Mountain Bike Race Faces Environmental Opposition

By Beacon Staff

Facing opposition from a well-known local environmentalist, the U.S. Forest Service is expected to make a decision within the next couple of weeks on a proposed mountain bike race near Whitefish.

The Forest Service is considering a proposed three-day mountain bike stage race, with time trials held on Whitefish Trail, followed by stages on roads and trails near Tally Lake and then on trails at Whitefish Mountain Resort’s Big Mountain.

Organizers Craig Prather and Matt Butterfield are promoting the race under the name Hellroaring Mountain Bike Stage Race, scheduled for Aug. 3-5. They are seeking a special-use permit from the Forest Service.

In a letter to Forest Service officials, Keith Hammer of the Swan View Coalition said his group has “grave reservations about the spread of high-speed mountain biking” and does not promote “sports of speed, which greatly increase the risk of negative encounters between people and wildlife.”

But since speed sports have already been established at Big Mountain through a special-use permit, Hammer doesn’t oppose holding bike races there. He is requesting that the entire Hellroaring Mountain Bike Stage Race be held at Big Mountain.

For that same reason, Hammer isn’t against a separate proposal under consideration by the Forest Service to expand the trail system at Big Mountain, provided that the Hellroaring race all other proposals for new bike trails and new bike races are redirected to Big Mountain.

“To put it bluntly,” Hammer wrote, “the Forest Service should not be issuing permits for activities that promote wrong-headed and risky behavior, such as mountain bike racing, outside the confines of a dedicated thrill-seeking area such as the developed portion of Big Mountain – and that itself is a compromise because Big Mountain is also important to and inhabited by wildlife.”

Tally Lake District Ranger Lisa Timchak made a preliminary determination that the proposal falls within a category of actions that are “excluded from documentation in an Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and there are no extraordinary circumstances that would preclude its use.”

“The concerns (Hammer) put forward were not concerns that were raised by our specialists going into the process,” Flathead National Forest spokesman Wade Muehlhof said last week.

Muehlhof said Hammer’s and all other public comments will be taken into consideration as Timchak prepares to make her final decision in the coming weeks. The public comment period came to a close at the end of May.

Prather notes that not only are mountain bikes already allowed in the Tally Lake area, so are motorcycles during late summer. In a letter to Hammer, Timchak said all of the routes involved in the race’s second day around Tally Lake consist of “roads and trails (that) are open to two-wheeled motorized travel during August, with the exception of Trail 801.”

“We’re doing it in an area that’s been designated to do these types of activities,” Prather.

Prather points out that Hammer also protested a proposed 100-mile ultra-marathon called the Swan Crest 100 in 2010.

“More than anything it makes me sad that Mr. Hammer chooses to discriminate against users in a way that he sees fit,” Prather said.

“I applaud what he’s trying to do in some ways – protect the outdoors,” Prather added. “We’re all trying to protect the outdoors. We have places you can get away from it all but we also need places for recreation. The people doing these activities are health oriented and love the outdoors.”

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.