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

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