If you haven't already heard the news, nearly 600,000 acres of public land in Idaho just became federally protected Wilderness, meaning no more access for certain human-powered transport such as mountain bikes. The Boulder-White Clouds is one of Idaho's most treasured areas and has been legal for human-powered recreation for generations, until now. This is just the latest addition to a broken system that selectively excludes tax paying citizens from more than 100 million acres of federal Wilderness, ultimately reducing the quality and upkeep of the trails in those "protected" areas.
These pristine views of the East Fork of the Salmon River would be off limits if a new Wilderness provision passes in Idaho (click to enlarge). Photo by Ed Cannady
To help stop the bleeding of trail access, the Sustainable Trails Coalition is on a mission to raise upwards of $100,000 to help fix America's trail system. The current federal policies in place - like the Wilderness Act - are well intended, yet flawed. A blanket ban on bicycles is a discriminatory blockage on one of the fastest growing groups of human-powered trail users in this country.
In a time where childhood obesity is at an all-time high and where mountain towns struggle to maintain tourism-based economies, any legislation that excludes human-powered transport from public lands hurts U.S. citizens, and hurts the trails we're allegedly trying to protect, as less usage means less maintenance, and ultimately, a trail disappearing for good.
Not even wheelbarrows are allowed in federally protected Wilderness, making trail maintenance extremely difficult (click to enlarge). Photo courtesy Sustainable Trails Coalition
Adding to the hypocrisy, under current laws, federal land managers aren't even able to use basic maintenance tools like chainsaws or wheelbarrows to maintain trails in Wilderness areas. The very laws that were created to allegedly protect public lands are the same laws preventing them from being used and maintained.
The STC is not trying to turn a blanket ban into a blanket permit, but instead change the current regulations that were created more than 50 years ago when America's population was a fraction of what it is today. There are certain places where human-powered recreation isn't a good idea, but there are literally millions of acres of land where activities such as mountain biking are the most ideal and efficient means of human-powered recreation and transportation.
Times have changed, and rigid, inflexible and antiquated laws that forbid low-impact outdoor recreation on public lands need to change as well. Every American citizen has a right to enjoy human-powered recreation in their own way without the government or special interest groups creating blanket bans on how we choose to enjoy our public lands.
Continue to page 2 to read why the Angry Singlespeeder wants you to donate to the STC now »
More kids on bikes is good for society, but blanket bans on public lands can discourage youth cycling in mountain communities (click to enlarge). Photo courtesy Sustainable Trails Coalition
So why should we pledge money to the STC, a new organization many have never heard of? Because the STC plans to directly lobby congress to overturn these archaic and discriminatory policies against human-powered transport.
"The key chairpersons of the senate and house committees that control the US Forest Service, National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management budgets like the idea of people being able to access public lands; they are not ideologically subscribed to blocking off wilderness," said Ted Stroll, STC president and a lawyer with more than 20 years of trail advocacy experience. "Our mission is to directly lobby these key people. But it will take about a year to lay the groundwork, so we need to get the ball rolling by the beginning of September."
Because we are on the cusp of a presidential election year, the climate in Washington, D.C. is favorable to support a change in restrictive policies on public lands, but there needs to be a voice like the STC that will step in and lead that charge.
Of course, this approach is not without risk. Because the STC will be lobbying elected officials who control the budgets of the Forest Service, National Parks and BLM, should the STC fail to succeed, it could potentially harm the relationships organizations such as the International Mountain Bicycling Association have worked many years to establish with these government entities. But the STC is not IMBA; it's an independent organization that wants to take a different approach to gaining equal backcountry access. And as five-time Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater and 1964 presidential candidate once said, "…moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."
The STC approach has worked in the past, including a monumental 2008 decision that restored Second Amendment rights for individuals in Washington, D.C. to own a gun in the name of self-defense. Despite the opposition of what many would think would be their biggest ally - the National Rifle Association - a small group of philosophically dedicated lawyers took a risk against the NRA's wishes and were victorious in the decision of D.C. v. Heller.
According to Stroll, the STC has a thought-out strategy developed with two seasoned lobbyists with nearly 50 years collective experience on Capitol Hill. Although there is no guarantee, the lobbyists feel there is a very realistic chance of success in overturning some of the most restrictive policies against human-powered transport in Wilderness areas. The STC has the right people in place to make this happen, but a professional reform campaign needs fuel - aka money - to do its work.
In the last week, the STC raised nearly $20,000 just by word of mouth. But Stroll and his team won't undertake the challenge unless it can raise at least $60,000 this year, ideally by September 1. Whether you are an individual or an executive at a company in the outdoor recreation industry, there's no better time than now to put your money where your mouth is. If you care about equal access to public lands, do something about it and donate. And if for some reason the STC can't step up to the challenge and raise the needed funds, it promises to return every dollar.
I will personally be donating $200 because this cause means a lot to me. I live near the Pacific Crest Trail (aka the PCT or Perfect Cycling Trail), and to see the "No Bikes" sign every time I ride irritates me, especially considering that the PCT was originally supposed to accommodate cyclists. It wasn't until 1988 when three Forest Service supervisors wrote up a closure order without a public commentary period that bike access ended. In short, it's an illegal provision and it's time blatantly discriminatory regulations such as these get tossed out.
Backcountry should be open for all human-powered transport (click to enlarge). Photo courtesy Sustainable Trails Coalition
This is the first effort of its kind to undo blanket restrictions at the congressional level, and if we can't garner the support as a community to take on the challenge, then perhaps we don't deserve access. Talk is cheap. Open your wallet and help fund this cause so all human-powered recreation has equal access to public lands. Let's make it happen. Donate here.
Editor's Note: The Angry Singlespeeder is a collection of mercurial musings from contributing editor Kurt Gensheimer. In no way do his maniacal diatribes about all things bike oriented represent the opinions of Mtbr, RoadBikeReview, or any of their employees, contractors, janitorial staff, family members, household pets, or any other creature, living or dead. You can submit questions or comments to Kurt at [email protected]. And make sure to check out Kurt's previous columns.