I just got back from a mountain bike ride. The trails outside of Bend, Oregon where I reside have numerous loops and degrees of difficulty.  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 in my view.


The key words here are “appropriate location”. That is the same qualifier I would have for my four wheel drive vehicle, as well and other thrillcraft.  I am grateful to have a four wheel drive vehicle when there is snow, muddy roads, and the like, but that doesn’t mean I feel it’s appropriate to drive it everywhere a four wheel drive can go. Just because my vehicle can climb steep hillsides, traverse meadows, doesn’t mean I think it’s appropriate to use it just because I have the technology to do this.


Wilderness is about restraint—self discipline. We do not automatically bring our technology with us into wild places—or they do not remain wild for long.


Mountain bikes a highly developed technological mechanism that provides mechanical advantages to human transport. Mountain bikes do not belong on trails in designated wilderness (nor, in my mind, even in proposed wilderness areas) for a host of reasons: legal, ecological, sociological and philosophical.


The primary purpose of designated wilderness is to preserve self willed landscapes or wild nature. The intent of the 1964 Wilderness Act is clear, the goal of designated wilderness is to protect natural processes, and leave these lands untrammeled. The word untrammeled means unrestricted—in other words natural processes are permitted to operate without human restraint




The Wilderness Act also is very clear about the kinds of activities that are deemed acceptable in designated wilderness—namely travel without “mechanical advantage”.  It states this in its opening paragraph:


In order 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.”


The Act is clear—growing mechanization is not permitted. Mountain bikes are part of that growing mechanization. The Wilderness Act does not discriminate against anyone—all citizens are welcome in wilderness—just not all our mechanized machinery.


Anyone can walk, float a canoe or raft, or even ride a horse into a wilderness area, but mechanical advantage is not permitted. That is why dirt bikes, snowmobiles, wheeled game carts, motorboats, airplanes and a host of other mechanical conveyances are excluded from wilderness with only a few exceptions.  (For instance, snowmobiles are permitted in Alaskan wilderness areas by subsistence hunters and aircraft may be permitted, again mostly in Alaska).


Other incompatible uses like livestock grazing and mining can also occur where they existed prior to wilderness designation, however, this does not mean they don’t detract from the purposes for which the lands were designated.  Typically such uses are not allowed to be expanded.


Just because other incompatible uses are permitted in rare instances, does not mean new uses, including mountain biking, should be permitted.  It is not difficult to see a slippery slope if the original Wilderness Act were changed or amended to permit bikes. Why not permit hang gliders or base jumping or other thrill sports?


Those who enjoy these activities or conveniences all feel they are unfairly discriminated against by Wilderness designation as well. However, we regularly discriminate against all kinds of people for various reasons. Smoking is not permitted in most public buildings across the country and some smokers definitely feel they are being discriminated against.


The point being we regularly exclude some activities from some places those proponents enjoy.  The fortunate thing for myself as a mountain biker and for all others who enjoy this activity is that there are hundreds of millions of acres of public land where mountain biking is perfectly acceptable and appropriate. There is no shortage of trails that are open to mountain biking.




While mountain bikes may do less damage, than say, a pack string of horses or even a boy scout troop, the cumulative effect of numerous tires does create additional erosion, sedimentation in streams, and potential for trail damage.


Worse, though, from my experience, is not so much the trails that are commandeered by mountain bike users, but the numerous new and often completely unregulated creation of trails. Where there are mountain bikes, there are frequently multiple trails established, often without any official oversight by land management agencies.  Little regard is given to impacts that new trails and user activity might have on sensitive species of wildlife, the spread of weeds, and the fragmentation of habitat.


The contention that mountain biking does less damage to trails than a pack string of horses is a specious argument.  The idea that some activities do more damage than another is not a reason to expand damaging activities. As previously outlined, mountain biking can and do more damage than walking.  We must remember the main goal of wilderness designation is to protect and preserve wild nature, not to preserve any particular recreational opportunity.




Zipping down a trail they can rapidly approach other trail users, whether horse riders or hikers.

If one only mountain bikes, it may be difficult to understand why those on foot often are dismayed when a favorite trail is discovered and commandeered by mountain bikers. It is not unlike the same reaction that dirt bikers and other ORVers have to other recreationists. One survey of hikers in Montana found that the vast majority were negatively impacted by the presence of dirt bikes on hiking trails, but few of the dirt bikers are negatively affected by hikers. Mountain bikes have the advantage of speed and often generate the same negative reactions from hikers.


