Saturday, December 31, 2016

Tracy Ridge, Part 1

I have read the "Tracy Ridge Shared Use Trails and Forest Plan Ammendment Project Environmental Assessment" for adding mountain biking to that area and I have some comments on it

Jakes Rock Donations
Here is a passage from the Environmental Assessment
“Issue #2 - How would the shared use proposal affect the Forest’s ability to provide various trail/recreation opportunities?”

It reads
“Some commenters remarked that with the Jakes Rocks trail system under construction, additional mountain bike trails are not needed. Currently, ten miles of trails are constructed at Jakes Rocks (out of 45 miles approved for construction). Funding for the full build out is not yet secured.” 

The Community Foundation of Warren County gives the Trails at Jakes Rock an $100,000 donation.

This has changed.  The Trails at Jakes Rock have received a $100,000 donation from the Community Foundation of Warren County.  With $100,000 in hand, many of miles of trails should be able to be built at Jakes Rock.  According to their Facebook page, they are planning to build 10 miles a year.  They have enough money to build 10 miles in 2017 and have made a dent into building 10 more in 2018.  Having a purpose built mountain biking trail just a short ways from Tracy Ridge means that Tracy Ridge might not even be used very much by mountain bikers.  The Tracy Ridge Environment Review even notes that the grade of the trails at Tracy Ridge are “mostly gentle as much of the system is on a plateau.”  This doesn’t even sound like a place that most mountain bikers would like to ride. After all, it’s called “Mountain Biking” not “Gentle Grade Biking.” People are not traveling all the way to the Allegheny Forest to ride on a beginners trail.  They can do that where they live.

Hurting chances of becoming a Wilderness.
Here is another passage from the Environmental Assessment
“Issue #5 - How would the shared use proposal affect future suitability for wilderness designation in the Tracy Ridge Recreation Area?”

It reads
“Furthermore, evidence suggests that Congress will designate Wilderness despite the presence of trails that allow bikes. For example, in 2015, the Boulder-White Cloud Wilderness was designated by Congress. Within the new Wilderness, more than 50 miles of trails previously open to bikes were closed to bikes.”

I really don’t think comparing the proposed Tracy Ridge Wilderness Area to Boulders/White Clouds is a very good comparison.

In an email to me from Julie Thomas of the Sawtooth Recreation Area she pointed out that only around 40 miles of trail that mountain bikers actually used were closed to mountain biking due to Boulders/White Clouds. So, here is the Comparison.  The Boulders/White Clouds Wilderness is 275,665 Acres.  There were 40 miles of mountain biking trails within the Wilderness.  That means that there was 1 mile of trail for each 6900 acres of Wilderness. Meanwhile, having 12 miles of mountain biking trails in the proposed Tracy Ridge Wilderness will create a bigger impact than the trails at Boulders/White Clouds.  The proposed Tracy Ridge Wilderness will be 9500 acres, which means there will be 1 mile of trail for each 792 acres.  Proportionally, the 12 miles of mountain biking trails at Tracy Ridge will have a much greater impact on whether the area is approved for Wilderness.
At 275,665 acres, you could fit 29 Tracy Ridges in Boulders/White Clouds
And to me it’s not a very good idea to allow mountain biking now only to have it booted off the trails if Tracy Ridge becomes a Wilderness.  Tracy Ridge is the largest roadless area in the Allegheny National Forest, thereby, should seriously be considered for Wilderness Designation.  According it the Friends of the Allegheny Wilderness, only 2% of the Allegheny National Forest is Federal Wilderness compared to 11% in the rest of the Eastern Region of the National Forest Service.

Affects on Wildlife
"Issue #6 - How would the shared use trail proposal affect the wildlife, native plants and nonnative invasive plants in the area?"

This section mentions Bald Eagles, Bats and the Northern Goshawk, but doesn’t mention Bears.  According to Wildlife Biologist Brian Horejsi “The basic science solidly supports the general claim that bikers and bikes are displacing bears,…”  Since the proposed trails for mountain biking are in the middle of the proposed Tracy Ridge Wilderness, it will effectively cut the range for bears in half.  The article about mountain biking displacing bears which quotes Brian Horejsi is located here:
A Black Bear at the Tracy Ridge Campground

The Tracy Ridge Campground
In the Opening Section called “1. Purpose and Need For Action,” the Environmental Assessment mentions that both the hiking trails and the Campground at Tracy Ridge are under used.  Here is the Quote:

“The two main legs of the system – the Tracy Ridge Trail and the Johnnycake Trail experience use but the connectors (trails built in the mid -1990s) are seldom used by the hiking public. Likewise, use of the campground is quite low – occupancy of the 100+ site campground is rarely above 10%.”

The Forest Service seems to think that adding mountain biking to the trail system at Tracy Ridge will also add users for the Campground.  This is probably not the case or marginal at best.
The reason the Tracy Ridge Campground is not doing very well is that there is a better Campground less than 5 miles away.  The Willow Bay Campground just north of the proposed Tracy Ridge Wilderness has dozens of amenities including showers and flush toilets.  After a hot day of mountain biking, the first thing the mountain bikers will want to do is take a shower, so they will be headed to Willow Bay, anyway. The Tracy Ridge Campground does have running water, but it also has pit toilets.   
an amenity comparison

Willow Bay is right on the Allegheny Reservoir with excellent views of the lake.  There are no views of the Reservoir at the Tracy Ridge Campground.  The Willow Bay Campground has several campsites right on the shore of the Reservoir.  This sounds much more appealing than camping in a dense woods.   
The Deer Grove Camping Area at Willow Bay has campsites right on the water.

