America needs wilderness. In an era of ‘clean coal,’ tar sands and fracking our environment can use all the help it can get. The United States is a massive chunk of dirt, true, but once you account for all the private property, cities, roads, shopping malls and suburban sprawl, what you really have is a hodgepodge of fragmented and fragile ecosystems. The Wilderness Act tries to stave off that problem by preserving lands in their wild and pristine state. That’s a great thing.
What’s not so great, however, is that, since 1984, the Wilderness Act has also been used to kick mountain bikes off of public lands. And not because mountain biking has ever been proven to have more of an impact than other trail users; for the record, it never has. Instead, bikes were banned in `84, and continue to be banned today, because a faction of hikers and horseback riders simply don’t like mountain bikers. They don’t like the way we dress. They don’t like our bikes. They fundamentally don’t like the fact that we appreciate the outdoors differently than they do.
News flash: Not liking someone isn’t actually solid grounds for mistreating them. They teach you this in kindergarten. They attempt to teach you this in church on Sunday. Hell, our very constitution is framed around the idea that the minority shouldn’t be tyrannized by the majority. Of course, America has shit the bed on that proposition plenty of times before, but you know, it doesn’t mean we should simply roll over and stop trying.
To that end, let me propose the following: Let’s ban the ban on mountain bikes in wilderness areas. Right now mountain bikers in Montana are getting hosed. They’re losing miles of trail even though the Forest Service can’t offer up a shred of proof that bikes are having any negative impact there. I may have lost you with the constitution talk earlier, but here’s the bottom line–we keep losing trail with no justification beyond “I don’t like the color of your shorts.”
That’s bullshit. We need to demand more. We need to stand up and push for a change.
HOW DID WE GET HERE…
The Wilderness Act was passed in 1964. Today, there are 762 wilderness areas in 44 states comprising nearly 110 million acres. Alaska, California, Arizona, Idaho and Washington are home to the biggest chunks of wilderness. Nearly 12 million people visit Wilderness areas each year–you just can’t do so on a mountain bike.
Mountain bikes weren’t originally banned by the Wilderness Act; they didn’t, to be fair, exist at the time. The act explicitly prohibited motorized transport. In 1984, the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society, however, convinced the U.S. Forest Service to publish a regulation explicitly prohibiting mountain bikes, essentially broadening the prohibition from motorized to mechanized transport. The other government agencies that also manage wilderness areas (the BLM, the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service) followed the Forest Service’s lead.