There are philosophical reasons for this ban on mechanical aid. Any mechanical advantage whether it is a dirt bike or a mountain bike shrinks the backcountry. The amount of terrain that can be traversed is significantly increased by mechanical advantage. This has several effects. Those using more traditional means of travel—i.e. walking—are easily surpassed by those using mechanical means which can psychologically dismay other users.


I find many, but not all, mountain bikers (as well as dirt bike, snowmobile, ATV enthusiasts, among others) put their particular recreational desires ahead of preserving wild nature. If they can’t use their mountain biking in a proposed wilderness area, then they often oppose wildlands protection or designation.




The spirit and letter of the 1964 Wilderness Act is to protect specific lands “where the Earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man.” Where the land retains “its primeval character and influence” and is “managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.


The Act says nothing about preserving recreational uses or adapting new types of recreation. In testimony before Congress in 1962, Howard Zahniser chief architect of the 1964 Wilderness Act stated clearly that “Recreation is not necessarily the dominant use of an area of wilderness.”  Rather Zahniser declared that “The purpose of the wilderness act is to preserve the wilderness character of the areas to be included in the wilderness system, not to establish any particular use.”


The growing sophisticated advancement of mountain bike design and technology reduces the natural limits imposed by primeval character and reduces the natural conditions by the very presence of mountain bikes.


Zahinser also wrote about the spiritual benefits of wilderness.  in  an essay he authored in 1956, he said:  “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.”


The more advanced our technology we drag along with us, the greater our alienation and separation 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 dirt bike were to invade the Sistine Chapel or were ridden in the Arlington National Cemetery. The fact that many mountain bikers are oblivious to these feelings of sacred lands and the spiritual values inherent in wildlands is one reason why so many non-bikers find mountain biking obnoxious at best, and  even disrespectful.


Of course these are personal values and not everyone holds the same values, but just as dirt bikers may see no reason why they can’t ride through a national cemetery or smokers don’t believe they should be excluded from public buildings, social values are important and should be considered.


That is why I try to ride primarily on designated mountain bike trail systems where the majority of users are other mountain bikers. I am conscious and considerate of how my own mountain bike use affects others using our national patrimony.


Our wildlands are not outdoor gymnasiums or amusement parks.  Part of the rationale for wilderness designation is to encourage and provide an opportunity for people to contemplate and observe natural systems.  I know from my own mountain bike experience, that the main focus of anyone riding a trail is about 20-30 feet ahead of your tires, not on the surrounding landscape. The speed and need to concentrate on where you are going diminishes if not fully excludes the opportunity for nature appreciation.


The primary purpose of wildlands—whether designated wilderness or roadless lands that are not yet developed thus retain wildlands characteristics–is to preserve their wild, self willed character. It is not primarily an outdoor gymnasium, especially when that kind of activity can be pursued on other public lands that are far more abundant and available.


By contrast, at least for me and many of my fellow wilderness advocates, whether we hike or otherwise access any designated wilderness is irrelevant. Our goal is to preserve remnants of self willed landscapes or wild nature, not preservation of self indulgent recreational opportunities. And I think that is far more in line with the original spirit and intent of those who crafted and helped to legislate the original Wilderness Act. We honor those people by maintaining the sanctity of the philosophical purposes of the Wilderness Act intact.

About The Author

George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology

394 Responses to Why Mountain Biking is Inappropriate in Wilderness

  1. topher says:

    A few years back they shortened an access road that I use in the Sawtooths by about a mile after surveying the wilderness boundary. I don’t mind an extra mile on the hike (although they should update the mileage on the signs) but was surprised at how angry it made me to walk the additional mile on top of someone’s mountain bike tracks. The trailhead was clearly visible and the rules were clearly posted but someone couldn’t resist the temptation of riding the trail with their bike. It’s best that we didn’t see each other, no good would have come from it and it would have made an otherwise pleasant day much worse. I am pleased to find myself agreeing with the author 100%.

    • John Fisch says:

      So you saw evidence of biker misconduct and that allows you to cast a broad net over all bikers? There are hikers who cut switchbacks, build illegal fire rings, smoke in high fire danger areas, pitch camp and defecate within 100ft of streams, etc. To date, there is not a single documented case of a biker starting a forest fire, but plenty of hikers.

      If you seek to use such misconduct to ban one group, you must seek to ban all.

