A policy from Montana-based Region One of the U.S. Forest Service plans to group mountain bikes with motorised users, and call bicycles an "incompatible use" for backcountry areas. The result? One thousand miles of the best trails (including sections of the Continental Divide Trail) in Montana could be lost to cyclists.
According to the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), this policy could spread across the nation.
"Throughout the spectrum of land managers, there's a tendency to put everything with wheels into one category," IMBA's communications director Mark Eller told BikeRadar. "We've made tremendous advances in regard to educating our government, but the situation in Montana shows that sometimes there's more work to be done in communicating our message -- land access for mountain bicyclists -- to all levels of Forest Service groups.
"We have a great relationship with the Forest Service; nonetheless, there are people within who haven't heard the message, so we continue to work with them to educate staff about mountain biking," he added.
To prevent this looming threat, IMBA needs all the legal resources it can gather.
"Without a robust Legal Advocacy Fund, we will not be adequately prepared to fight this crucial battle," IMBA's government affairs director Jenn Dice said. "IMBA is facing formidable opponents that command abundant resources and large professional staffs."
According to Dice, many Forest Service staffers embrace our quiet sport, and are willing to partner with mountain bikers to produce first-class trails. However, the decisions being made in Montana have the potential to damage the remarkably positive partnership the organisation has worked so hard to establish.
"Since Forest Service plans control access for 15 years before they are re-evaluated, it is crucial that we take action now," she added. Eller agreed.
"There's a lot one could do as an individual, IMBA member and local club member," he added. "Check with your local Forest Service agencies. Help them figure out how to adopt a local trail in their inventory. Working with a local club and IMBA helps the cause advance, and responding through our action alerts communicates directly to decision makers at the highest level.
"We believe in having our grass-roots efforts and our national campaign working together," Eller said.
According to Dice, IMBA has also just learned of new opportunities for opening singletrack trails in Marin County, California, the birthplace of modern mountain biking. Once again, however, opposing groups are threatening to take legal action against this.
"(IMBA's) Legal Advocacy Fund is earmarked for exactly this kind of situation, so please contribute what you can," Dice added.
For more information, visit www.imba.com.