The Inertia

No Bikes Allowed: How the Wilderness Act Closed Some of America’s Best Trails

Screenshot: Bike Magazine


The Inertia

“Does America need wilderness?” asks Bike editor Vernon Felton. “Hell yeah, America needs wilderness.” But America does not merely need wilderness; it needs access to said wilderness as well — after all, it is only through a healthy relationships with our environment that we learn how to further grow and evolve with the environment and in the bigger picture, Earth.

The discussion surrounding the Wilderness Act and its subsequent bills along with the effect it has on the land and people they rule for is an important one. And it is important to point out that the discussion isn’t as black and white as many of us might perceive it to be, which is precisely the reason Bike magazine web editor Vernon Felton took advantage of a recent trip to the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains in Idaho and produced an informative short on the matter, which he calls Gathering Storm: The Bikes & Wilderness Story.

This is what serviceable journalism is all about. Not service journalism, mind you, but serviceable journalism — it is, above all, informative. We assume everybody reading this post is supportive, in one way or another, of conservation. But we also assume that most people don’t realize that any bills passed under the Wilderness Act ban biking. More so, we assume that most people don’t realize horseback riding is given free reign (read: on- and off-trail) even though many studies show that horseback riding has a more significant negative impact on the land than mountain biking does.

Then there is what we view as the biggest takeaway from this video. The problem with policy lies in the fact that it is, ultimately, about POLITICS; and this particular bill became about legacy. What makes it worse is that the public often follows course was said course is set, lending to an anticipatory nature to the trend — parts of Montana are now closing trails to mountain biking simply because they might one day be protected by the Wilderness Act.

Anyway, you’re obviously encouraged to develop and make your own opinion, but be sure to get all sides to the story before supporting more bills.

Screenshot: Bike Magazine

Screenshot: Bike Magazine

How did this video and effort come to be? Bike magazine offers up the backstory:

About a month ago we went to Idaho, at the invitation of IMBA, to ride some trails that would be closed to mountain biking forever by a potential wilderness designation. The primary goal, however, was to help draw attention to the fact that there was also an alternative to that closure on the table – a national monument proposal that would have protected nearly twice as much (591,800 acres, to be precise) land as the Wilderness bill without banning bikes.

The smart money said that the proposed wilderness bill wasn’t going anywhere. The bill’s sponsor, Idaho Senator Mike Simpson, had been trotting the thing through the halls of Congress for about 15 years and no one had bit on it yet. This, after all, is a Congress that can’t agree on damn near anything – the idea that a majority of both the House and Senate would agree to create a new wilderness? It seemed implausible.

But shit happens.

Within a couple of weeks of returning home, Simpson’s bill blew right through both houses and – presto – we got a new Wilderness, which is great, but we consequently lost some of the best mountain biking access known to man, which sucks.

Check out the video above. It shows everything I’m saying, but in a way that’s vastly more entertaining.

I want to say thanks to everyone who was willing to stick their necks out there and appear in the video – and I’m extending that to both the people I agree with and the people I find myself at odds with.

Our goal at Bike wasn’t to create a video that simply regurgitated one writer’s personal opinion. I’m not hiding the fact that I think the ban is poor public policy founded on prejudice rather than science. That said, there are a lot of people whom I respect and who either support this ban on bikes or believe in fighting it in ways I have trouble making peace with. Ultimately, we wanted to capture the thoughts of all these people so that you walk away from the Internet today better informed and aware of what is truly at stake here.

Cheers.

Vernon Felton

As mountain biker and Queen of Pain Rebecca Rusch offered up in her own experiences, it is time to “wake up and smell the coffee,” because this is PERSONAL, at least for anyone who enjoys the great outdoors. The first step? Education. The system, however dysfunctional, is there to stay, at least for the foreseeable future, so we need to learn how to play the game if we’re to protect our own, whatever your own happens to be.

Screenshot: Bike Magazine

Screenshot: Bike Magazine

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