      • Mikie Watson says:

        Although I can feel a sense of John’s frustration. I happen to agree with him 100%.
        You tend to categorize that mountain bikers are all about speed. As a backpacker, an owner of horses, and an avid mountain biker I have found trails littered with plastic water bottles, food wrappers, and trash such as toilet paper. I find myself carrying a plastic bag in my jersey to clean up after hikers, I swerve around horse apples. As a hiker, like Mr. Fisch mentions, I have found countless cut corners by hikers on hiking trails in the high sierras on the John Muir Trail. Look at the bottom of your hiking boots sometime soon George; you will find nearly the same tread pattern that is on my tires. The only difference is my tires roll across the ground where boots and hooves chop at the trail. More eroded trails are do to choped sediment by horses than any other mode of transportation. I follow John’s comment here as
        I too agree that if Wilderness is truly going to be wilderness than ban it for all. I say this because a Mountain Bike would not be in the wilderness if it was not for the hiking trail you already provided as a hiker. So a hiker has already begun the erosion by establishing a trail. Therefore, just as hiking in the wilderness could or should be permitted, so shall Mountain Biking. And when I say permitted, I mean an actual permit. That permit would state the code of ethics that we should ALL follow when entering a wilderness area. Sorry George, owning a Mountain Bike does NOT mean you think like one…

  2. Ida Lupines says:

    Yes, I agree 100% as well.

  3. Linda Jo Hunter says:

    Good article. I must admit, though, as arthritis makes it so mountain biking is my best way of getting around, I am sad to loose the access to the wilderness that I used to have when I could hike more miles. The kind of mountain biking I do doesn’t even resemble the bomb down the trail groups who are in it for the movement, but I will give up my easy access to wilderness because of the way mountain bikes are used as an “extreme sport”.

  4. Joanne Favazza says:

    In my neck of the woods, we have a large watershed comprised of thousands of forested acres. For years, mountain biking was permitted on some of the watershed’s hiking trails in spite of many public objections. Those who objected were concerned that the trails, the land, and the enjoyable nature experience that many sought would be severely impacted by mountain biking, and they were right.

    It wasn’t long before bikers began to make their own trails in complete violation of the regulations. The trails grew ever wider with severe erosion, and many of them turned into deep gullies. After heavy rains, the trails turned into muddy messes (the regulations required that bikers wait for trails to dry before using them, but this reg was routinely violated). Vegetation was also trammeled and uprooted, and the landscape began to look pretty ugly. And, bikers zooming along on the trails completely diminished the experience of many hikers, myself included.

    Thankfully there are now Watershed Rangers, and mountain biking is permitted only on old logging roads. As a result, the landscape is at last recovering, but it’s going to take some time before that recovery is complete. I myself have worked as a ranger at various parks and have seen the ecological damage that mountain biking can cause. While I also observed damage caused by hikers, it was never as severe or as widespread as that caused by mountain biking. Thus, I have to agree that “mountain bikes and wilderness don’t mix.”

    • John Fisch says:

      If this is as you say, it is a unique situation. In most areas, cycling impact is equal to hiking impact and far less than equestrian impact.

      If your story is true, it still doesn’t lead logically to a blanket condemnation of bikes in all Wilderness areas. Many trails in Wilderness areas are fully sustainable as cycling routes. I’ve never argued unfettered cycling access to all trails. But to say that cycling should be banned from over 80% of roadless areas in Colorado is ridiculous. In Montana, the adjacent Great Bear/Scapegoat/Bob Marshall wilderness areas provide a contiguous Wilderness area the size of the entire state of Delaware! Now, the Rocky Mountain Front Preservation Act threatens to add many thousands of acres to the bike free zone, banning bikes from routes they have traditionally ridden for decades–and which show no more wear or erosion than the trails within the adjacent Wilderness which have never even seen a knobby tire.

      The blanket ban needs to go and trails should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

      • Joanne Favazza says:

        Yes John, my “story” is true, and in my experience, not a “unique situation” at all. As I said in my comment, I worked as a ranger in various parks and saw firsthand the ecological damage caused by mountain bikers. I don’t really appreciate your implication that my post is a fabrication. I find that extremely disrespectful.

        • Phantom says:

          John Fisch is a shill for the Mountain Bike industry. Google him.

