Letter to the Editor: Mountain bikers are mainstay of St. George lifestyle, so are wilderness hikers

OPINION — Another battle is brewing on Capitol Hill, one that has immediate implications for St. George and the surrounding wild country where you enjoy outdoor recreation. Some want to allow mountain bikes into our wilderness areas — even though so much more federal land is available for that use.

I love to come from Seattle, Washington, to hike in Zion Canyon. Recently, I enjoyed a great hike in the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area. Next time, I’ll rent a mountain bike. I want to bike, and not just on the “multiple use trails” in town as described in Kristine Crandall’s April 15 Road Respect column.


Read more: Road Respect: A cyclist’s dilemma – Ride the multiuse trail or the road?


Like all of Utah, outdoor recreation is a growing part of the economy of St. George. In data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report on St. George, leisure and hospitality jobs have increased steadily for the past five years.  Add in professional and business services and information, and we are talking about nearly 27,000 jobs — 45 percent of the St. George community’s total nonfarm employment. 

But you don’t need statistics; you see this every day around town. Visitors like me are a big part of the success of your small businesses. Ka-ching go the cash registers in my hotel, gas stations and eateries.

Doug Scott, who submitted the letter to editor of St. George News publishing May 6, 2016. Scott is shown in this 2015 photo in the proposed Scotchman Peak wilderness area, on national forest land in far northwestern Montana, circa fall 2015 | Photo Courtesy of Doug Scott, St. George News
Doug Scott, who submitted the letter to editor of St. George News publishing May 6, 2016. Scott is shown in this 2015 photo in the proposed Scotchman Peak wilderness area, on national forest land in far northwestern Montana, circa fall 2015 | Photo Courtesy of Doug Scott, St. George News

I’m a wilderness guy —- my visits to St. George have been to give talks to a training session for federal rangers about the history of America’s wilderness preservation program. Those 60 participants rang your cash registers too, transferring federal dollars into your economy.

I get it that wilderness areas aren’t for everyone. Some prefer not to backpack or kayak, preferring the local walking and biking trails. Some just like the wild scenery close at hand.

In my long career lobbying for protection of more wilderness areas across America, I worked with members of Congress of both parties, including Republican Sen. James Buckley from Manhattan, older brother of the conservative commentator William F. Buckley Jr.

In a 1972 speech, William F. Buckley Jr. said, “Millions view these areas of undeveloped land from the edges and in the experiences of viewing these great expanses, probe with their minds and senses the vastness of the landscape.”

I am often one of those, including through airplane windows.

I want to ride along the boundary of the 11,600-acre Cottonwood Canyon Wilderness Area. Led by the Utah delegation, Congress designated this wilderness area and others in 2009. In the same law, it established the surrounding Red Cliffs National Conservation Area to enhance “ecological, scenic, wildlife, recreational, cultural, historical, natural, educational, and scientific resources.”

Now, a tiny faction of the mountain biking community want to get their bikes into our wilderness areas to ride those quiet trails now reserved only for those on foot or horseback. This would be illegal.

Congress passed the Wilderness Act “in order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States ….” (I’ve added the emphasis.)

The 1964 law protected wilderness areas from a list of conflicting uses:

there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, (and) no other form of mechanical transport. (I’ve added the emphasis.)

The leaders of the Sustainable Trails Coalition are telling Congress that these words don’t mean what they say, that Congress intended to allow mountain bikes. Magical! Mountain bikes weren’t put into mass distribution for 17 years after Congress enacted those words the Wilderness Act. 

What a waste of time! Utah has 1,150,000 acres of wilderness areas — and 34,000,000 acres of national parks, national forests and other federal lands.  Thus, 33 percent of these lands are not in wilderness areas. Mountain bikers have the great majority of the lands for their adventures.

Submitted by Doug Scott, Seattle, Washington.

Doug Scott is a retired lobbyist who worked to persuade Congress to preserve more national parks, wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas, including in New England. His third book, “Wild Thoughts: Short Selections by Great Writers about Nature, Wilderness, and the People Who Protect Them” will be published in June.

Letters to the Editor are not the product or opinion of St. George News. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them.

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8 Comments

  • KarenS May 6, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    Our family loves to hike and mountain bike. We always stay on designated trails but in some areas the designated wilderness sections completely block off what would be a contiguous trail and for no good reason. There are many examples of this along the Continental Divide Trail. Mountain bikers (of which there are few since the trail is so rugged) have to exit the trail to skirt around the wilderness areas.

