values are compromised, with all the consequences.

        3. Again, speculation. That was not addressed. And the whole point of the NEMBA letter this was responding to was to ask for clarification.

        4. Right. One could make the argument that STC’s efforts could hurt IMBA’s and vice versa, and a better way would be to unify fronts. However how does STC reinforce negative stereotypes of mtbikers? I would claim they do not, and have modest goals. Moreover the whole reason STC came around is that people are frustrated with IMBA’s approach here. If the IMBA’s method isn’t working for most people, even if it counters some of IMBA’s “goodwill” they’ve grown with other groups, someone else like STC has every right to try a different tack.

        5. Fair enough, but it comes across somewhat self-congratulatory. Also it’s not exactly clear from the piece that she is NOT speaking for the IMBA, rather she seems to be presenting their case.

  • Molly Winters says:

    If you want to light your money on fire and then flush it down the toilet, feel free to support the STC. They will never get anywhere with this.

    • AC says:

      As opposed to giving it to IMBA, where we lose singletrack to Wilderness but gain a pump track in the neighborhood park and proclaim it victory?

  • Jeff says:

    Seems like Subaru’s sponsorship dollars were more important than the organization’s mission.

  • Hugo Z Hor says:

    It is becoming quite obvious that IMBA is becoming a corrupt organization. They no longer represent the interests of our mountain biking community, instead they give preference to their own political devices, trying to stay relevant in a changing world. Great job NEMBA, shame on you IMBA. Now someone tell me how I can support my local NEMBA chapter without approving of the IMBA policies…

    • Bobby says:

      The groups have different goals at different scales. STC’s national and Public Lands Solutions is regional (SE Utah). They also seem to have different goals (from what I can find on their website). I’m not sure how they’re competing.

    • JIm says:

      That is exactly what I suspected. She makes bank on perpetuating each small arguments she makes. If you solve the bigger issue… the small ones do not need massive funding to resolve.

  • Kevin Loomis - San Diego Mountain Biking Association President says:

    Ashley, a primary problem with Wilderness, STC, and IMBA has been narrative. IMBA lost the narrative and allowed the vacuum to be filled by STC. I applaud you stepping forward to express your opinion but you made a strategic mistake in your approach!

    You have made yourself as an elitist superior to anyone who disagrees with your approach. You then resort to name-calling – we’re ‘selfish brats’ if we don’t drink your juice – SHAME ON YOU!

    Your response was also disingenuous on STC’s claim and stance. They are NOT looking for motorized access to wilderness – something your elitist superior intellect knows. They are also NOT fighting to have access to all wilderness – again something you know but intentionally left out. STC is looking to have local land managers evaluate if their local trails can allow human access. Wow. That is a far cry from your plea regarding the sea of selfish MTB brats!

    Ironically, I agree with most of what you are saying! I do agree the best approach is local. I also agree showing MTB use can be a win for all users and the community. I also agree with the strategy of working with environmental groups, the local agencies and local politicians to allow cycling in newly declared wilderness. I also agree riding on trail is a privilege not a right.

    What I am appalled at is your intolerance to other people’s view. Where has name calling every gotten us? Sadly you’ve made yourself the spokesperson of IMBA in the worst possible light and worst possible time. Don’t belittle IMBA members – educate, guide, and communicate openly. Be tolerant and teach. Be willing to professionally and politely agree to disagree. STC has done a great job bringing this topic front and center – they should be applauded not ridiculed by a previous IMBA President – fortunately PREVIOUS is the important word.

    One last thing. As the President of one of the largest Chapters in the United States – San Diego Mountain Biking Association, I can honestly say you are wrong on how small wilderness effects trail. You live in a state which is almost entirely public land! Of course you’ll have countless areas to ride even if you lose big sections. CA, WA and OR compromise close to 50% of the Federal Wilderness in the lower 48 states. Worse, CA, WA and OR have massively more trail closed to cycling on wilderness study areas along with massive state land designated as wilderness. Here in San Diego a majority of riders use illegal trail! Why? Due to massive wilderness designations and land restrictions. We’re working locally and starting to make solid progress. However our biggest problem are loops and trail no longer being available due to wilderness. SDMBA has almost 900 members who disagree with you Ashley. Wilderness is a big issue we face locally. Should I send an email to all of them stating a past IMBA President says they are selfish brats? I actually just may do that! It would take nothing to get your name and email our to our members. I’m sure they would be happy to express their feelings being called selfish brats!

