PRESS RELEASE: The Sustainable Trails Coalition applauds Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) for introducing the Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act. Co-sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Senator Lee introduced bill S.3205, on July 13, 2016.
“Our National Wilderness Preservation System was created so that the American people could enjoy the solitude and recreational opportunities of this continent’s priceless natural areas,” states Senator Lee, “This bill would enrich Americans’ enjoyment of the outdoors by making it easier for them to mountain bike in wilderness areas.” Senator Lee further expanded upon his comments on his official website.
“Utah is blessed with an abundance of beautiful wilderness, and Americans should be free to enjoy it,” offers Senator Hatch, “This bill presents a reasonable approach to allowing the use of mountain bikes on trails and grant federal land managers the ability to do necessary maintenance.”
In 1984, with minimal public input, the Forest Service overturned a longstanding regulation allowing locally based federal employees to decide where bicycles could be ridden in Wilderness areas, replacing it with a nationwide blanket ban. Other agencies followed, the last in 2000. This ruling also prohibits agency field staffs from using many small-scale, hand-held maintenance tools in those areas. Both policies run counter to the intent of Congress when the Wilderness Act of 1964 was passed.
The result of these mistakes is an American public increasingly disconnected from wild places, the opposite of Congress’s intent in passing the Wilderness Act in 1964. Many Wilderness trails have disappeared or have deteriorated to the point that few try to use them. On the trails that remain, human-powered travelers are limited to certain types of walking. The agencies have even banned forms of walking, including for example parents with baby strollers.
“Senator Lee’s bill will modify outdated blanket bans on human-powered travel and relieve a worsening situation,” says STC board member Ted Stroll. “The Forest Service in particular continues to impose bans on mountain biking. These bans drive cyclists away even as the Forest Service admits it cannot maintain trails and needs volunteers to do the maintenance it no longer performs.”
The Sustainable Trails coalition notes that Federally designated Wilderness areas are now ten times the size they were when the Wilderness Act was signed into law in 1964, an area roughly the size of California and Maryland combined. The groups thousands of members contend that a blanket ban not based upon scientific or environmental reasons is a regulatory mistake requiring reversal. Bill S3205 provides on-scene federal land managers the authority to decide on human-powered travel on local Wilderness trails, as was the case as recently as the year 2000 in some Wilderness areas.