      • Ed Loosli says:

        John Fisch: As I understand it, motorcycles, automobiles, ATVs, and other mechanical means of traveling within a WILDERNESS area are banned,and this rightly includes bicycles of all types. Keeping a few areas of America free from the machines of man is needed now, more than ever.

        • John Fisch says:

          You understand correctly–but that doesn’t make it right or even sensible. Other mechanical means of traveling are indeed allowed in Wilderness (i.e. boats with oarlocks, cross-country skis and snowshoes with pivoting toepieces, carbon fiber hiking poles with shock absorbing tips)–as are technologies much higher on the tech scale than a simple, human powered, mechanical device (i.e. GPS, iPods)

          • Jay says:

            Not the “oarlock defense” again?! Mechanical advantage is not mechanical transportation…nice try though.

            By the way, you forgot to include fishing reels on your nonsensical list.

  5. Garry Rogers says:

    Great article. I scooped and reblogged it (see the scoop at http://scoop.it/t/ecoscifi).

  6. Amre says:

    I agree 100%. Many mountain bikers, dirt bikers, hunters, etc are callous when it comes to the needs/wants of other members of the public.

  7. ZeeWolf says:

    I live in Gunnison County, Colorado within which exists the municipality of Crested Butte. Crested Butte bills itself as the birthplace of mountain biking and to this day bicycling is big business for our secluded mountain valley.

    There are, depending on the exact definition of the Gunnison Basin, seven, eight or nine congressionally designated wilderness areas. As a hiker, I know that I can access any of these areas to find solitude and enjoy the natural splendor throughout.

    Generally speaking, from my personal observations, the mountain bikers follow the rules by staying on appropriate trails that are marked on the ground as being open to that activity. Within this group there are a few so-called outlaws who openly advocate and follow through on “poaching” wilderness trails or otherwise discredit the biking community. But, as a rule, I seldom see evidence of wilderness violations by the bikers.

    Yesterday, I took a hike along Cement Creek, a gorgeous area of high cliffs and wide, green meadows. The wildflowers are in full bloom and the fragrance in the air was invigorating as was the sublime scenery. This area is not a wilderness and is open to all forms of motorized and mechanized recreation. I wish it weren’t, but it is and has been for many decades.

    During my hike I saw full-sized four-by-fours, ATV’s of all sorts, dirt bikes and mountain bikers. I wasn’t disappointed in the sense that I knew what I was in for by hiking in an area well known for fast-paced activities. And to their credit, the Gunnison National Forest has been aggressive in this area protecting most natural resources by closing duplicate and user-created trails.

    On my return from the peak I summited, I walked along the main road in the area for about two miles. I was passed by all the above groups and most everyone understands that the area is shared by many diverse peoples with different views. Most of us who use these areas try to be cordial with each other. For example, a group of five dirt bikers passed me. The first to pass held up four fingers indicating that four more riders were behind him (her?) and then the last to pass held up a clinched fist to let me know that (s)he was the last in line and the way was now clear. Fine, dirt biking isn’t my cup of tea, but they were “floating their boat” without sinking mine and well within the letter of the law – and they were courteous to me and presumably others they met along the way.

    I met one gentleman on a mountain bike, and then farther on three ladies. I believe that all of us were happy to be out and about on such a fine a day in July in the mountains. I was pleased that all the people I met were convivial although our activities were potentially at conflict with each other.

    Unfortunately, a short time later, my bubble was burst. A group of two twenty-something males came barreling down the road on their mountain bikes, which in and of itself wasn’t a concern since I knew that I was hiking in an area open to these activities. In fact, the first biker to ride by displayed the good grace that all others had done previously. The second, however, spoiled the good cheer built up over the day.

    Naturally, I had my two German shepherds with me and any time a group was approaching me I would move over to the side of the road and put the dogs into “sit” mode so that they would flank me. They are well mannered and obedient and sit within a foot of me and don’t display aggression to people on bikes.

    The second biker wasn’t content to just pass by as had all the other participants had. No, this rude person decided to swerve towards me, making my heart jump, and then swerve quickly away, “high-side” the adjacent hill, do a “kick” and then look back in my direction with an arrogant sneer. I got the perception that I was nothing more than an obstacle to be avoided and that my safety and well-being were secondary to this individual’s own aggressive action. As if I was part of a video game and had no feelings or potential for physical pain that would come with a collision.

