BLM Boss: Engagement now more important than ever

If you want to see public lands protected, you need to be part of the process

Outgoing BLM director Neil Kornze has been a solid partner for the mountain bike community during his six years in office.

Outgoing BLM director Neil Kornze has been a solid partner for the mountain bike community during his six years in office. Photo courtesy Scot Nicol/Ibis Cycles

With the change in political winds blowing with gale force intensity, outgoing Bureau of Land Management director Neil Kornze implored attendees at the this week’s IMBA World Summit in Bentonville, Arkansas, to get engaged and stay engaged.

“My pitch here this morning was primarily that help us help you,” said Kornze, whose time as BLM boss will come to an end in January when Barack Obama leaves the White House. “Realize that there are big questions being asked about public lands in the country and if the recreation community — and particularly the mountain bike community — wants to help shape that they have to be at the table year round. It’s not enough to show up for that one meeting where you express your opinion. All the issues we work on are interrelated and whether it’s planning or figuring out where industry should be or recreation should be, these things all come together and it takes a rich public dialogue, which I think the mountain bike community could be a much bigger part of because they are a very large piece of the public land users.”

According to Kornze, the cycling industry estimates that there are about 8 million mountain bikers in the U.S. and that 3.5 million of those people spend at least some time riding on BLM managed land each year. Think of places such as Fruita, Hartman Rocks, Moab, and Sandy Ridge, and you’re talking about mountain bike trails on BLM managed land.

“But historically there has not always been the type of rich dialogue back and forth between the mountain bike community and public agencies,” added Kornze in an interview with Mtbr. “We are trying to change that. That is part of our presence here (at the IMBA World Summit). We also have a national mountain bike action plan. We have a fantastic trail building guide. We have the website that we launched last year in Moab. And we also just did a complete re-launch of our website, and one of the lead-ins on the front page is for riding mountain bikes at the Alsea Falls trail system (in Oregon).”

Most of the land the BLM manages is in the western U.S., which is why most of the featured trails on the MTB portal of its website are there as well.

Most of the land the BLM manages is in the western U.S., which is why most of the featured trails on the MTB portal of its website are there as well.

Indeed, the BLM under Kornze is trying to do its part. In October 2015, he made an appearance at Outerbike consumer demo event in Moab to unveil a new fat tire-friendly section of the federal agency’s Internet presence: The new web pages highlight about 20 mountain bike trail systems, providing pictures, interactive maps, trailhead directions and more.

“The goal was to create an on-ramp for people who are interested in mountain biking to see some of the great trails that are on BLM land,” explained Kornze that day. “This is something the BLM has not done much of in past. Until a few months ago you couldn’t go on our website to start your adventure.”

And at this year’s IMBA Summit, members of Kornze’s staff presented a sneak peek at its new Guidelines for a Quality Trail Experience, a several hundred page book that’s goal is to be a road map for the creation and maintenance of quality sustainable trails.

But just reading the new book will not be enough, especially now.

“There are huge questions right now about what the next steps are going to be and what the priorities are going to be for public lands,” said Kornze, alluding to the recent presidential elections. “So I think this is not a time for passivity… Mountain bikers need to walk into our offices and make themselves known. They need to come to our public meetings.”

“I really dislike the term that lands are federally owned,” continued Kornze. “They are federally managed. The people here, the people around the country are the public land owners. That is something that makes me excited about the public lands and I hope people see and embrace that and it drives more involvement because the lands are their lands. It’s up to us as the BLM to make sure that we are reaching out, but people also have to be reaching in. There is a world of work left to be done. If the folks here decide that trails are what they want to see on the public lands there is a lot of opportunity.”

About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Olympics, Tour de France, MTB world champs, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying life with his wife Lisa and kids Cora and Tommy in and around their home in the MTB Mecca of Crested Butte.

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  • alias says:

    The attitude displayed by Marburg and Foley in the comments above are a perfect example of the attitude MTB’ers need to eliminate in the coming years. The BLM has not ‘grabbed public lands away from the public’. what they have done with WSA’s is protect land from drilling and minerals extraction. Just because we cant ride MTB in (most) WSA’s and Wilderness areas, does not mean the land has be taken.

    In light of the election results last week, and Trumps list of potential heads of Dept. of Interior anyone who enjoys untrammeled public lands would best be served by working together and not further splintering into specific user groups.

    Considering what we may have coming in the next 4-8 years, I truly hope every enironmental organization ( and those who support them) work together to protect what we have. If not we will lose.

    Divide and conquer….don’t forget.

    • lone_tree says:

      Blind trust in supposed environmental groups never ceases to amaze me. IMBA is a lapdog of the Sierra Group. The latter wants nothing more than to eliminate all human presence on all wilderness area. What’s more, they want more and more wilderness area. They only allow foot traffic on these lands because that’s the only way they can get away with it and call it “your land.” There’s no “your” in government owned lands. It’s a power grab pure and simple.

    • Tom says:

      I’m with Marburg and Foley.

      We tried playing nicely with other organizations for decades, and have gotten the shaft with these WSAs.

      I love all the worrying about what a Trump administration might do, when he hasn’t even been sworn in. This is a guy who was a staunch liberal for most of his life. I’m not panicking yet.

  • Mike says:

    IMBA are a poor example of a MTB organization. They in no way represent the vast majority of mountain bikers

    • Bruce Alt says:

      IF IMBA doesn’t “represent the vast majority of mountain bikers” then who does? What organization should? Do we need to create a national advocacy organization for millions of mountain bikers?

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