15 November 2010

Off Road Bike Touring and Wilderness Restrictions

So this is what's occurring on the Olympic Peninsula: increasing the Wilderness areas...

Is this a good thing or not?

A secret place in the Olympics...
While on the surface a Wilderness designation provides certain protection for some areas, the continued inclusion of mountain biking in the "prohibited motors & mechanical transport" category prevents me from supporting any movement to take away access. I've seen this happen too many times in the past 30 years and until the criteria consider bikes as lawful users in Wilderness, we will never be on the same footing as horsepacking, hunting and other uses. It is simply not fair or equitable to those of us who are truly devoted to wild places and yet shunned from them.

With the increase in off-road bicycle touring (like the Great Divide Route and others), it seems a most natural fit to have the access across areas in a continuous manner so one could actually go from Lake Cushman to Hurricane Ridge area or along the West End without running into barriers or laws that prevent movement. Arguments that the mountain bike community is getting what they want through exempted trails is just for those who drive motor vehicles to the trails and unload their bikes for a few short hours of riding, it does not address off-road touring by bicycle at all.

What about those who ride into the Olympics or want to camp and tour by bike off-road on the closed old logging roads? Will we be prevented from crossing into Wilderness because we are "mechanical transport" by some archaic law? Crossing the drainages in the Olympics is difficult enough without adding additional barriers to connect the entire Olympic Peninsula as a continuous circular bike touring route seem short-sighted and not economically sound. Why shut down a possible revenue generator for the small, rural communities along the way? Less and less people are taking long backpacking trips into the backcountry, but "bike-packing" is increasing. Shouldn't we make our decisions based on trends that will benefit the most in the future?

I am opposed to any additional Wilderness designation on the Olympic Peninsula until bikes are removed from the out-dated Wilderness law that include them with quads, motorcycles, etc. Getting a few trails exempted does nothing for a bike-packer or our local economy. Evergreen MBA and the Wild Olympics Coalition don't want to take on the onerous legislative task of trying to change a federal law (will IMBA?) - but do we want to lose access for a complete Olympic MTB Route like the GDMBR in the future?

How can we make this work?