    Long ago, I had a supervisor who said something akin to “ten “‘atta boy”‘s are undone by one “gosh-darn””. Well, I met only about six mountain bikers during the day and one out of the group was a jerk, and only for a second or two. But, due to his actions, my impression of mountain bikers (for this day, at least) went from an overall positive view to that being more negative. Next time a public discussion comes up, I will most likely think of this negative interaction and my opinion will reflect that. Am I being too harsh due to the actions of one member of this group? Perhaps I should be more forgiving, realizing (as an anthropology professor once related) that most groups have a certain low-percentage portion who are rude or misanthropic. I suppose next time, I should avoid these areas that are open to mechanized “wreck-the-nation” and stick to the wilderness areas, but I also feel that I should be allowed to walk throughout my public lands without being subjected to aggressive and dangerous acts.

    • Ida Lupines says:

      What a nice post. I do appreciate people who are considerate of others and try to do the same. Unfortunately, our trails are going to get crowded in the future, and it helps for all to work together.

  8. Jeff says:

    I’m not a huge biker, but I do get out a few times per year. I think the benefit politically of having bikers on the side of wilderness outweighs the impact on trails and the experience. Otherwise bikers tend to unite with motorized recreationalists which oppose all new wilderness areas and WSAs. The Wilderness Act could be amended to simply say “human powered” instead of mechanical. All the trail etiquette issues mentioned beforehand could just as easily be folks on foot, with dogs, etc…most folks I run into are all respectful, some aren’t such is life. Rolling through the woods isn’t that big of deal.

    • John Fisch says:

      “The Wilderness Act could be amended to simply say “human powered” instead of mechanical.”
      Actually, that’s how the first regulations implementing the Wilderness Act were written–in accordance with the original intent of the Act.

  9. Immer Treue says:

    As one who has both raced Mt bikes and done recreational riding, it’s rather a moot point, in my opinion. There are enough places to ride Mt bikes. Wilderness areas are just that. Add horses to the mix and the idea of bikes on the same trails is insane. There is always someone who will push the envelope, but from my experiences, most experienced mountain bikers were very conscientious of where they rode.

  10. snaildarter says:

    I agree 100%, but it is too bad that some mountain bikers give the rest a bad reputation. I ride my mountain bike very carefully with the ecology of where I am in mind and I’m sure most cyclist could enter a wilderness and do much less damage than horses but that is not what would happen. Some riders are just jocks out riding hard with a total disregard for where they are. I’ve seen stream banks completely destroyed by mountain bikes and once I saw a 2 year old out walking with his parents was almost run over by an air born teenager. His mother saved him with considerable peril to her own safety. It is a human powered machine that can have great destructive power and someone will always misuse it. So we need reasonable rules everywhere and no bikes in wilderness.

    • Nancie McCormish says:

      SD, I have seen the opposite in some circumstances where horse trails in use for a hundred years were (and are) drastically widened and eroded by heavy mountain bike use. Some areas the curves are blown out ten times as wide as the original horse trail, and the surface pancaked and dished so it funnels more water, and faster, down the middle.

      I’ve also had suicidal mountain bikers pass by us horseback on narrow trails such that they were bare inches from flying hooves, not the best manners or survival strategy.

      And something I have seen more of which is also disturbing, bikers with headphones, cruising along on mountain trails listening to their favorite tunes… and oblivious to anything else alive and breathing there. Ah wilderness?

      • John Fisch says:

        This one is truly hard to believe. Horses have been proven to be much higher impact than cycles. ipod use is also much more prevalent in hikers than bikers.

        The fact is that all user groups have bad apples. Equestrians in particular are far more likely to ride muddy trails (after all, its the horse doing the work and getting muddy while the rider sits comfortably 5 feet above the ground), and when they do, hooves go much deeper than tires. Equestrians are far more likely to go off trail. Hikers are far more likely to cut switchbacks, and commit a litany of other backcountry offenses–including forest fires which do the most damage.

  11. CodyCoyote says:

    I’m wondering if anyone has tested the hypothesis that ATB wheels accelerate trail erosion , by creating a long shallow narrow rut that becomes an inevitable water channel, self-enlarging and deepening over time.

    Any anecdotal evidence of this, or studies ?

    • Nancie McCormish says:

      CC, I have seen this making some dramatic changes on the outskirts of Denver since biking has become the recreation of choice as the city has grown. When I was a pup we made great strides in stopping ATVs from scarring all the foothills, but the mountain bikes seem to get a free ride in that regard. I’m not sure why.

