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.
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.
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.
- Wilderness Act, An Act to Establish a National Wilderness Preservation System for the Permanent Good of the Whole People, and for Other Purposes, Public Law 88-577, subsection 2(a), 16 U.S.C. 1131(a), September 3, 1964
- An Act to Establish a National Wilderness Preservation System for the Permanent Good of the Whole People, and for Other Purposes, Public Law 88-577, subsection 4(c), 16 U.S.C. 1133(c), September 3, 1964
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