I’d like to respond to Kevin Walker’s recent letter (HCN, 7/24/06: SUWA's on the right track). He rejects my comments that enviro groups like SUWA have ignored impacts from non-motorized recreation and the "amenities economy." He also calls "completely false" my assertion that SUWA altered a proposed wilderness boundary to avoid conflicts with the "24 Hours of Moab" bicycle race.
Here are the facts. In October 1996, SUWA praised the "24 Hours" mountain bike race in my paper, The Canyon Country Zephyr. SUWA noted that "the mountain bike community is a large advocacy group promoting low impact recreation." A month later, in the November 1996 Zephyr, even SUWA had to note the damage. "Throughout the course," it wrote, "riders rode off the track creating new, shortcut switchbacks."
In both articles, SUWA commented that the race steered clear of its wilderness proposals. But years later, I compared the 24 Hours race route to SUWA’s wilderness maps and discovered that the race had indeed entered their proposed wilderness areas — a fact that Kevin Walker acknowledged in an e-mail in 2003. But, Walker said, when SUWA revised its proposed boundaries in 1998, it dropped some areas around Moab, and the race was now completely out of proposed wilderness.
Walker insisted that the boundary alterations were "based solely on off-road vehicle damage." The fact is, thousands of bikers repeatedly pounded miles of old jeep road, and other SUWA staffers noted the damage, even in 1996. (The race has grown exponentially since then.) Still, Kevin could see no bike-inflicted impacts. He may have honestly believed that all the impacts were ORV-caused, but it speaks volumes for the blinders groups like SUWA wear when it comes to impacts from non-motorized recreation.
San Juan County, Utah