Forest Service Approves Protested Whitefish Mountain Bike Race

By Beacon Staff

The U.S. Forest Service has issued a decision allowing a special-use permit for an August mountain bike stage race in the Whitefish area despite opposition from a local environmental group.

In a decision letter dated June 22, Tally Lake District Ranger Lisa Timchak determined the Reid Divide Bicycle Race Project, billed by promoters as the Hellroaring Mountain Bike Stage Race, has no “extraordinary circumstances” that would require an environmental impact statement or environmental assessment.

The Hellroaring Mountain Bike Stage Race is scheduled for Aug. 3-5 with separate stages on Whitefish Trail, trails near Tally Lake and trails at Whitefish Mountain Resort. Craig Prather and Matt Butterfield of Great Northern Cycles in Whitefish are the race’s organizers.

Keith Hammer of the Swan View Coalition had asked the Forest Service to conduct an environmental assessment that “fully assess the impacts of the conduct and spread of thrill-seeking speed sports on the Flathead National Forest,” including “free-ride biking and mountain bike racing.”

In a May 24 letter to the Forest Service, Hammer said his environmental group has “grave reservations about the spread of high-speed mountain biking” and asserted that such speed sports “greatly increase the risk of negative encounters between people and wildlife.”

Hammer requested that the Forest Service hold all three stages of the race – and future races – on the bike trails at Whitefish Mountain Resort, saying speed sports have already been established there through a special-use permit.

Instead the Forest Service granted the race as proposed, allowing the three stages to be held in separate areas. The agency’s decision notes that the race’s route near Tally Lake consists of roads and trails already open to bicycles and, in most cases, motorcycles.

The decision also states that part of the rationale for holding a “stage” race is to allow for a range of “terrain, challenges, distances, and trail types.” Whitefish Mountain Resort trails “are limited to a single uphill route, with the remainder being downhill or ‘free ride’ trails.”

The Forest Service found no significant concerns for conflicts between racers and wildlife, and stated “it is not necessarily true” that competitive racers “are more reckless or less mindful of their surroundings” than regular bicyclists.

Also, the agency says racers will travel in a “relatively short pulse, or group,” and “evidence suggests that group travel reduces the likelihood of wildlife encounters.”

“We have not received any reports since the advent of backcountry bicycling that any bicyclists or wildlife have been injured during a wildlife-bicyclist encounter on the Tally Lake Ranger District.”

Now that he has final approval, Prather said he will post more information about the race at www.greatnortherncycles.com, including links for registration and the race’s format.

“We’re really excited,” Prather said. “We hope to make this an annual event and hopefully build it to the point that it’s really a crowning showpiece for the area.”

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