    • Mark L says:

      I know in north Alabama, there are several state parks that have signs asking mountain bikers not to ride at least a day after heavy rains. I think Cheaha, Monte Sano, and Oak Mountain do this now. Note, they are ASKING still…and my personal observation is that bike ruts are significantly worse than footsteps or hooves in continuously wet areas.

      • John Fisch says:

        Not riding wet trails when they are susceptible to damage should be a hallmark of every cyclists behavior. Most of us in they cycling community work hard to educate and police our own.

        But this behavior, even among a small minority, is not exclusive to cyclists. Many Jeffco Open Spaces show horrendous trail damage from Equestrians riding muddy surfaces.

  12. rork says:

    I fight mountain bikers getting more designated trails near me, but I usually loose. I lost again recently, one of my favorite areas, little visited, having been sacrificed. There just isn’t an organized group of hikers and nature lovers to combat them. The bikers on the other hand are incredibly organized and have mostly only one thing on their agenda: more designated trails. Areas with such trails near me (or horse trails) become areas where walkers no longer visit. For me, a human trail of any kind is something I usually stay far from, or cross at a right angle, and I still stay away from the areas saturated with bike or horse trails.
    I await the post that says horses are inappropriate in wilderness. Where I’m from, the Anishinabi used as many horses as they did bikes. Horses recreate something more recent. Bikes recreate nothing.

    • Ida Lupines says:

      I find the horseback riders are nice to encounter; it’s a welcome sight on a trail. The bike riders sometimes buzz right past coming much to close, and it’s kind of a rude awakening. It may just be the nature of the beast.

    • Nancie McCormish says:

      Rork, horses evolved here and are native to these environs, where so many other entities roaring around are recent inventions.

      I can say riding horseback puts one as much in tune with nature as anything I have experienced; it’s less physically demanding than hiking and carrying all your gear (and having to focus on each step), slower, quieter, more contemplative, and the horses will show you all sorts of things our weaker human senses don’t pick up quickly. Not to mention a good horse is a good ally and will help you in tight situations – something a bike or ATV is not capable of.

      • rork says:

        Quit it with the native word-twisting lies, or trying to get me to like horses. Quieter?
        They aren’t as bad as motorized vehicles, great argument. True of mountain bikes too.

      • Kathleen says:

        Whether or not horses are native is not worth arguing over–goats, mules, and llamas are also used as pack animals in designated Wilderness. Whether or not horse hooves cause more damage than bike tires isn’t the point, either. The bottom line is the law: the Act disallows mechanical transport, including mountain bikes. At least here in the West, horses and pack strings were responsible for creating many of the trails that give hikers access to Wilderness areas today.

        • John Fisch says:

          Horses evolved here?
          No, they were brought here by Europeans.

          • Connie Berto says:

            These “facts”–horses have been “proven” to be much higher impact than cycles is from suspect “research” funded by the biking industry, written by a mt.biker, limited in scope, and not peer-reviewed. Horses walk with 2 or 3 feet on the ground and place hoof prints intermittently. Contrast this with the connected and erosive groove from a bike wheel, which, mathematically, makes a greater impact than either a hoof print or hiker’s boot. Any trail tread that will show a hoof print will also show a bike track. Equestrians are not, NOT “far more likely to go off trail” for the simple reason that they might put their horses into a dangerous situation, i.e., fallen barbed wire or animal holes/tunnels. Nor do horsemen ride on muddy trails where a leg might slide and strain a tendon. I’ve HAD it from ignoramuses such as Mr. Fisch purporting to speak about horses.
            FYI, I’ve done five centuries on my road bike and four on my horse. I have ridden trails in five western states. Bicycles do NOT belong on footpaths and especially not in wilderness.
            And yes, horses ARE native to North America; eohippus fossils have proved that. Horses migrated over the Bering Land Bridge and traveled west. In N.A., horses died out in the last Ice Age and were re-introduced on the 2nd voyage of Columbus to the New World.

        • John Fisch says:

          “The bottom line is the law: the Act disallows mechanical transport, including mountain bikes.”
          The law, as originally written, allowed bikes. What the law banned originally was “any wheeled contrivance powered by a non-living source.” The Act was amended at the behest of a well organized and funded lobby in the absence of any opposition during mountain biking’s infancy.

          • Brian Ertz says:

            the law did not originally include the language, “any wheeled contrivance powered by a non-living source.”