Of course, campsites with all those amenities at Willow Bay cost more than the Primitive campsites at Tracy Ridge.  But, if you can afford to ride around on a $2000 bike, you can afford to pay a little more for a campsite with amenities.

Why are they proposing this project?
There is a section in the Environmental Review called. "Why are we proposing this project?"  The Forest Service writes that mountain biking is an "increasingly popular and accepted use.." 

Well, this is not the case.  Yes, mountain biking is an accepted use, but it is not an "increasingly popular" use.  In fact, mountain biking numbers have remained steady at just under 3% of the population.  These numbers are from the Outdoor Foundation's Participation Studies, which are the premiere source for outdoor participation information.  The Study Reports can be found here: 

In Conclusion
The people at the Friends of the Allegheny Wilderness have been putting forth a great effort in trying to get Tracy Ridge designated as a Federal Wilderness.  Let's do everything possible to help in this effort, and not approve uses for the area that are inconsistent with the Wilderness Act.

You can discuss this blog at the Preserving the PCT facebook page located here:

To read the "
Tracy Ridge Shared Use Trails and Forest Plan Ammendment Project Environmental Assessment" go here:

For instruction on how to comment on the project, go here:

In Part two: Ideas to get more people hiking at Tracy Ridge.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Sustainable Trails Coalition: Just Making Up Stuff.

When you go over to the Sustainable Trails Coalition Website, the first thing you see is the following statement:  “When the President of the United States signed the Wilderness Act of 1964 he wasn’t banning bicycles, wheelbarrows and strollers.”  Really?  Do they go on to give some sort of quote from Lyndon Johnson to that affect? No they don’t.

Screen shot of STC's Website

Do they have any evidence that LBJ wanted to allow such items into Wilderness Areas?  No they don’t.  The original Wilderness Act has the following statement

(c) Except as specifically provided for in this Act, and subject to existing private rights, there shall be no commercial enterprise and no permanent road within any wilderness area designated by this Act and, except as necessary to meet minimum requirements for the administration of the area for the purpose of this Act (including measures required in emergencies involving the health and safety of persons within the area), there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area."

As you can plainly see the Act says "no other form of mechanical transport." And President Johnson signed it into law with that wording. Well, under STC's logic, the phrase means “no other form of motorized transport.” It's obvious that their logic is flawed. Bicycles are mechanical transport, period.

Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Wilderness Act

Also, Ted Stroll wrote an opinion piece in the High Country News on March 29. Called “It’s inevitable. There will be bikes in Wilderness.” Ted makes the following statement: 

“Congress never prohibited biking or pushing a baby carriage.”

Really, do Ted and the Sustainable Trails Coalition have one quote from one Congressman who supported the Wilderness Act at the time, that bikes and baby carraiges are to be allowed in Wilderness Areas? No they don’t. At this point, you’d have to agree that Ted Stroll and STC are just making up stuff.

Ted and the Sustainable Trails Coalition claim that a 1966 Forest Service definition proves that mountain bikes should be allowed in Wilderness Areas. Here is the definition:

"Mechanical transport, as herein used, shall include any contrivance which travels over ground, snow, or water on wheels, tracks, skids, or by floatation and is propelled by a non-living power source contained or carried on or within the device."

It’s clear that the Forest Service got the wording wrong. The Forest Service’s rule implies that there needs to be a motor being used in order for it to be Mechanical Transport. As you can see from the quote from the original Wilderness Act, there is no such limiting factor regarding mechanical transport. And the fact that the writers of the Act wrote "no other form of" also emphasizes that it means more than just "motorized transport.”

It should be noted that the Forest Service is only one of 4 agencies that manage Wilderness Areas. The Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service all got it right the first time by outright banning Mountain bikes in their Wilderness Areas. The Forest Service eventually specifically banned mountain bikes and hang gliders in a 1984 rule.

It also should be noted that the Forest Service was originally against the Wilderness Act.  They even testified before Congress against the Wilderness Act.  No wonder they started out with such a confusing rule.

And here is how the Forest Service defines Mechanical Transport today:

“Mechanical Transport. Any contrivance for moving people or material in or over land, water, or air, having moving parts, that provides a mechanical advantage to the user, and that is powered by a living or nonliving power source. This includes, but is not limited to, sailboats, hang gliders, parachutes, bicycles, game carriers, carts, and wagons. It does not include wheelchairs when used as necessary medical appliances. It also does not include skis, snowshoes, rafts, canoes, sleds, travois, or similar primitive devices without moving parts.”

As you can see, it is more in the spirit of the original Wilderness Act that says “no other form of mechanical transport.” And evidence is beginning to pile up that bicycles were never meant to be in Wilderness Areas.