    I was not familiar with the Sustainable Trails Coalition but after reading their purpose I think they make a lot of sense. Basically they are saying, “just as we are against a blanket ban on all human powered travel, we are not in favor of a blanket permit. We simply want to see more rational and reasonable rules to insure that America’s trail network can be enjoyed by all and is sustainable for future generations.”

    As far as the Red Cliffs National Recreation Area in St. George, we think there are adequate trail designations for mountain bikes and hikers and equestrians. We just don’t want more trails blocked to mountain bikers.

    A vastly more concerning issue with everyone who enjoys the public lands should be the effort to “take back” public lands and let the states and local governments administer them. As has been demonstrated in history, most of those lands become private property, locking everyone out of them. Fighting that effort should be the focus of everyone who loves what the west has to offer.

    • Roy J May 6, 2016 at 2:33 pm

      Yep. Only a colossal fool would think that the current trend of ‘privatizing’ public land in the West is somehow going to benefit the public. One needs look no further than the recent Koch Bros purchases in Idaho, and immediate closures to the public. It’s not a return to your roots, family farming movement, not be any means.

      • mesaman May 7, 2016 at 10:45 am

        At least we have your opinion to back us up, right? Methinks the colossal fool has a liberal, democrat’s opinion.

        • Roy J May 7, 2016 at 4:57 pm

          Yes, that’s exactly right. The alternative, of course, is patient, focused, and applied study to the historic data available, which would have clued you in that such an expression was neither liberal, nor democrat.

  • Maxwell May 6, 2016 at 6:17 pm

    Well said, KarenS. There are some serious threats to Wilderness and Doug Scott from Seattle wants to focus on bicyclists who otherwise would stand tall with others to protect these places.

    There’s a good chance it was Doug Scott who succeeded in getting bicycles prohibited 20 years after the Wilderness Act was passed. I can see why he wants to protect his legacy.

    https://www.facebook.com/SustainableTrailsCoalition/photos/pb.741640965944704.-2207520000.1462580139./801528266622640/?type=3&theater

  • .... May 6, 2016 at 7:53 pm

    Screw them people That land belongs to me as much as it does the feds and I go wherever I want when it comes to hiking or biking

    • RealMcCoy May 7, 2016 at 11:10 am

      dotboy, you’ve already confessed to several felonies involving wildlife. If you want to add ‘domestic terrorist’ to the list, be my guest.
      Just remember what breaking federal laws got the guys in Oregon.
      Watch out for roadblocks! ‘LOL’

  • SmokeMirrors May 12, 2016 at 2:16 pm

    “… there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, (and) no other form of mechanical transport.”

    Doug Scott is telling you that these words mean what he wants them to mean rather than what they were intended to mean by the people who wrote them. What Doug Scott is not telling you is that there are contemporary examples (from around 1964 rather than 2016) that make it quite clear that the originators of the Wilderness concept and the authors of the 1964 Wilderness Act were, in their own words, concerned about mechanical and other interventions such as:

    Roads for motor vehicles
    Radios
    Railroads, Cog Roads, Funiculars, Cableways, etc
    Graded Trails
    Ski Trails – allowed in wilderness zones and restricted wild areas as long as they are less than eight feet wide. Skiing allowed anywhere on ordinary trails
    Foot Bridges – allowed if built logs, stone, and dirt.
    Logging Operations
    Power Lines
    Water-power developments and irrigation projects
    Airplanes, motor boats
    Telephones, Lookout and ranger cabins, fire towers – only when absolutely necessary or already existing
    Beacon Towers
    Cabins and Shelters – Permitted sparingly
    Sheep and Cattle Grazing – could be grandfathered where already present
    Fences – for grazing and erosion control
    Erosion Control – when necessary to undo faulty land use
    Insect Control – in emergencies.

    Is the real picture getting more clear now? Is it not apparent that they were focused on things that would leave permanent alteration, unnatural impact, scars, noise and pollution? The bicycle doesn’t qualify for that list any more than mechanical ski bindings, oar locks and a myriad of other high-tech mechanical technologies that we routinely allow in Wilderness. Doug Scott just doesn’t want to see a bicycle during his personally preferred Wilderness experience. That’s fine. Let’s make sure he has some places in Wilderness where he can have exactly the experience he wants. It’s just that 110 million acres is too selfish a number.

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