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Mountain Biking Is Inappropriate In Wilderness



 
 
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Old June 8th 16, 07:03 AM posted to rec.bicycles.soc
EdwardDolan
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Default Mountain Biking Is Inappropriate In Wilderness

Mountain Biking Is Inappropriate In Wilderness

by George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner is an ecologist
and former hunting guide who has written or edited many books including,
Thrillcraft: The Environmental Consequences of Motorized Recreation. He
has
personally visited more than 400 designated wilderness areas.

I just got
back from a mountain bike ride. The trails outside of my hometown of Bend,
Oregon have numerous loops and degrees of difficulty, and riding my
mountain
bike is a pleasant way to unwind, get some exercise, and enjoy pedaling
without
the fear of being hit by a car. The trails are located in previously
logged
forests on the edge of town. These lands do not qualify for wilderness or
other
special protection, and thus are an appropriate location for mountain
biking.

The key words here are “appropriate location.”

That is the same
qualifier I would have for my four-wheel drive vehicle as well other
“thrillcraft.” I am grateful to have a four-wheel drive vehicle when
driving in
snow, muddy roads and the like, but that doesn’t mean I feel it’s
appropriate to
drive it everywhere it can go. Similarly, just because my mountain bike
can
climb steep hillsides and traverse meadows, doesn’t mean I think it’s
appropriate to use wherever I might feel like it.

Although I can’t speak
for all mountain bikers, I think my experience while on my bike is
representative of most cyclists in that I am more focused on the trail and
the
sense of movement than I am aware of and in tune with my surroundings. In
other
words, the natural world I am traveling through is more a stage for my
cycling
experience. Whether that stage is wildlands or not is irrelevant to my
biking
experience. This fundamental indifference to landscape is the primary
conflict
between mountain biking and the Wilderness Act’s goals.

This is not to
say that mountain bikers do not enjoy wildlands or that they are immune to
the
beauty of nature. Indeed, when I stop cycling, I often look around and
appreciate the setting. But the reason I am biking is not primarily to
observe
nature, and I think it’s safe to say that most mountain bikers would
agree. When
careening down a mountain we must, by necessity, be focused on the trail
in
front of us, not the natural world around us.

Our wildlands are not
outdoor gymnasiums or amusement parks. Part of the rationale for
wilderness
designation is to provide an opportunity for people to contemplate and
observe
natural systems.

It is clear from a reading of the debate around the
creation of the Wilderness System that recreation is not the prime
rationale for
wilderness designation. The act says little about preserving recreational
uses
or adapting new types of recreation. In testimony before Congress in 1962,
Howard Zahniser, the chief architect of the Wilderness Act, stated
clearly:
“Recreation is not necessarily the dominant use of an area of wilderness.”
In an
essay he authored in 1956, Zahniser wrote about the spiritual benefits of
wilderness, which he considered one of its highest purposes: “Without the
gadgets, the inventions, the contrivances whereby men have seemed to
establish
among themselves an independence of nature, without these distractions, to
know
the wilderness is to know a profound humility, to recognize one’s
littleness, to
sense dependence and interdependence, indebtedness, and
responsibility.”

I do not believe mountain bikes contribute to the
development of humility, nor a sense of dependence, interdependence, and
responsibility. There are four major reasons why mountain biking should
not be
permitted in officially designated wilderness areas or in any areas that
are
strong candidates for wilderness designation.

Legal. The
Wilderness Act is unambiguous about the kinds of activities that are
deemed
acceptable in designated wilderness – namely travel without “mechanical
advantage.” The rationale for the law, as stated in its opening paragraph,
is
“to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding
settlement
and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the
United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for
preservation
and protection in their natural condition.” Mountain bikes are part of
that
growing mechanization. The sophisticated advancement of mountain bike
technology
reduces the natural limits imposed by primeval character, whereas those
walking
or traveling by horse remain within natural limits.

Ecological.
Bike proponents often suggest that mountain bikes may do less damage than
a pack
of horses or even a Boy Scout troop. This is a specious argument. The
cumulative
effects of numerous tires create additional erosion, sedimentation in
streams,
and potential for trail damage. The idea that some activities do more
damage
than another is not a reason to expand damaging activities. There is a
cumulative impact from all uses, and adding to existing use can only
increase
impacts. The main goal of wilderness designation is to preserve wild
nature, not
to preserve recreational opportunity.

Sociological. Any
mechanical advantage – whether it is a dirt bike or a mountain bike –
shrinks
the backcountry. This has several effects. Those walking are easily
surpassed by
those using mechanical means, which can psychologically dismay other
users. On
heavily used trails, the threat of a fast moving bike changes the
experience for
other trail users. If you are a hiker, the ability to relax and soak in
the
natural world is impeded when one is anxious about having to jump out of
the way
of a bike.

Philosophical. The spirit and letter of the Wilderness Act is to
protect lands that retain their “primeval character and influence.” The
more
advanced the technology that we drag along with us, the greater our
alienation
from the spiritual values of wilderness areas. To many who are walking in
quiet
contemplation of nature, mountain bikes are an intrusion. They are no
different
to many wildlands enthusiasts than if a bike were to invade the Sistine
Chapel
or were ridden in the Arlington National Cemetery. The fact that many
mountain
bikers are oblivious to the spiritual values inherent in wildlands is one
reason
why those walking find mountain biking obnoxious at best, and even
disrespectful.

For me – and many of my fellow wilderness advocates – the
goal of conservation is to preserve the remnants of wild nature, not to
protect
self-indulgent recreational opportunities. With ever more technological
gadgets
available for distraction and diversion, we need the sanctity and
self-restraint
that Wilderness Areas represent more than ever.


The above essay says it all in my estimation. Anyone stupid enough to
disagree with any of it is beyond the pale. I suggest that all mountain
bikers who think it is OK to ride on trails used by hikers read and reread
the above until it sinks into their thick heads.

Ed Dolan the Great - Minnesota


 




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