In a May 2, 2016 opinion piece in the High Country News, Andy Wiessner wrote an account of a meeting between the Forest Service and Congressmen Mo Udall and John Seiberling, both Chairs of Committees in Congress regarding public lands.  At the meeting held in the early 1980s, both Congressmen confirmed that mountain bikes are not to be in Wilderness Areas.  Andy Wiessner is a very excellent witness to this event because he was a Legislative Counsel at the time.
Screen Shot of Andy Wiessner's Article

I’ve read much of the Testimony before Congress leading up to the passage of the Wilderness Act. It’s true that Congress was concerned about motorized uses in Wilderness Areas. The Interstate Highway System was being built at the time and several Congressmen were concerned about a flood of cars heading west while people were on vacation, etc. But to say that Congress was only worried about motorized uses is a misstatement. Congressman Compton White asked the following question during the hearings. “I am talking about the mechanical contraption with wheels that goes behind the horse. The buggy. Or spring wagon. This is considered-and this is not a mechanical device?” It’s obvious that Congressman White was concerned about more than just motorized uses. And after that hearing the Wilderness Act was changed to include the words “no other form of” in front of “mechanical transport.” And that’s the wording in the final version of the Act.

Ted Stroll and STC continue to be wrong time after time.  This has been happening for a long time now.  Way back in 2010, Ted wrote a New York Times opinion piece called “Ah, Wilderness” where he supported signs in Wilderness Areas.  Here is an excerpt from it  
Every summer numerous backpackers, hikers and hunters get lost in the wilderness, with occasionally fatal results. In 2008, two experienced hikers along the Kekekabic Trail — the same Minnesota trail where the skier perished in 1970 — were lost for days and nearly ran out of food. The Forest Service listened to their complaints about the lack of signage but refused to act.” 
Screen Shot of Ted Stroll's Article

Well, as it turns out, the two hikers who got lost in 2008 didn’t really consider themselves lost.  They had lost their map, and were proceeding slowly. But they knew all they had to do is keep hiking east and they would come out onto the road called the Gunflint Trail.  When they were finally found they were 4 miles from the road.  

Here is an article about the two missing hikers on the Kekekabic Trail in 2008

Screen Shot of an article about the two missing hikers in 2008
The incident happened in October of 2008 and I actually hiked the Kekekebic Trail in May of 2009.  Yes, the Kek was hard to follow in some places, but it’s easy enough to stay on track if you have a map.  So, much for Ted Stroll’s lack of signage theory.  Evidently, at that time Ted thought that revising the sign policy would be the first step to allowing mountain bikes in Wilderness Areas.

Articles mentioned
Andy Wiessner's  High Country News Opinion Piece "No Bikes in Wilderness, Period" can be found at:

Ted Stroll's High Country News Opinion piece "It's enevitable, there will be bikes in Wilderness can be found at:

Ted Stroll's New York Times Opinion piece "Ah Wilderness" can be found at

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Responding to John Fisch’s “Responses to 5 Arguments against The Human Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act"

You would have though John Fisch would have stopped when I schooled him on his “Responses to the 10 Most Common arguments against allowing mountain bikes in Wilderness Areas.” His article is here, and my response is here.

But now John has come up with 5 more Arguments supporting the Sustainable Trails Coalition’s Bill, the Human Powered Wildlands Travel Management Act. And again I will respond and show that John Fisch’s article is totally ridiculous.

1. We Shouldn’t Amend the Wilderness Act
You got that right, we really shouldn’t amend the Wilderness Act. You ever hear the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well, our Wilderness Preservation System is not broke. Now there are 765 Wilderness Areas comprising 110 million acres. And the goal of preservation is being accomplished. And, unlike John Fisch would like you to believe, bicycles have always been banned in Wilderness Areas. The 1964 Act says “no other form of mechanical transport” which totally bans bicycles, period. All the 1984 regulation did was to clarify the original law. It was nothing new.

Orrin Hatch Environmental Score in 2015 is 0%

2. The New Legislation is Sponsored by Senators with Poor Records on the Environment.
Again, John got that exactly right. Both Lee and Hatch have absolutely terrible records on the Environment. And comparing them to Simpson and Risch is ridiculous. Again, Senators Lee And Hatch want to sell off Federal Lands. Mike Simpson is against selling off Public Land, and Risch hasn’t made a strong statement on the issue.

So, since Lee and Hatch want to sell off Federal Lands, I’ve asked John Fisch to name his favorite mountain biking trail on Federal land. I also asked Ted Stroll and Vernon Felton to name their favorite mountain biking trail on Federal land. Since these guys support Lee and Hatch so much, I thought we’d start making a list of lands for the Senators to sell off. But, Fisch, Stroll and Felton have never responded, so it sounds like they don’t want their favorite mountain biking trail to be sold. And since Big Oil is one of the Top 5 Contributors to Senators Lee and Hatch, perhaps they would be interested in the land.

I think it’s a telling sign when people start changing their minds on an issue. In June, Gunnar Waldman wrote an article supporting STC’s Bill which includes mountain bikes in Wilderness Areas for Teton Gravity Research. In July, once Gunnar found out who was sponsoring the Bill, he immediately wrote an article against the Bill. He points out that Hatch has said "I wouldn't want to see homosexuals teaching school anymore than I'd want to see members of the American Nazi Party teaching school” and Senator Lee was “The ONLY guy against sending aid to Flint, Michigan.” Gunnar also wrote “You’d be hard pressed to find senators MORE repugnant to me that those two.”

