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Bill proposes allowing mountain bikers to use wilderness land

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Proposed federal legislation that would amend the Wilderness Act is setting off alarms within the mountain biking and conservation communities.

HR 1349 and its sister amendment in the Senate come at a time when public lands are under attack by those seeking to reduce their size and open them to grazing, mining and drilling.

If passed, it would lift the blanket ban on bicycles, wheelchairs, strollers and other forms of mechanized transport in designated wilderness areas in place since 1984. Land managers in each area then would decide whether to open access or keep trails closed to bicyclists.

The amendment was approved 22-18 by the House Committee on Natural Resources, moving it to the full House.

‘RESTORING’ THE WILDERNESS ACT

In Colorado, 40 wilderness areas cover over 3.7 million acres, including the Lost Creek Wilderness in Park and Jefferson counties. These areas generally are remote, removed from urban traffic and the quiet, backcountry experience many Coloradans seek.

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The Colorado Trail runs through six of them, forcing mountain bikers to leave the trail and use major roads — some of which don’t have bike lanes — to detour around the restricted area.

These types of landscapes are ones that Ted Stroll, president of the Sustainable Trails Coalition, hopes land managers can open. Others, like the Maroon Bells during peak summertime, might be better off closed, he said.

The Sustainable Trails Coalition, a nonprofit formed in 2015 aimed at pushing the bill through Congress, argues that the amendment restores the original intent of the 1964 Wilderness Act.

“Wilderness is about rugged and self-reliant recreation,” said Stroll. “Backcountry biking is just that, so we see this as restoring rather than amending the act.”

Some members of the outdoors community think otherwise, arguing that bicyclists’ fast pace disrupts hikers’ quiet solitude, they degrade the trails and natural environment and the overall aesthetic…

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