ST. GEORGE — Mountain bikers may soon be able to pedal through wilderness areas if a new bill proposed by U.S. Sen. Mike Lee passes.
The Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act would give local wilderness managers the power to decide whether to allow bikers to travel through wilderness areas. If wilderness managers do not make a decision on which routes to open within two years, all routes within their jurisdiction would automatically open for bikers.
“The National Wilderness Preservation System was created so that the American people could enjoy our country’s priceless natural areas,” said Lee, the Utah Republican. “This bill would enrich Americans’ enjoyment of the outdoors by expanding recreational opportunities in wilderness areas.”
Areas that would be affected by this bill include lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Forest Service or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
As a mountain bike guide in Southern Utah, Jake Weber said in a statement for the Sustainable Trails Coalition that he would be in favor of Lee’s proposal.
“Hooray for a common-sense bill being introduced in the Senate that will allow local land managers to manage their designated public lands as they understand them best,” Weber said. “Lee is listening to his constituents. While we may not agree on everything, we can agree that bikes belong. They always have.”
Not everyone is happy with Lee’s proposal. Freddy Dunn, an equestrian from St. George who is also the president of the Back Country Horsemen of America, said she would be against a bill allowing bikes in wilderness areas.
“Many bicyclists go at high speeds with earbuds in their ears and they wouldn’t necessarily hear or see a string of horses, particularly in the wilderness where people go and take pack strings,” Dunn said. “A pack string rack on a mountain trail that has a 300-foot drop on one side could potentially be very, very dangerous for both the bicyclist and the horses or mules.”
As the law stands now under the 1964 Wilderness Act, all forms of “mechanical transport” through designated wilderness areas is banned. While this mainly includes cars, vehicles like bikes and hang gliders were also banned. Lee’s bill would remove the blanket ban on bicycles.
“We’re against any amendment to the Wilderness Act of 1964,” Dunn said. “Once you allow an amendment for something as important as the Wilderness Act, it opens the door and sets precedents for other things.”
Wilderness lands are defined as “area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain,” according to the 1964 Wilderness Act. In southwestern Utah, these wilderness lands include the Beaver Dam Mountains Wilderness, Zion Wilderness, Red Mountain Wilderness, LaVerkin Creek Wilderness and Pine Valley Mountain Wilderness.
Lee’s bill won’t create any additional routes or trails for bikers through wilderness lands. Mountain bikers will have to use the existing routes through the land.
Trails would open to nonmotorized, human-powered travel, letting agency staff observe the result. They would still be able to restrict or prohibit mountain biking, just as they can other recreational activities. After the two-year window for local wilderness managers to make a decision, they can still decide to open and close routes.
Under Lee’s bill, local wilderness managers can also determine rules like requiring a permit for mountain bikers, limiting group size, regulating the time of day or time of year routes will be open for bikers, or requiring speed limits.
Rachel Carnahan, a public affairs specialist for the Bureau of Land Management, said policy prevented BLM officials from commenting on drafted or proposed legislation.
Lee’s bill is similar to one currently pending in the House of Representatives by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-California. McClintock’s bill would similarly allow local wilderness managers to determine if bikes should be allowed in designated wilderness lands.
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