3 The Legislation is Too Aggressive.
John writes “The key complaint here is the verbiage in the bill, which give the USFS two years to assess their trails…” Yes, that would be a key complaint. In order to allow mountain biking in a specific Wilderness Area, an Environmental Impact Statement would have to be done for NEPA. And as I wrote in my previous blog:

“I sent an email to Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Karen Schoyer, the Forest Ranger who manages the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness. I asked her how much would a typical Environmental Review for a Wilderness Area would cost. She wrote back to me:

“I can tell you that an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) can cost tens of thousands of dollars and several years to complete currently and they are often completed by 3rd party contractors, under Forest Service specialist review, because we do not have the staffing to complete the work in a timely manner.””

So, allowing mountain biking in Forest Service Wilderness Areas is not going to be as easy as a flick of a pen as John Fisch is suggesting. Plus, John failed to mention that there would be three other Federal Agencies involved. Besides the Forest Service, the National Park Service, Fish & Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management all manage Wilderness Areas. All of these agencies are going to have land managers spending their time dealing with this legislation. In other words, they will not have as much time to be working on trails or training trail volunteers. So, our Nation’s Trail System will be much worse because of STC’s Bill.

4. This Legislation Antagonizes Fellow Environmentalists
John actually got the heading wrong. The heading should read “This Legislation Antagonizes Environmentalists.” If you are supporting STC’s Bill, you are not an Environmentalist, therefore, you have no “Fellow Environmentalists.” Again, I only have to refer you to Point 2 of this article, which shows that the Senators sponsoring this Bill are very Anti-Environment. John Fisch and the Sustainable Trails Coalition are in bed with people that want to sell off our precious public lands for extraction and development. Nobody should ever be calling people supporting this Bill “Environmentalists.”

The Wildlife News article about 116 Conservation groups sending a letter to every Member of Congress

John goes on to quote Ashley Korenblat and tries to pick apart her statement line by line.  But since John quoted Ashley, I decided I would quote one of John’s fellow Sustainable Trails Coalition Board Members, Jackson Radcliffe. Outside Online published an Article on July 16, 2016 called “Congressmen Introduce Bill to Allow Mountain Bikers in Wilderness Areas.” In the comments of the Article, Jackson Radcliffe writes
“However, some rural regions may like to have more tourism and allowing bikes to use the same trails that equestrians can use, may generate more tourism visitors and help their local economies. There are a number of areas that would love to see the growth that Downieville and Fruita have enjoyed."

The Outside Online article that Jackson Radcliffe commented on.

I replied to Jackson with the following
“And I'm laughing when you use Fruita as an example of a town that has enjoyed a boom in mountain biking. Well, Jackson, did you know that the 75000 acre Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness is right outside of Fruita? Yes, there is a Wilderness Area that doesn't allow bicycles RIGHT NEXT to the Bicycling Boomtown you mentioned. Evidently, there are other places nearby that mountain bikers can ride if Fruita is the envy of the Mountain Biking World. I think you are making my point for me.”

The fact is that mountain biking and Wilderness Areas can coexist right next to each other. There is no reason to allow Mountain Biking in Wilderness Areas when there are amble opportunities to mountain bike nearby.

5. Miscellaneous Lesser Arguments
John writes “Some are concerned about the “slippery slope,” that this may lead to motorized vehicles or other things we all agree are not Wilderness-like.” Well, yes, it may lead to other things into the Wilderness. First of all, the bill changes the definition of what is a “small hand-held appliance.” Previously, small hand-held appliances were devices such as electric razors and transistor radios. Now, STC wants Chainsaws to be considered a small hand-held device. And if Chainsaws are considered small hand held devices, who knows what other devices will also be included.

But to give John credit, he does say he holds a reservation about allowing chainsaws in Wilderness Areas. Well, John, that reservation should be enough for you to drop support of this Bill. Chainsaws are loud. They can be heard for over a mile. Chainsaws can be as loud as 120 decibels. They are not in the same classification as an electric razor that can be heard from no more than 1/8 of a mile.

A photo of volunteers using a crosscut saw from a Border Route Trail Trail Maintenance Outing that I participated in.

If the Sustainable Trails Coalition really wanted to improve the condition of trails in Wilderness Areas then they should be taking a different approach. They should be using the $130,000 that they have collected for promoting and having training sessions to teach people to be crosscut sawyers. Using crosscut saws is labor intensive, but it also is very quiet compared to using chainsaws. Also, crosscut saws are easier to carry into Wilderness Areas and don’t required gas. And if you’ve ever hiked gas into anyplace, you know it’s nasty

STC's Bill Heading

And if you read the Bill, the first thing it says is “To allow local Federal officials to determine the manner in which nonmotorized uses may be permitted in wilderness areas, …” So, Having chainsaws included in this Bill even goes against the stated purpose of the Bill.

