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Know the West

Bikers want back in to national park

  Tucson’s fat-tire fanatics are pushing Saguaro National Park to reopen its Cactus Forest Trail to mountain bikes.

In 1991, under pressure from the local biking community, the National Park Service opened the 2.5-mile route to mountain bikers. The trail — the first in a national park to allow mountain bikes — was jointly maintained by the Park Service and local bike groups for more than ten yeas.

But bikes were banned last April, after a whistleblower informed the watchdog group, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, that the park hadn’t done the proper environmental studies before allowing bikes on the trail.

“To our surprise, the park responded by saying, ‘You’re right, we’ll shut it down,’” says Jeff Ruch, PEER’s executive director.

Although mountain bikers have hundreds of miles of trails to choose from in southern Arizona, the Cactus Forest Trail is one of the region’s few nontechnical routes suitable for beginners, says Mark Flint, advocacy director of the Sonoran Desert Mountain Bicyclists: “A lot of people call it a girlfriend or boyfriend trail, because you can take your girlfriend or boyfriend out there and introduce them to mountain biking.”

At first, park officials had said the trail might stay closed for more than three years while they studied the issue, outraging local cyclists. But the environmental review was subsequently sped up, and will be completed this fall.