The Transylvania Times -

By Park Baker
Staff Writer 

New Group Fighting For Bikes In Wilderness Areas - Brevard NC


A new group has been created to fight the ban on mountain bikes in wilderness areas on public land. The Sustainable Trails Coalition (STC) seeks to open areas designated wilderness by Congress to mountain bikes.

Ted Stroll, who is an attorney in California, is leading STC’s effort.

He became interested in the issue after the loss of mountain bike access on large tracts of land in the Western U.S.

“Our legislative program is tailored and would give local managers the discretion to allow bikes wherever, and it’s not a blanket policy,” said Stroll. “We are not advocating for mountain access to trails like the Appalachian Trail or other thru-hike trails.”

According to the Wilderness Act, which was written in 1964, “no mechanized forms of transportation are allowed in wilderness.”

“Banning mountain bikes is not what the Wilderness Act was trying to accomplish,” said Stroll. “They were trying to keep out cars, trucks, jeeps and motorboats, and keeping mining and oil companies out. It’s because of efforts of other special interest groups that mountain bikes are banned from wilderness.”

Stroll claimed that in his more than 400 hours of reviewing Congressional meetings and past testimony Congress was concerned about Americans becoming lethargic and it wanted the people to get out, exercise and explore. Stroll pointed out that in 1980, when Congress created the Rattlesnake Wilderness in Montana, it explicitly stated that mountain Biking was to be allowed in that area.

Access to the Rattlesnake was recently lost, however. Groups, including the Montana Wilderness Society, took the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to court, claiming the USFS was not doing its job to manage it like wilderness by allowing mountain bikes. The court ruled in favor of the Wilderness Society and roughly 180 miles of mountain bike access was lost in Montana.

Stroll also gave as an example the Harper’s Creek Wilderness Study Area in the Pisgah National Forest outside of Boone, where land managers have closed off mountain bike access because of the Montana federal court case.

“The reason the Forest Service is closing it off to mountain bikes is very disappointing,” Stroll said. “It was a federal court decision that said they had to do it, which was brought to court by the Montana Wilderness Society — all by these people who can’t stand bikes on trails.”

Stroll said STC needs $124,850 to help with lobbying Congress. To date, the STC has raised about $75,000 that it will use to hire lobbyists that work for Fabiani & Company, a government affairs firm.

“Wilderness has expanded from 10 million acres to about 110,000,000 acres,” Stroll said. “That’s all of California and Maryland combined, and you can’t ride a bike in any of that acreage.”

The STC has drafted the Human-Powered Wildlands Travel Management Act, which not only addresses wilderness access to mountain bikers but also delves into trail infrastructure.

“Some public lands are practically inaccessible because there are few or no trails on them,” the act reads in part. “In some cases, existing trails have fallen into disrepair or abandonment because it is too costly to maintain them by hand.”

By allowing “mechanized transport” in wilderness areas, the use of wheelbarrows, for example, could help volunteer trail maintenance crews make their jobs easier.

Local trail maintenance advocates have repeatedly said the trails in the worst shape are the ones in wilderness areas. The Art Loeb trail in Shining Rock is often cited as having 3-foot-deep trenches and walk-around spots where mud lays.

Stroll said that the “old strategies” for negotiating with the Forest Service are failing. He said tactics like negotiating trail-by-trail and making boundary adjustments are too labor intensive. Meanwhile, he said, miles of trail are being lost to mountain bike access.

“For existing wilderness, we know that there are thousands of trails that see so little use that they are falling into abandonment,” he said. “We would like to restore bike access to those areas. Very little was known about managing bicycles on trails when the act was written. Traditional mountain bike advocacy has become a ‘bear,’ and by taking matters out of the hands of the fundamentalist strain within the Forest Service bureaucracy, we’re going to Washington to get Congress to solve what we feel is a very big problem.”

Stroll said the Forest Service, as a whole, is becoming primarily a fire-fighting agency and that recreation seems to be an inconvenience to the agency. Stroll also claims that there is no “budgetary incentive” to cater to any recreational group.

“We are hoping to be able to show the people who are supporting us that we are making concrete progress,” he said. “People will see that a bill has been introduced in Congress that would allow the agencies to allow at a local level where bikes can ride.”

When asked about the plan revision process for public lands that local land managers are currently undergoing, Stroll said that the inventoried lands are areas where access could be lost overnight, but he remains optimistic.

“By the end of winter, I think people will see something exciting,” he said. “Lobbyists in both parties in the House and the Senate are listening to us. We are getting an overall interest and understanding on where the problem is, and they are showing interest in it, so we think something good will come out of it.”

To learn more about the Sustainable Trails Coalition, visit: sustainable


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