    You blew a perfect opportunity to communicate IMBA’s views and what is being done. I’ve spoken with Mike Van Abel and agree with IMBA’s approach! Ironic isn’t it? It appears IMBA still has a long way to go on controlling narrative.

    • isawtman says:

      Kevin. Wilderness Areas comprise of only 2% of the land area in the lower 48 states. Furthermore, only 3% of the population goes mountain biking. Right now, the MTB Project has mapped 1733 mountain biking trails in California, 444 in Oregon and 645 in Washington state. Of the over 1700 mountain biking trails in California, over 215 are in the San Diego Area. So, basically everything you’ve said is a load of crap. And shame on mountain bikers who ride illegal trails. That’s only hurting the sport of mountain biking. If they can’t use trail systems that allow mountain biking correctly, do they really deserve to be biking in the wilderness or PCT?

      • John says:

        In my home state of CO, over 80% of roadless areas are off limits due to Wilderness designation alone. Add to that National Parks, National Monuments and other USFS, BLM, state and local closures and that percentage jumps further. Then consider that many trails start and end outside Wilderness boundaries, but some portion passes through Wilderness, rendering the entire route nonviable for cycling.

        If hikers and equestrians were barred from over 80% of their most cherished lands, we can safely say they wouldn’t see that as okay because they have other trails in the frontcountry, no matter how numerous they may be.

  • Cary says:

    Geez… this chick seems like a barrel of laughs… Can’t fathom going on one of her tours…probably would just hear over and over again about all the things she has done..so typical these days. Earth to whoever you are: ‘The squeeky wheel get’s the grease!’ There’s an army coming to turn the tide of repeated trail closures and in order to get that done in America these days, one must not leave out the legal option. Being passive and nice doesn’t get you much these days…

  • Shark says:

    You lost me shortly after this comment: “1. You have no inherent right to ride your bike on any public land anywhere. Just like any other public land user you have to earn that right.”

    Public land is just that, public. It belongs to all of us, NOT just hikers and equestrians. We are a zero-emissions hobby that promotes exercise and spending time outdoors. There is zero reason to keep pedal bikes out of the woods.

    The other trail users that are trying to keep mountain bikes out do not play nice, I don’t understand why we should.

  • Heffe says:

    This is a great discussion; cool to see it on this site.

  • Kelly says:

    I feel like anybody who criticizes the idea of bikes in Wilderness is immediately labeled a hater and anti mtb. I think Ashley has valid points that should be considered — and not just dismissed due to the rhetoric, animosity, and general craziness surrounding this issue.

    • Brian says:

      @Kelly… well that’s wrong and you’re right, people jump on that. There are arguments to be made for and against bikes on wilderness lands. A main goal as I read it of STC is to evaluate them on a case by case basis. I.e let each land manager decide whether to all allow bikes on his/her wilderness region.

      She has valid points however the dismissiveness that she uses towards a different approach are just as bad as what you are describing.

  • Tom says:

    We need them both. IMBA is the honey, STC is the hammer. STC seems to be fully aware of this. IMBA needs to grow up and realize that the “new kid on the block” just wants to help in his own way, and there just may be room for more than one approach.

  • Mike says:

    I sure do love to ride my mountain bike. And I sure am glad there are places that neither I nor anyone else are allowed to ride. Let’s not forget that recreationists aren’t the only stakeholders on public lands; heck, let’s not forget that HUMANS aren’t the only stakeholders on public lands. There need to be places where all species can have a peaceful, low-speed outdoor experience. We can already ride on vast majority of public lands; let’s leave wilderness alone.