            The language you paraphrase came from the Forest Service promulgated reg. *36 C.F.R. §§ 293.6(a)&(b)*:

            (a) Mechanical transport, as herein used, shall include any contrivance which travels over ground, snow, or water on wheels, tracks, skids, or by floatation and is propelled by a nonliving power source contained or carried on or within the device.
            (b) Motorized equipment, as herein used, shall include any machine activated by a nonliving power source, except that small battery-powered, hand-carried devices such as flashlights, shavers, and Geiger counters are not classed as motorized equipment.

        • rork says:

          I’m against use of goats, mules, and llamas as well. I might forbid dogs too. Exceptions for officials and some scientists. Building trails would only be something I did where hiker damage is high, and could be reduced by good trail. The less trails there are, the larger the wilderness de facto becomes. I’ve never been dependent on a trail in wilderness, though I’ve used some cause they can save time some places. Mostly I don’t want to be on a human-made trail though. In forest, use elk trails.

        • JB says:

          With respect, arguing that horses are native is equivalent to arguing that the term “native” should be expanded.

      • Immer Treue says:

        If one insists that horses evolved here, one of the reasons they did was because of their dentition which would have allowed them to exploit the grasses of North American Prairies, not the mountains. On the other hand, one might say that Mt. Bikes evolved, well, in the mountains. Using said logic, horses have no business in the mountains, where a mountain bike is at home.

        Just playing devil’s advocate.

        • Jeff N. says:


          There is evidence of mountain bikes (cyclis montaneis) evolving on the plains. However, over time they retreated to the safety mountains due to the aggressive nature of the expanding native horse population. I’ll try to find the article. I have it somewhere.

          • Immer Treue says:

            I hope you don’t confuse them with C. Montanies occidentalis, or more commonly known as the 29er. Larger, and can be ridden more aggressively.

  13. snaildarter says:

    However I must give the National Park Service credit for balancing uses in the Chattahoochee NRA. As well as counseling local Mountain Biker groups about their bad behavior and reputation. There you will find the 10 MPH speed limit enforced and the politest MBs help repair and maintain their designated trails. Places like that is where they belong not in wilderness.

  14. Treed Murray says:

    Your statement: “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 in my view.”

    You disappoint me, George Wuerthner.

    Too many mountain bikers around North America spout the same foolish statement. In my locale, a previously logged forest now consists of “second growth” trees (80 to 100 years old). The third growth forest will be an unhealthy one, if even given a feeble chance.

    Not worth protection from mountain bikes slicing and dicing up the remaining forest with their non-stop riding,trail building and dirt pit digging activities? Seriously, George? You and I both know that there are very few mountain bikers who will show discipline and restraint.

  15. Not afraid of the future says:

    I see good ol’ George is tilting at this windmill yet again, as he’s been doing for years. Makes one think there must be progress on the sensible-and-rational-use-of-public-lands front, if he’s been moved to write so many column inches.

    Folks, here’s the current situation. The wilderness purists’ dogmatic insistence on a wilderness system that can only be visited in the two ways they prefer (i.e., on foot or on a giant trail-destroying mammal) is going to prove to be wilderness’s doom over time, because places that can be visited only by 18th century means of travel are sooner or later going to have no sufficient constituency to advocate for them.

    Did you know that you can’t bring a baby stroller into a wilderness, or use a wheel to portage a canoe, or use a hunter’s walking game cart to remove game? Nor can you build (theoretically, although it happens) a log footbridge, a hitching post, a primitive lean-to, etc.

    What wilderness purists have achieved in the last quarter-century is (1) less designated wilderness, (2) poorer management of areas that are designated wilderness, and (3) ever-diminishing interest in enforcing the long array of ever weirder restrictions on wilderness use (see above). Talk about a Pyrrhic victory.

    Mountain bikers are inhibited from riding in currently designated wildernesses–but only those ones that are overrun with people (the Maroon Bells in Colorado or the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming, for example) and offer a diminished wilderness experience anyway, until you’re 20 miles in. In other ones, much less visited, you can ride a bike all day long with no realistic probability of encountering another human, let alone being cited. Anyone been to the Jarbidge Wilderness lately? The Alta Toquima? Didn’t think so.

