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Know the West

Mountain bikers go wild



Environmentalists hoping to create a 37,000-acre Badlands Wilderness Area about 20 miles east of Bend, Ore., got a tremendous boost in February, when the local mountain bike group endorsed the proposal.

Because bicycles are banned from wilderness areas, many mountain bikers are lukewarm, at best, about proposals to create more wilderness. But the biker-run Central Oregon Trail Alliance worked with environmentalists in the Oregon Natural Desert Association to customize the wilderness proposal, says Phil Meglasson, a biker who was among the first to develop trails around Bend. That meant dropping from the proposal one small section of trail that is popular among cyclists.

"We need the wilderness because a lot of places in Bend are becoming overused," says Meglasson, a member of the trails alliance. "Even though we get cut out of the wilderness, mountain bikers support this proposal."

Opposition continues among off-highway vehicle users, but Bill Marlett, executive director of the Oregon Natural Desert Association, says the bikers' endorsement underscores the widespread support of the proposal. "This is something the (Bureau of Land Management) will have to listen to," he says.

Even with growing support, however, Oregon's congressional representatives are hesitant to introduce a Badlands wilderness bill. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has expressed interest in the area, but has not committed to pursuing legislation. Environmentalists say they will maintain pressure on lawmakers — for years, if necessary — to convince them to create the Badlands wilderness.