  • Bob says:

    . . . What ? So over the past many years I’ve watched thousands upon thousands of acres of lands be taken away from mountain bikers for exclusive hikers use (BS) and all the while IMeBA was working FOR new Wilderness Areas ? ? ? Unbelievable!! The game was rigged all along? Just unreal. No wonder we kept losing time and again.

    And no we can’t ride on the vast majority of public land ! Wilderness picks out the best spots and tries to land grab & claim it for their narrow minded group. Time for change.

    If STC ever starts offering socks for members, imba is about done . . .

  • Daniel says:

    Mike wrote: “There need to be places where all species can have a peaceful, low-speed outdoor experience.” I agree, and nothing STC is doing will prevent us from preserving places exactly as you describe.

  • Rich says:

    For a while now I have had the feeling IMBA is more like a trade organization for the bike industry.

  • J H says:

    I have worked in restoration ecology. The decision to have mtbs in Wilderness Areas should be case by case. Also, I agree with the STC’s point that legislation dictating management in Wilderness can actually harm the wildernes (i.e. no management, or mechanically limited management.) Common sense regulation should be pushed for (i.e. no blanket ban, reasonable management tools). However, I also think that many Wilderness areas are not suitable for mountain bikers (or horses for that matter), but some areas are. The decision needs to be based on a case by case basis that accounts for trail load, substrate type, where the trails go (i.e. by a rare plant population, or through a squishy meadow) etc. I personally don’t like horses in a lot of Wilderness…but normally there are not that many equestrians so the damage they do is limited. Now there are quite a lot of us mtbers and we could get pretty deep in the wilderness fairly readily. These are my fav type of rides too, but I acknowledge that it would take me two days to hike to where I can ride my bike in a half day…this means a lot more disturbance to wildlife (which sometimes may avoid trails for that reason) and potential impacts to sensitive spots (like meadows). Plenty of Wilderness areas get tons of hikers anyway and could withstand mtbers lets ride there, and not in these sensitive spots!

    Finally, after reading both of these pieces I am very disappointed in the lack of actual, specific information…there is a lot of opinion, because we all care about riding and the environment…but not a lot of info here. For instance, I had to go to STCs website and dig around for awhile to figure out EXACTLY what legislation they were pushing for, frankly I still feel the specifics were not very well stated on there (had to go to the FAQ for some vague bits and pieces). Nor, is it stated how they will accomplish a lift on the blanket ban, and an amendment of the wilderness act to reflect common sense management. I think the only way we can get these two reasonable goals to get incorporated into law will be to partner with environmental groups that have done their homework and realize the constraints land managers face due to anachronistic Wilderness legislation. We all want to preserve Wilderness, and to do that the laws may need tweaked…if we all band together, then we would have a big enough voter base to achieve something. More mtbs on Wilderness where it won’t hurt anything, and better management of the deep Wilderness in the face of invasive species, tree encroachment from fire suppression, etc.

  • ThatGuyOnABike says:

    To the Nay-sayers and the go-getters…

    NEVER GIVE UP!

    What the STC is doing should have been done by IMBA long ago. Always continue crafting your argument and reinserting it… Like congress with surveillance and Net laws!

  • will says:

    IMBA is irrelevant and does not represent the interests of the average mountian biker. They do not deserve our support.

  • joe says:

    Ashley speaks like someone who has been in the trenches crafting public policy and understands the process. I’ve been there myself and I understand how difficult it is, and how compromise is always a part of the ultimate product. The blade always, always cuts both ways. Until you’ve actually been involved in crafting a piece of legislation from start to finish it’s very hard to understand that.

  • Bike D00d says:

    This article lost me the moment the alarmist term ‘climate change’ was thrown into the mix and attempted to be made relevant in the context of public lands usage by non-motorized vehicles. And it did so at least twice. Clearly IMBA representation is too politicized and motivated by a specific worldview to effectively represent our community and interests. Strike IMBA as a recipient of my support.

  • Dan says:

    The Boulder-White Clouds debacle laid bare just how impotent IMBA really is. No matter where you stand on the “opening existing Wilderness to bikes” issue, if you trust IMBA to preserve access to existing legal trails you’re a fool.

