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Mountain bike trail planned in Big Bend National Park

Hiking in Big Bend National Park. PHOTO COURTESY THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE.

Backers and critics are rallying their troops for public comment

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — In a potentially precedent-setting move, Big Bend National Park is pushing to build a single-track trail designed for mountain bikes in its undeveloped backcountry.

The project is a collaboration between the south Texas national park and a private mountain biking group, raising disturbing “pay-to-play” questions about user groups carving out park lands for special purposes, according to comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

The environmental assessment for the 10-mile trail and associated parking lot is open for public comment through April 2, 2011. Most of the backcountry trail would be single-track — about the width of a bike, with one-way traffic moving counter clockwise. Horses would be barred from the trail.

IMBA is urging mountain bikers to submit comments in support of the plan. The group says it would create a good multiple use trail, with few additional impacts, and says mountain biking is an appropriate use in the non-wilderness section of the park.

The expanded mountain biking opportunities would enhance recreational opportunities for visitors and bring economic gains for nearby communities and complement existing biking opportunities including an IMBA Epic ride.

Visit the IMBA website for more info.

“Big Bend calls this a ‘multi-use’ trail but it is clearly designed for high-speed, high-thrill biking. Any hikers foolish enough to venture on this path risk tread marks across their backs,” said PEER executive director Jeff Ruch, noting that the EA dryly concedes “some visitors might not enjoy their experience sharing the proposed trail with mountain bikers.”

“We are not anti-mountain biking but are concerned that scarce public dollars may be diverted to promote exclusionary recreation scratched out of national park backcountry,” Ruch said.

Other concerns identified by PEER in its comments:

•    This would be the first trail constructed from scratch on undeveloped park land to accommodate mountain bicycles.  A pending rule change, also supported by the International Mountain Bicycling Association, would open millions of acres of national park backcountry, including recommended wilderness, to mountain bike trails;
•    Big Bend already has 200 miles of trails and roads open to mountain biking and there are another 900 miles of bike-accessible trails and roads on state and private lands surrounding Big Bend. Thus, there appears to be no need for this project except for the precedent it sets;
•    This trail would be expensive to maintain and vulnerable to high erosion. Yet Big Bend, like other national parks, has a sizeable backlog of maintenance needs on existing facilities; and
•    While the proposed trail is not in designated wilderness, the project would likely preclude its eventual designation as wilderness.

“The plan at Big Bend is without precedent in the national park system,” added Ruch, who is urging members of the public to send comments to Big Bend National Park said the next two weeks. “This is part of the steady degradation of our parks into settings for thrill sports rather than preserves for enjoyment of natural and cultural features.”

Currently, bicycles are allowed on park roads, dirt or paved, as well as on trails in developed areas, such as the South Rim Village at the Grand Canyon. Backcountry trails are generally reserved for hikers and horseback riders. IMBA began its campaign to gain access to national parks trails in 2002.

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10 Responses

  1. So mountain biking is exclusionary, but horseback riding is not?

    • And mountain bikes cause a lot less damage than a horse. But it’s all about preservation of land…yeah right! I’m not against horse use, but seriously the same tired, unfounded arguments against mountain bikes are getting a little long in the tooth.

  2. I find the PEER comments completely hyperbolic and without merit: High speed, high thrill?

    I don’t know much about this proposal, but what sticks out here is that allowing bikes in wilderness would enable projects to be more thoughtfully designed and considered for ALL users. Since Wilderness precludes bikes for reasons having little to do with impacts and more to do with the hysteria from spokespeople like PEER, mtb advocates are forced to carve out areas for mtb trails.

    And yet rather than allow this in “areas that are not wilderness” the claim is to prevent it because someday they may want it to be wilderness.

    Seems totally unproductive and counter-intuitive for both groups to attempt to carve out areas simply due to a dated rule and some hyperbole.

  3. I think this is a great step forward. mountain bikes make far less of an impact on the land than other activities allow in National Parks like Snowmobiling and jeeping.

    The biggest problem with mountain bikers is when they encounter other users on the trail. A MTB specific, or at least a multi use trail like this eliminate that problem.

  4. “This trail would be expensive to maintain and vulnerable to high erosion. Yet Big Bend, like other national parks, has a sizeable backlog of maintenance needs on existing facilities;”

    I’m betting local mountain bikers would gladly provide volunteer maintenance.

    • I know for a fact the local mt. contingent in terlingua town cannot keep up with the over 200 miles of single track just outside the national park. how are they going to take care of the parks additional trails too? the mt. bike trails in and around terlingua are excellent. the desing in the park is not great. why build a not so great trail? other motives?

  5. It is sad how much deceptive rhetoric is rallied by National Park Employees when Mountain Bikes are mentioned in a National Park. There is little point, and an offensive backhanded presumption to quote the roads available to bikes. We want singletrack. We want a primitive experience segregated from automobiles and other motorized vehicles. We have advocated in responsible ways for some time with little evidence of progress in the National Parks. A quote on the trails open to bikes would be more appropriate. This “employee” of our National Parks system obviously demonstrates the discriminatory personal perspective that bikes regularly run over other trail users. I want just one documented case presented in leu of this character assassination. This quote is revealing:

    “Big Bend calls this a ‘multi-use’ trail but it is clearly designed for high-speed, high-thrill biking. Any hikers foolish enough to venture on this path risk tread marks across their backs,” said PEER executive director Jeff Ruch, noting that the EA dryly concedes “some visitors might not enjoy their experience sharing the proposed trail with mountain bikers.”

    The prejudice and assumption are obvious. Has PEER actually polled all National Park Employees on this position? Or do a small minority make a lot of noise, instead of intelligent comment? Jeff Ruch, or such public employees are responsible for the quasi nazi treatment of Mountain Bikers in Yosemite. I have not been in the Park once of twenty visits without some ranger telling me to “keep off all trails”. It seems an unwritten policy of the National Parks is that there is only Wilderness and
    Winnabegos. Mountain Bikes have not been addressed properly in the Parks after almost 30 years.

    The National Parks were established to “Preserve for the enjoyment of the people.” Jeff only wants his kind. Maybe we should close a few National Parks (wilderness country clubs). There would be fewer Public Employees who hate the public having a little fun.

    The presumption this would disallow future wilderness also tells us what Jeff really wants: all trails in wilderness. And bikes can go play in the traffic on overused roads.

    • have you ever even been in big bend to understand what you are talking about? there are over 200 miles of single track mt. bike trails in the gateway communities of terlingua and lajitas that offers excellent riding. check it out.

  6. As both a mountain biker AND a hiker, I have to say I find the idea of “shared use” a little impractical. I’ve been on too many trails where people are doing both, and it’s hard as a biker to get around hikers, and nerve-wracking as a hiker to have bikes bearing down on you from behind. Just like it’s not much fun to hike on a horseback riding trail with all the piles of you-know-what.

  7. There was a study done by the Wisconsin DNR and the UW Madison that was completed 1996. The study for the most part pointed out that Mountain biking did the least amount of damage per pass on the trail tread and much less than Horseback riders and hikers. Thanks to the politics in play wiith hikers its pretty much impossible to find it online. Its common name is the Al Bjorkman study 1996. A select few still have the paper copies.

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