If we want to remain true to the vision of the writers of the Wilderness Act, then excluding mountain bikes and chainsaws is the way to do it. The Wilderness Act says “no mechanical transport” which excludes mountain bikes, and “no motorized equipment” which excludes chainsaws. The Wilderness Act has been a rousing success so far, and there is no compelling reason to change it.

Friday, April 1, 2016

It’s inevitable the Sustainable Trails Coalition will get a Member of Congress to sponsor their bill, maybe.

Recently, Ted Stroll published an opinion piece in the High Country News called “It’s Inevitable. There will be bikes in the Wilderness.”  The article glows about the possibilities of mountain biking in Federally Designated Wildernesses, which have been banned until now. But, the article is getting mixed reviews with some people who question Ted’s tactics and logic.

“It’s Inevitable,” said Captain Jean Luc Picard “that sounds like the Borg when they said “resistance is futile,” and look what happened the Borg, we put them to sleep.”  Picard was briefly assimilated by the Borg, but he was also key to the Federation’s victory over the Borg.  “Bikes WILL be in the Wilderness, it all sounds very ominous to me.  Even Number 1 is shaking his head in disapproval about it.”

Dr. Ian Malcolm
But, the prospects of getting the Sustainable Trails Coalition Bill sponsored by a member of Congress are bright.  According to Mathematician Dr. Ian Malcolm, the prospects are quite good.  “The Human-Powered Wildland Travel Act of 2015 will definitely get a sponsor in 2016, or if not, in 2017,” Dr Malcolm said.  Malcolm is best known for his eccentric observations about the Dinosaur themed Jurassic Park. “Life finds a way” Dr Malcolm said, “and just like life, the Sustainable Trails Coalition will find a political hack willing to take up their cause.”

Wedge Antilles

Wedge Antilles also thinks that the Sustainable Trails Coalition will ultimately succeed.  “It’s obvious that mountain bikes are not mechanical transport” he said “there is no way an Ion Drive could be mounted on a bike, so I doubt whether they even qualify as a mechanical object.”  Antilles is best known for being Luke Skywalker’s Wingman in several battles. “The old ways are already on their way out” he said.

Captain Jean Luc Picard
But Picard counters the “Inevitable” statement with this. “The Wilderness Act is not just a set of rules; it is a philosophy ... and a very correct one. History has proven again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less developed civilization, no matter how well intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous.”  He also added “Congress wanted a place without the influence of mechanization and I say “make it so””

Mathesar of Thermia
Mathesar from the planet Thermia agrees.  “I have examined all the historical documents and there is no evidence to suggest mountain bikes should be allowed in Wilderness Areas.”    Mathesar also has examined all the Galaxy Quest historical documents and credits Captain Jason Nesmith and the Crew of the starship Protector for saving all the Thermians from the evil Sarris.  “What mountain bikers need is a leader, not someone who uses bits and pieces of historical documents to misinform people,” Mathesar said.

As a mathematician, Dr Malcolm wonders why more efforts aren’t being done to build mountain biking trails systems closer to where people actually live. “The people of the Sustainable Trails Coalition were so preoccupied with whether they could get bikes in the Wilderness, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” He says that finding a sponsor should be relatively easy, because over 7000 bills are sponsored every year.  But, only 5% of the bills ever get passed by Congress, and STC’s Bill will have every environmental group coming out against it. So, Malcolm challenges the logic behind the Sustainable Trails Coalition approach. “Gee, the lack of humility before nature being displayed here staggers me.”

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Response to John Fisch’s “Responses to the 10 most common arguments against mountain bikes in Wilderness Areas.”

I’d just like to take this opportunity to respond to the many misconceptions put forward by John Fisch in his article “Responses to the 10 most common arguments against mountain bikes in Wilderness Areas.” There has been considerable buzz about this topic ever since IMBA did a press conference saying they would not seek changes to the Wilderness Act. It seems that IMBA has seen through some of the false and misleading statements generated by people like John Fisch

John wrote in his opening statement “Bear in mind that nobody is seeking access to 100% of all Wilderness trails 100% of the time, only that the blanket ban be removed and trails be assessed for cycling suitability on a case-by-case basis.” Really. Having Wilderness Areas considering mountain biking on a case-by-case basis is an administrative nightmare. It will cost millions to do the Environmental Impact Statements for mountain biking in 765 Wilderness Areas. And those Statements may not allow mountain bikes into a specific Wilderness Area after everything is said and done. Mountain bikers will be constantly asking for more areas to be opened up and will be protesting if the land manager decides against mountain biking.

So here are my responses to John Fisch’s points.

1. Bikes are mechanical
Damn right they are mechanical. And no version of Mountain Bikes is not mechanical. Meanwhile, the other mechanical devices that John cites, XC skis and oarlocks, were originally made out of wood. In ancient times XC skis were a long piece of wood with leather straps to attach them to your boots. Oarlocks were originally two pieces of wood mounted on the side of a boat. John also states that backpackers are hauling into the wilderness higher technology than bikes. He says “nobody would complain about carrying a GPS into the Wilderness.” Well, John nailed it because nobody would complain about carrying a GPS into the Wilderness. That’s just it, people are carrying the GPS unit. The GPS units are not carrying the people. There is no “mechanical transport” involved with a GPS Unit.

