According to the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), a proposed National Park Service (NPS) regulation change will benefit Americans by improving mountain biking experiences in national parks. The new policy would empower park superintendents to manage trails for bicycles, without sacrificing environmental review or public comment opportunities.
“Bicycling is a good fit for many national parks. It’s a quiet, low-impact, family-friendly activity that provides a great way to get adults and kids excited about exploring America’s most scenic places,” says IMBA Executive Director Mike Van Abel. “We’re very pleased that the NPS intends to update its regulations to better serve visitors.”
Bicycling Helps National Parks
According to IMBA, expanded opportunities for mountain biking can help energize national parks by attracting new visitors – particularly young ones. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, bicycling is the top gateway activity that gets kids outside and engaged in a variety of outdoor sports.
“Visitation numbers are a concern to the park service at all levels and something we are working with our many tourism partners such as IMBA to address. Having worked with mountain bikers on public lands at gateway communities, I know what a great economic impact they can have on a small town,” said NPS National Tourism Director Dean Reeder. “In my experience, we can sustain a balance between resource conservation and appropriate, healthy recreational opportunities such as mountain biking.
Mountain bicycling on appropriate trails in national parks will also enhance visitors’ appreciation for the natural world, as parks are better experienced on foot and by bicycle than from inside cars and RVs. Independent scientific studies, including those conducted by the National Park Service, have shown the environmental impacts of mountain biking are similar to those of hiking and less than those of many other user groups.
IMBA’s Partnership With National Park Service
Since signing a formal partnership agreement in 2005, IMBA and the NPS have been working together to create and enhance appropriate opportunities for mountain bicycling in national parks. Currently, more than 40 NPS properties host mountain bicycling, on both dirt roads and narrow trails. Each year IMBA leads volunteer work parties to help improve eroded trails and unite trails communities around national parks. Annually, mountain bicyclists contribute almost one million hours of volunteer trailwork on public lands.
“Mountain bicycling is an appropriate activity in many units of the National Park System,” says Christopher J. Stubbs, a NPS community planner in Virginia. “I have seen firsthand what bike trails can do for a park. IMBA’s folks know how to build sustainable, environmentally sound trails that bring all user groups together. I see a huge potential for bringing a new generation of mountain bicyclists into the park system.”
IMBA Has Requested Rule Change for Years
The current policy governing bicycling on NPS trails dates from 1986, and does not account for more than 20 years of research and experience managing bicycling on trails on public lands. The outdated rule is directed at motorized users such as personal watercraft, motorboats, snowmobiles, ORVs and commercial trucking, mining and aircraft. Regulation changes will streamline an overly cumbersome process, while maintaining all review and comment required under the National Environmental Policy Act.
“IMBA first began asking the agency to clarify and streamline this rule in 1992, when IMBA Executive Director Tim Blumenthal met with [then] NPS Director James Ridenour on the subject,” says Van Abel. “We hope to see the process for recognizing mountain bike trails will now become more clear and efficient.”