Mountain bike association wheels into national parks

by Patrick Farrell

Mountain bikers scored an access victory last month when the National Park Service agreed to explore opening the long off-limits national park system to knobby tires.

But riders won’t be hitting singletrack in Yellowstone or Yosemite anytime soon, says International Mountain Biking Association spokesman Mark Eller. The association signed a five-year deal with the Park Service, which plans to identify two pilot sites by next year. The sites will be on access roads currently closed to the public, says Park Service spokesman Al Nash.

Five national parks already allow some mountain biking. Still, the mountain bike association is counting the agreement as a national coup. "It’s coming from on high from the Park Service," says Eller. "It’s a doorway opening."

The 32,000-member association is notorious for its push to allow bikes into wilderness areas, despite their prohibition under the 1964 Wilderness Act. The association has also led a campaign opposing new wilderness protection on lands already crisscrossed by bike trails (HCN, 11/22/04: Freewheeling Wilderness Proposal Irks Purists).

Not surprisingly, the recent agreement has raised eyebrows among conservationists. George Barnes, advisor to the Sierra Club’s recreation issues committee, worries that once mountain bikers are allowed into the parks, they’ll fight wilderness designation for the 27.5 million acres of proposed wilderness within the parks system.

He might be right. While the International Mountain Biking Association doesn’t oppose existing wilderness, Eller is optimistic about new access: "We think a lot of those areas (in national parks) that are being looked at for wilderness areas could benefit from looking at other designations."

© High Country News