2. The Wilderness Act prohibits bikes.

Yes it does. John quotes the Wilderness Act “... there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment, or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area.” Just from that sentence alone you would have to say mountain bikes are banned. The sentence says “no use of motorized vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats,” then it goes on to say “no other form of mechanical transport.” It’s obvious from the sentence structure that “no other form of mechanical transport” can mean transport other than motorized transport. The mere fact that it says “no other form” emphasizes that. If “mechanical transport” is supposed to mean, “motorized transport,” well, they just could have used the word “motorized.” They used the word “motorized” or “motor” three other times in that sentence, why not use it again. And to that point, having the words “mechanical transport” mean “motorized transport” would have been redundant.

Also, John writes, “Knowing this, the USFS in implementing the Act defined mechanical as “powered by a non living source.”” Well, John, I’m sorry that a misguided Forest Service Rule doesn’t take priority over the Wilderness Act. You have to remember that the Forest Service was a hostile participant in the Wilderness Act. They actually testified against the Wilderness Act. Meanwhile, the Forest Service is just one of 4 agencies that manages Wilderness areas. The National Park Service, Fish & Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management all have a equal standing in managing Wilderness Areas and none of those agencies have the “non living power source” rule in regards to the Wilderness. And another thing John didn’t mention is that when the Forest Service finally got on board with the Wilderness Act, they did specifically ban mountain bikes in their Wilderness Areas.

Also, John writes “The Rattlesnake Wilderness Act of 1980 states…” which is totally wrong. That’s not the name of the Act. The actual name of the Act is “Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness Act of 1980.” So, basically the passage that John quoted was talking about a National Recreation Area, and not necessarily a Wilderness Area. Come on, John, changing the name of an Act of Congress. How low can you go? No wonder IMBA isn’t supporting your cause when you are spewing misinformation like that.

The actual name of the Act is "Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness Act of 1980"

3. Bikes are inconsistent with Wilderness Values
Let’s take a look at a section of the Wilderness Act that John quoted “An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence…” So, Wilderness Areas need to keep a “primeval character” about them. What does that mean? The word “primeval” means “of the first ages” or “from ancient times.” XC skis and Oarlocks, the devices that John is complaining about in item 1, date back to centuries before Christ. In fact, a fragment of a ski found in Russia dates back to 6000 BC. So, XC skis and oarlocks are primeval in character. Mountain bikes date back to 1981 when the first commercially made mountain bike was manufactured. Mountain bikes are not simple devices and they are not primeval in character.

An Ancient drawing of a Cross Country Skier

4. Environmental Impacts
John writes “However, independent scientific research has proven that given similar conditions, hiking and biking wear on the land is similar,” Well, John, have you ever looked at the studies you are talking about. Basically, the studies have mountain bikers and hikers travel through side-by-side test plots. In those plots mountain biking damage is no more severe than hiking damage. But here’s a quote from the article John listed as a reference: “While Taylor and Knight found no biological justification for managing mountain biking any differently than hiking, they note that bikers cover more ground in a given time period than hikers and thus can potentially disturb more wildlife per unit time.” So, after reading that, do mountain bikers do more damage than hikers? Yes, because mountain bikers travel twice or three times as far as hikers in a given time period.

5. Wilderness is a place for a slower pace, so we may properly enjoy it
John writes, “When I hike, my average speed is 2.5 – 3 mph. When I ride a challenging backcountry trail, my average speed is 4 – 6 mph.” John is right on about the hiker speed at 2.5 – 3 mph, but his mountain biking speed is questionable. He says he rides that pace on a “challenging backcountry trail.” What if the trail in the Wilderness is not all that challenging? Let’s take a look at a couple rules for mountain biking. Annadel State Park in California has a speed limit for mountain bikes at 15 mph. That’s 5 to 6 times faster than an average hiker. Mammoth Cave National Park also has a speed limit of 15 mph for mountain bikes on their trails. Mountain bikers are quite capable of achieving and sustaining much greater speeds than 4 -6 mph.

Also, John writes “While on my bike, I have been passed by trail runners in hardcore training or trying to set personal bests on backcountry routes.” Well, if mountain bikes are allowed in Wilderness Areas, won’t mountain bikers be doing the exact same thing? I’m sure there will be mountain bikers out there trying to set their personal best on a section of trail. Plus there will be mountain bikers using the Strava app to establish the fastest time on a section.

6. Bikes “shrink” the Wilderness
John writes “modern backpacking equipment makes multi-day trips easier, allowing hikers to penetrate deeply into the Wilderness as well.” The funny thing about that is mountain bikers can use the exact same equipment as a backpacker. Mountain bikers can use the exact same tent, backpacking stove, and a myriad of other equipment. But the main difference is that backpackers will be doing it on “multi-day trips” where mountain bikers can cover the same ground in just a day or two. reviews the same tent a backpacker would use.

Plus there are many horseback riders who would disagree with John’s statement: “At least a bike requires fitness and skill on the part of its rider, while a horse does not.”

