Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mountain Biking & Wilderness

Recently there has been a very lively (and quite useful) debate on mtbr.com regarding the ban on mountain bikes in Wilderness areas:

The Wilderness Debate

Putting the "Wilderness Act" in perspective

I put myself, not necessarily Hermosa Tours, squarely on the pro-mountain bike side of the debate. I make that distinction to separate any ideas of financial gain from my personal desire to ride my mountain bike in our beautiful Wilderness areas. One particular post I found important was the "by the Act of 1964" definition of Wilderness:


(c) A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.

I think it raises an important point - do mountain bikes fundamentally alter the properties of Wilderness? I don't think so. Given the numerous studies/statements finding mountain biking to be on par with HIKING from an impact standpoint, I think a great wool has been pulled over our eyes.

There has always been a question of the "spirit" of the Act as well. A quote from Frank Church (the namesake of the large Wilderness area in Idaho) popped up that I thought profound:

"As the floor manager of the 1964 Wilderness Act, I recall quite clearly what we were tying to accomplish by setting up the National Wilderness Preservation System. It was never the intent of Congress that wilderness be managed in so "pure" a fashion as to needlessly restrict customary public use and enjoyment. Quite the contrary, Congress fully intended that wilderness should be managed to allow its use by a wide spectrum of Americans."

"I believe, and many citizens agree with me, that the agencies are applying provisions of the Wilderness Act too strictly and thus misconstruing the intent of Congress as to how these areas should be managed."

Some interesting resources on the subject:

Bicycling & Wilderness

Mountain Biking in Wilderness

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