The evolution of major trail systems has proven to be a gateway of activity for a number of user groups. Over the past 10 years, bikepacking has provided a quick way of traversing some of these trails a bit faster than your typical hiking trip. Bikepacking is a low impact activity as long as you stay on the trail and avoid cruddy conditions. It is great to see so many trail associations understand that bicycles are a great alternative to hiking. Unfortunately there are some associations out there that do not wish to have their trails be for multi-use.  Some trail associations feel that bikes should not be allowed at all. If you did not know by now, Federally Designated Wilderness Areas are off limits to Mechanized Travel. Mechanized is codified to mean ”a motorized snow vehicle, a boat, an aircraft, or any other apparatus propelled by machine or by means of machinery.” The United States passed the Wilderness Act in 1964. A Wilderness Area is recognized as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” NatlScTrails In the 50 year history of government established Wilderness Areas, there have been other user groups that could rival, or even top, the damage that cyclists bring to the table. Many of you have likely heard of The Sierra Club, and many might be confused by a few national chapters that are looking to adapt more Wilderness Areas. Although this may sound bad, it is actually preventing development of land, all while keeping mountain bike specific trails outside of the Wilderness Areas. All scenic trails are different  So what’s the deal with the 2,600 mile Pacific Crest Trail that travels from Canada to Mexico? In August of 1988, in accordance with the Forest Service Regional Order 88-4, bicycle occupation and use was no longer allowed on the trail. This process was done so quickly, many bicycle advocates did not have a chance to even defend against the order. Although the Forest Service Policy says they must review the closure order each year, this did not happen until 2013, when the order was reviewed and upheld. Advocates continue to push for mountain bikes on the PCT, and are showing no signs of letting up. 
Photo: Eszter Horanyi | Scott Morris (One of the first CDT thru bikers) chats with some hikers about the route.
Although the PCT does not allow bicycles, the United States Forest Service has always allowed bicycles on sections of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). The 3,100 mile trail remains closed in Wilderness Areas, and small sections outside. In 2009, after a long public review, it was decided that they would continue to allow bicycles on the CDT. This trail gives cyclists the chance to ride from border to border on singletrack, and on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route for Wilderness Area detours. The CDT Coalition is determined to make all newly constructed trail closed to mountain bikers. While this is unfortunate, the bright side is that we have access now, and this gives us something to work with. PCT Logocdt-logo-patchimages The Colorado Trail and the Arizona Trail are in line with the same rules as the CDT, you are allowed on the trail, but must detour around Wilderness Areas. Both trail associations have opened their arms to mountain bikers. Many people use the trails for recreational day rides, or even through rides. A positive to the Wilderness Area detours on these trails is that they typically divert riders through towns, allowing for convenient resupply points to maintain the self supported roots behind bikepacking. The Colorado and the Arizona Trails are a big reason why mountain biking is allowed on the Continental Divide Trail, and why other trail associations should consider allowing multiple user groups. There are many National Scenic Trails around the country – some allow bikes while others do not. One major trail that does not allows bikes is the Appalachian Trail. Others like the North Country Scenic Trail and the Florida Scenic Trail are said to not allow bikes, but may have no legal backing. As the sport grows, more people are fighting to gain access to their local trails. IMG_3032 So what can we do The beauty of allowing mountain bikers on these trails is that it gives us endless bikepacking options. It also provides trail associations with more people to volunteer and help maintain the trails. Although some trails remain to be against bicycles, many of these trails have no legal backing. The best thing you can do is have a voice. Contact IMBA, Sharing the PCT, or your local trail associations, as working with these resources can make an impact. It is important that we work together to help support the trail associations that do allow cycling, as well as the associations that do not. It is crucial to keep a friendly relationship with both sides of the table. Whether it be the PCT or the Colorado Trail, the trail associations need help, money, and resources. Do your part.  

2 Comments

  1. It seems like there have been a lot of mentions anout bikes and wilderness areas lately. Check out the article on Casey Greene and ‘Pack-biking’ in the last Bike mag…

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