Proposal Could Increase Bike Trails in National Parks

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS – A proposed rule that would make it easier for national parks to allow the use of mountain bikes on existing roads and trails will be open to public comment until Feb. 17.

The proposal, published Thursday in the Federal Register, has been hailed by riders but has drawn criticism from some conservation groups.

“We’ve been working on this for over a decade,” said Mike Van Abel of the Colorado-based International Mountain Biking Association. “We think it’s a good change.”

Van Abel said the current rule is geared toward more high-impact uses, such as those involved in motorized recreation. He added that his group of about 38,000 members has shown that on properly constructed trails, mountain bikers have the same effect as hikers.

But Tim Stevens of the National Parks Conservation Association in Livingston said the current rules have been in place since 1987 and are working well. He said he is concerned that areas recommended for wilderness — nearly 8 million acres in 30 parks — would be opened to bikes, which are prohibited in designated wilderness.

“There’s nothing in the plan to protect the wilderness quality of these lands,” said Stevens, who also is concerned about the effect bikers would have on sensitive wildlife species such as grizzly bears.

Van Abel said the IMBA has identified 24 national parks where mountain bike use would be appropriate. Those don’t include Yellowstone or Glacier national parks.

The proposed rule would require, “at a minimum, preparation of an Environmental Assessment for any decision to open existing hiking or horse trails to bicycles.”

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