Wednesday, October 15, 2008

National Park Service considering opening more trails to mountain bikers

I just read an article in the Boston Globe reporting that that NPS is considering opening more backcountry trails to mountain bikers and that the Bush administration is pushing for it. Apparently, W enjoys mountain biking because it's easier on the knees than running. The article implies that because Bush enjoys the sport, that he is now pushing for easier regulations giving the NPS more flexibility in the decision to open more trails. Anyway, the article also quotes environmental advocate Jeff Ruch who opposes the idea and called the rule "a lame-duck gift for the mountain biking lobby from the "Mountain-Biker-in-Chief". Apparently he blames mountain bikers for the erosion of trails, trampling of native plants and "disturbing" other park users like "hikers, birders, and horseback riders."

This really chaps my hide because mountain bikers and especially mountain bike associations are active in trail building and maintenance and promoting careful riding. Hikers use the trails but don't take care of them. Consider backcountry hikers - they damage the trail because they don't set up camp ON THE TRAIL. They go OFF the trail to do so. Therefore, their use of the trail is much more damaging. And horseback riders? Don't even get me started. Horses are much more destructive to trails and trampling of plants than mountain bikers. Try riding a trail that has been frequented by horses especially if a horse went down a muddy trail. They all but dig up the trail because of their shoes and the weight of their riders. Horses are also most likely to go off the trail.

Whereas, most bikers stay on the designated trail and do not veer off for a jaunt in the wild or to trample plants. The worst thing that a biker can do to a trail is ride during a rain or while the trails are wet thereby rutting it up. (Still horses are way worse). However, that issue can quickly be resolved by implementation and enforcement of guidelines and procedures by the national park service. The NPS should be able to decide which trails should be open to bikers or closed to bikers and regulate accordingly. Most NPS parks have a ranger on duty and issue permits for riding, hiking, etc. Likewise, trails are closed during inclement weather or if it's determined that use of the trail will cause damage. NPS could also require visitors to complete a trail safety course prior to using the trails and assign a number to be used or some other system that would allow other users to report a biker.hiker.birder.horserider who went off trail or who was riding in a hazardous manner. The point is that everyone should be entitled to enjoy the trails and everyone should also take care of the trails.