7. User Conflicts
There was a January 20, 2015 article in the Merced Sun Star called “Exchequer Mountain Bike Park on the trail to completion” It’s about a new mountain bike-only trail system in California. Here is a quote from the article: “When the network is complete, Exchequer will be the state’s largest bike-only park. Many of California’s most popular trails have conflicts among cyclists, hikers and equestrians. Making this area exclusive to bikes eliminates that problem.” So other mountain bikers are acknowledging that there are trail conflicts. Having separate trails for separate users is a way to resolve trail conflict. It has worked great in several places including the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest in Wisconsin, where they have separate and very popular trail systems for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.

Plus the issue isn’t totally about User Conflict. It’s also about User Experience. If a hiker wants to go out hiking on a trail for some peace and solitude, having a mountain biker come barreling down a narrow trail at a hiker does not fit into that plan. It’s perfectly okay to have some trails that are shared by hikers and mountain bikes. But it’s also okay to have trails for just hikers.

8. Why can’t we have a place of our own?
Well, why can’t we? As stated in item #7, mountain bikers are creating their own trails for just mountain biking near Lake McClure in California. If that’s the case then why can’t hikers have their own trails, too?

9. You have plenty of other places to ride
No, there is not enough mountain biking trail access in the United States. But advocating mountain biking out in the middle of nowhere isn’t helping. Instead, mountain biking trails are needed where the people are, near the suburbs and the cities.

Also, John brings out the following statistic: “Colorado has 4,433,000 acres of roadless area. Of that roadless area, 3,735,000 acres is Designated Wilderness. This means bikes are banned from over 84% of the roadless areas in Colorado by Wilderness designation alone.” Well, mountain bikers like John say hikers shouldn’t mind mountain bikers speeding down the trail at the hikers. But all of a sudden, if there is a road within a mile of a mountain biking trail, then that totally freaks out John. John doesn’t mention that all told there are 14,509,000 acres of public land in Colorado. So, doing the math on that, there are over 10 million acres of land that potentially mountain bikers can build trails on. Surely there are some great places to go mountain biking in those 10 million acres.

10. So, today you want bikes. What’s next, Motorcycles? ATVs? Jeeps?

How about oilrigs, mining and logging. STC and their proponents act like their little bill will go through Congress and hardly nothing will change or be tacked onto it. Well, I have news for them. The North Country Trail had a bill they were trying to get through Congress a couple years ago. It was a simple bill, which allows the NCT to buy land from "willing sellers." Several other National Scenic Trails have this provision, but the NCT doesn't. Well, the Republicans tacked on so much stuff to the bill, including fracking near the trail in Pennsylvania, the NCTA didn't want the bill anymore.

A Fracking Operation in Pennslyvania. The North Country Trail goes through western Pennsylvania 

Even Vernon Felton, the mountain biking writer has said, "Our public lands are under increasing attack from people who want to clear cut, mine and frack the living hell out of it." Vernon is right. In my state, Wisconsin, the Republican Legislature and Governor let a mining company write an environmental law. Now, the Sustainable Trails Coalition wants the Republicans to take up their cause. Sounds like a recipe for disaster

So, that brings us to another common argument against mountain biking in the Wilderness. This one John missed in his article. In Congress everything has been on the table from gutting environmental laws to selling off public lands. The Sierra Club and Wilderness Society are not going to want the Wilderness Act to be opened up now in this political environment. Those two groups have more clout in Washington than any other group besides the NRA. So, we’ll see how the Sustainable Trails Coalition efforts work out. My guess is that they will get a Republican Congressman to sponsor their bill, but then the opposition will come out in full force. Only 5% of the Bills before Congress ever become law. So, the “Human-Powered Wildlands Travel Management Act of 2015” will just end up like the other 95% of the Bills that never go anywhere. STC says they have collected over $90,000 for lobbying. It will be sad to see all of that money wasted on this issue when it could have been used to build new mountain biking trails. But, on the bright side, after they’ve wasted all of that money and gotten nowhere, this issue will finally be over.

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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Taking a look at the Mountain Bikes in the Wilderness issue

Back in August of 2015 the Congress of the United States voted unanimously to make Boulders/White Clouds a designated Wilderness. Actually, they divided the original Boulders/White Clouds proposal into three different Wildernesses: White Clouds Wilderness, Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness and Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness. Ever since then, Mountain bikers have been lamenting the fact that they have lost access to these areas.

But if you take a close look at Boulders/White Cloud, I'd say Mountain Biking did well. First of all, the Bowery Loop, which looks like a carrot, both north and south of the loop are now protected Wilderness. That means that the views and the wilderness quality of that loop, which is about 30 miles long, are forever protected. Secondly, the lawmakers cut 23,000 acres from the Wilderness so the 4th of July Trail could be out of the Wilderness. That allows for the whole loop with the Washington Basin Trail continue to have mountain biking.

The Bowery Loop remains out of the Wilderness as well as the 4th of July Trail

All told, mountain bikers have lost access to 295,000 acres because of Boulders/White Clouds. So how many miles of trail did they lose access to? Well, I asked that question in an email to the Sawtooth National Forest. Julie Thomas, Public Information Officer wrote me back. She writes:

Warm Springs Creek/ Antz Basin and Castle Divide were the only trails that received a lot of mountain bike use in recent years, prior to designation within the White Clouds and Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness areas. Chamberlain Creek was getting some use as an alternate route on the Hot Springs Tour Map. These areas are also very popular with hikers and horse users.”

