National Park Plans Trail Designed for Mountain Bikes

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National Park Plans Trail Designed for Mountain Bikes

Unprecedented “Pay-to-Play” Deal Gives Private Bike Group Backcountry Access

Washington, DC — In a precedent-setting move, Big Bend National Park is pushing to build a single-track trail designed for mountain bikes in its undeveloped backcountry.  The project is a collaboration between the south Texas national park and a private mountain biking group, raising disturbing “pay-to-play” questions about user groups carving out park lands for special purposes, according to comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The Environmental Assessment (EA) for the 10-mile trail and associated parking lot is open for public comment through April 2, 2011.  Most of the backcountry trail would be single-track – approximately the width of a bike, with one-way traffic moving counter clockwise.  Horses would be barred from the trail.

“Big Bend calls this a ‘multi-use’ trail but it is clearly designed for high-speed, high-thrill biking.  Any hikers foolish enough to venture on this path risk tread marks across their backs,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the EA dryly concedes “some visitors might not enjoy their experience sharing the proposed trail with mountain bikers.”  “We are not anti-mountain biking but are concerned that scarce public dollars may be diverted to promote exclusionary recreation scratched out of national park backcountry.”  Other concerns include –

  • This would be the first trail constructed from scratch on undeveloped park land to accommodate mountain bicycles.   A pending rule change, also supported by the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), would open millions of acres of national park backcountry, including recommended wilderness, to mountain bike trails;
  • Big Bend already has 200 miles of trails and roads open to mountain biking and there are another 900 miles of bike-accessible trails and roads on state and private lands surrounding Big Bend.  Thus, there appears to be no need for this project except for the precedent it sets ;
  • This trail would be expensive to maintain and vulnerable to high erosion.  Yet Big Bend, like other national parks, has a sizeable backlog of maintenance needs on existing facilities; and
  • While the proposed trail is not in designated wilderness, the project would likely preclude its eventual designation as wilderness.

“The plan at Big Bend is without precedent in the national park system,” added Ruch, who is urging members of the public to send comments to Big Bend National Park during the next two weeks.  “This is part of the steady degradation of our parks into settings for thrill sports rather than preserves for enjoyment of natural and cultural features.”

Currently, bicycles are allowed on park roads, dirt or paved, as well as on trails in developed areas, such as the South Rim Village at the Grand Canyon.  Backcountry trails are generally reserved for hikers and horseback riders. IMBA began its campaign to gain access to national parks trails in 2002.

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