  • Steve says:

    I’d always thought I should be more supportive of IMBA and other groups (like the Sierra Club), but when I do research into what they’re actually doing, I always find that their actions/views do not align with my own. Now opinions are not right or wrong, they are just one’s (or a groups) view. But why on earth would I support IMBA when their point of view does not align with my own? The Sierra club is the same.

    I am originally from New Zealand, and it took a dedicated group something like 20 years there to get mountain bikes to be considered differently from motorbikes. Once it finally happened, it didn’t open up all the National Park trails to bikes, but simply allowed the local park management to identify trails that could be, and then make changes in their plans. I’d guess in the ten years since this happened, there are probably only a dozen trails that have opened, but they’re ones that were deemed suitable and have proven to be.

    That’s all I want from the land managers here. If bikes have no more impact than hikers/horses in a particular trail (soil type, steepness of terrain all play a part), then let the local managers decide that and allow bikes. Right now there are probably thousands of miles of back country trails that, if opened up, would show zero signs of damage from the few dozen bikes that’d use them every year. It appears that the changes in 1984 were not a ”bikes are destroying the trails, we need to ban them”, and more an oversight based on the fact that nobody knew where mountain biking would end up. I dare say that if the wilderness act was being implemented now, it would have an exclusion for mountain bikes on trails that the local management view as acceptable. STC are just correcting an oversight, and will have a donation from me to help them do it. IMBA, some fresh blood and soul searching is needed.

  • JD Svoboda says:

    It seems wrong and un-American to believe that the history is what should be the determinant. Yes, horses have been in wilderness a long time, but that doesn’t make them inherently right/better. Horses were once productive beasts of the backcountry but that time is long gone so that use has also evaporated. Now they are recreation (just like MTBs)- very expensive recreation available only to the most fortunate among us, whether you own or use an outfitter.

    Also, on the legal distinction of a “mechanical conveyance”, would not a horse’s saddle qualify as a mechanical device? Is it not a man-made mechanism? If the objective is keep the uses so legally pure I should think all equestrians would be required to ride bareback. And before long there will be suspended horse saddles with gyros and accelerometers to reduce lower back shock, etc. Times change, technology changes. Parsing legal phrases is really not the point- cooperation and reasonable, non-destructive use is the point.

    My wife and I took our 17 year old daughter on a short backpack into the Wild Basin area near RMNP recently. The trails were ripped apart by horse outfitter damage to a degree I had never seen before. Pretty ugly and no fun to hike with lots of loose babyheads.

    I’ve spent a good deal of time in the backcountry over the years and IMHO bikes sure don’t belong everywhere, but they would do just fine in most areas. But I will say this: I volunteer and I have never seen a single equestrian show-up to a trial work day.

    I’m not rich and have bad knees and mountain biking involves a lot less pain than backpacking for me. It does not seem an unreasonable notion that I could ride in most backcountry areas. “Animal-Powered” is the phrase we need to build in the public conscience. Say it with me again:
    “Animal-Powered”

  • Rob says:

    I live in Washington and quit the IMBA a long time ago. I have watched the steady loss of trails for 30 years in my state. I am constantly sickened by the messes hikers leave on trails that have been deamed to sensitive for Mountain bikes. As far as equestrians go, maybe in CA where it is dry they do little damage to trails, but here where its wet, a single horse will do more damage than 20 mountain bikes, yet they are allowed access to areas we can only dream about, and the IMBA has done nothing to help us. The IMBA is like so many other organizations. They start out small with a good mission. As they grow in size their overhead grows and a smaller and smaller percentage of the money given to them actually goes where it was intended. With the addition of corporate sponsorship, the original community the group was supposed to advocate for has a smaller and smaller voice untill, like the IMBA today, the average mountain biker no longer has a voice, and the now huge organization feels that they, and they alone know what is best, and if you speak out against them you are just a spoiled brat……….The IMBA has run its course and outgrown its usefulness and is now just a self serving organization, it is time for them to go the way of the many trails we used to have in my state.

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