Here is the list of the mileages

Ants Basin, 3 miles/1.9 now in wilderness
Warm Springs Creek, 20.7 miles
Livingston Mill-Castle Divide, 9 miles inside wilderness
Chamberlain Creek, 7 miles

Also according to Julie Thomas:

“All other trails in the new wildernesses were open to bicycle use but most received very little if any bike use.”

So, basically, mountain bikers are complaining about losing about 40 miles of trail. Don’t get me wrong. It is a great loss. But, the rest of the trails in the 295,000 acres mountain bikers didn’t even use. Perhaps that’s because there are 100s of miles of other mountain biking trails already in the Sun Valley, Idaho area.

Every time a Wilderness Area is designated there are groups that are affected. Back when the Boundary Waters was protected as a Wilderness, logging businesses said it would really hurt them. But in reality, there are plenty of places for logging in the Superior National Forest outside of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. I did a hike up near the Boundary Waters in October, and I saw plenty of Logging Trucks hauling logs. Likewise, there are still hundreds of miles of trail in the Sun Valley, Idaho area for mountain bikers to enjoy.

And now, thanks to the Boulders/White Clouds, 155,000 acres will potentially be opened to multi-use, so more trails can be built. That’s right, the big news is that 4 Wilderness Study Areas will no longer be WSAs. According to Julie Thomas:

“The legislation released Wilderness Study Areas from the BLM but all recommended wilderness on Forest Service lands remain in place until future Forest Plan revision.” 

That's a total of 155,000 acres that mountain biking can potentially thrive on. You would be better off sending money to build new trails in those areas than sending money to STC.

You also have to remember that Mountain Bikers were not shut out of the process. Mountain Bikers knew that Boulder/White Cloud could have become a National Monument. It was known that mountain bikers should contact their members of Congress in support of the National Monument designation. So, mountain bikers had input on this, but in the end because of a Republican tactic, it became a Wilderness Area. The Republicans didn't want Obama to get credit for designating a National Monument. So, basically, the Republicans are playing games with our wild areas. Remember that these are the same Republican members of Congress that Ted Stoll and the Sustainable Trails Coalition want to sponsor their bill.

Plus the National Monument designation is not as permanent as a Wilderness designation. If you go to google and search for “former National Monuments” you will find a list of almost 60 areas that used to be National Monuments. If you search for “former Wilderness Areas” you won’t find a list.

A list of around 60 former National Monuments appears on Wikipedia

Meanwhile, Wilderness areas are only 2.5% of the Land Area in the Lower 48 States, and even Ted Stroll says that it will only ever be 3% of the land area. There are not that many areas left that qualify for being a Wilderness Area. Meanwhile, according to the Outdoor Foundation, only 3% of the population goes mountain biking.

Also, while STC is promoting mountain biking out in the middle of nowhere they are ignoring mountain biking where it is really needed. Again, take a look at the statistics from the Outdoor Foundation. Skateboarding is kicking mountain biking's ass in the youth 6 to 17 age group. 3.7% of youth participate in Mountain Biking and 6.9% participate in Skateboarding. And why is skateboarding doing so well against mountain biking? It's because there is a skateboard park in almost every little town of 10,000 people. That's what mountain biking needs to do to get youth interested in the sport. Sure, Mountain Biking needs more land than a Skateboarding Park, but Skateboarding Parks need massive amounts of concrete so they are expensive to build. 

One of the things that the Sustainable Trails Coalition is pushing for is to have local land managers decide if mountain biking will be allowed in each of the Wilderness Areas. Having local land managers decide is an Administrative Nightmare and Financial Boongdoogle. Each one of the 765 Wilderness Areas would have to go through an Environmental Review if they were to allow mountain bikes. I sent an email to Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Karen Schoyer, the Forest Ranger who manages the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness. I asked her how much would a typical Environmental Review for a Wilderness Area would cost. She wrote back to me:

“I can tell you that an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) can cost tens of thousands of dollars and several years to complete currently and they are often completed by 3rd party contractors, under Forest Service specialist review, because we do not have the staffing to complete the work in a timely manner.” 

So, let’s do the math on that. There are 765 Wilderness Areas and if each of them cost on average $10,000 to complete the Environmental Review, well that’s 7.65 million dollars. And even after all that money is spent, there is no guarantee that mountain biking will be allowed in a Wilderness Area. Many Wilderness Areas like Maroon Bells/Snowmass are already overused by hikers and horseback riders. Adding mountain bikers would not be an option.

Ted Stroll is hoping one of the Republican Congressmen will take up his cause. But I come from a state where the Republican Legislature and Governor let a Mining Company write an environmental law. The Wilderness Society and Sierra Club are not going to want the Wilderness Act to be opened up now after stuff like that has been happening. And those two organizations have more clout in Washington than any other organization other than the NRA. I contend that the only member of Congress that will sponsor Ted's bill is one that is in the pocket of Logging, Mining or Oil. So, when you finally get to ride your bike in the Wilderness, you will be riding next to clear-cut areas, open pit mines and oil rigs

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