New York Times article stirs trail access pot

Writer paints picture of trail closures due to popularity

A recent New York Times article on the popularity of mountain biking in western states like Montana prompting trail closures has caught the attention of mountain bike trail lovers everywhere, especially the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), which is on full alert.

"I suspect you will agree that the anti-bike tone and flawed logic in this story represent a serious threat to the cycling industry," IMBA's Development Director Rich Cook said in a recent email to the industry. "Even the title, 'Growth in Mountain Biking May Put Western Trails Off Limits' implies that the success of our industry threatens continued bike access to scenic areas."

According to Cook, the October 10 article also sympathetically describes a U.S. Forest Service policy taking shape in Region 5 (Montana and Idaho) to ban bicycles from landscapes that might be considered for Wilderness designations - someday.

"IMBA does not share the view that people exploring natural areas on bicycles is a bad thing," Cook added. "We are working hard in Montana, and around the nation, to challenge evolving anti-bike policies. Our affiliated club, the Montana Mountain Bike Alliance (MMBA), has helped us increase our membership from under 50 statewide contacts a few years ago to more than 600 today.

"We are deeply involved in shaping nine current USFS travel and trail management plans in Region 5. We have also formally appealed a Forest Plan (as mentioned in the New York Times article) and negotiated for continued bicycle access to a variety of back-country areas."

Cook pointed out that the policies being formulated in Montana could have nationwide implications for all types of forest managers.

"As I'm sure you know, IMBA's work - especially the legal components - are expensive and time-consuming," he said. "But we will press forward in Montana and elsewhere because no other pro-bicycle organization works to address these threats in the way IMBA does."

So what does this mean, exactly?

"It's not so much legislation, but a policy change within the Forest Service that would ban bikes outright in areas 'proposed' for Wilderness," Cook told BikeRadar Monday. "We feel this is not a good precedent and that could trickle down to other forest managers. Best thing your BikeRadar readers can do is join IMBA. If they can't swing that, then they should at least register for free IMBA E-news and action alerts.  

"We need to build a bigger army of 'voters who ride', and resources in our Legal Fund to fight issues like this."

Judging by the Twitter responses following the October 10 article, the industry and its supporters feel strongly about trail access and riders being shed in a more positive light.

"Any article that brings attention to bikes and public lands probably helps in the long run, but this could have been much more friendly to cyclists," Cook said. "Recreation science has made it very clear that the impacts of mountain biking are quite similar to those caused by hiking, and far less than equestrian travel.

"Our position is that some of these lands can and should be shared by quiet, muscle-powered recreational users, including bicyclists, but protected from extraction and development. That's why IMBA asks for designations like National Recreation Areas in lieu of Wilderness for areas where important mountain bike trails are at stake."

In Montana, Cook explained, IMBA supports about 300,000 acres of the proposed Wilderness that has few bike-able trails ... but opposes about 5,000 acres where the shared-use trails that members have ridden for 20 years would be closed to bikes.

According to Cook, the New York Times writer Christina Erb was appraised of all these points, yet she chose to paint a more simplistic picture. Click here to read IMBA's stance on Wilderness in the U.S.

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