    But, even more ironic (and this is the supreme irony), the Talibanic mindset and accompanying fire-and-brimstone campaigns of people like George have guaranteed to mountain bikers access to many thousands of square miles of majestic wildlands that would otherwise have become wilderness. The tragedy, though, is that a lot of that same land is also overrun by ATVs, motorcycles and jeeps for the same reason. Check out Reno Divide-Flag Creek-Bear Creek, off of Cement Creek Road south of Crested Butte, Colorado, for that very phenomenon, as the other gentleman, ZeeWolf, pointed out above.

    So, yes, continue to tilt at the windmill of bicycles on trails, and a large part of what you’re achieving is the continuation of motorized users in the same areas. Good work if you like motors.

  16. PR says:

    Frankly, I find this whole piece quite *specious*. The bottom line is to answer the question, “What is the Wilderness Act trying to protect and from whom?” I personally find that most of the users that feel bikes should be excluded stand on very shaky ‘moral high ground’ and basically hide behind the antiquated Law because their arguments are hypocritical and outright prejudiced.

    Let’s face it; unless you are out enjoying your local wilderness barefoot and naked, you are “mechanically advantaged.” And we are all impacting the natural environment by our very presence.

    Instead of vilifying all other user groups but our own, we should be discussing how to keep the Wilderness Act relevant and protect these lands for future generations to enjoy as well.

  17. Ray says:

    Completely disagree. Mountain bikes are perfectly appropriate on some trails in Wilderness. The whole sacred land argument gets old. How do you know the land isn’t sacred to those that want to ride there? I’ve come to the conclusion that people who fight for Wilderness don’t really want to win against the real enemy, development. Instead of a blanket “no” statement, a more reasonable approach generally gets more accomplished.

  18. Warren Piec says:

    Huh. I thought I read an obituary the other day. Wilderness Act, dead at fifty.

    I don’t see that riding bikes in existing designated Wilderness Areas is a goal of the bicycling public. There are many, many beautiful, wild places to ride.

    But we sure have to question the viability of the Wilderness Act as a tool of modern preservation. Did I miss something, are Wilderness bills passing in Congress? Will they ever again? Hmmmmm? Didn’t think so. So, how, now, do we protect these places?

    Reminds me of this:



    • ZeeWolf says:

      This youtube video is incredibly mean spirited and adds nothing to the debate, except to suggest that you have no tolerance for others’ point of view. And just to play devil’s advocate, what bills have congress been passing lately regardless or whether or not they are wilderness related?

    • Ray says:

      Funny thing about this video; I recall our bicycle club FINALLY being invited to a meeting concerning one of the trails (that has been ridden by bikes for years) that would close if the RMF Heritage Act passes. One of the Wilderness Society members spoke, and was joking about showing up to an event at a trail in heels. It gave me very serious doubts that she even knew what she was advocating to protect.

      • ZeeWolf says:

        Does that really justify calling an entire class of people whores or other derogatory epithets?

        • Ray says:

          I didn’t do the name calling, but lets not pretend there isn’t the same name calling and generalizing all mountain bikers either.

  19. John Fisch says:

    During the formation of the Wilderness Act, the word “Mechanized” was used synonymously with motorized. Congressional testimony leading up to the Act clearly indicates that there were two key goals–1. Prevent the intrusion of motorized vehicles and the infrastructure required to support them and 2. Get increasingly sedentary Americans out into their wild places–under their own power, not from behind the window of an automobile. The bicycle requires no more infrastructure than the boot and it is physically taxing (unlike riding a horse, which is allowed in Wilderness). The true original intent is clear in the original statute that implemented the Act. To avoid confusion, it defined “mechanized” as “powered by a non-living source.” The simple spouting of the word “mechanical” as evidence against bikes is disingenuous, misleading, and not in accordance with the original intent of the Act.

    “Mechanical advantage is not permitted”??? Fixed oarlocks on rafts provide a significant mechanical advantage as to hinged toes on cross country skis. Mechanical advantage IS permitted. The dividing line was not meant to be anything mechanical, but rather anything motorized.

    “There is no shortage of trails that are open to mountain biking.”
    In most western states, over half the roadless areas are designated Wilderness. Add to that National Parks and other USFS, BLM and local municipality restrictions, and bikes lose much more. Then, consider that many trails start and end outside Wilderness, but some portion of them pass through Wilderness, making the entire route nonviable as a mountain biking route. In my home state of Colorado, over 80% of roadless areas are closed to mountain biking. If hikers were excluded from 80% of their most desired lands, they would not be saying “that’s okay, there are plenty of other trails open for hiking.”

    “While mountain bikes may do less damage, than say, a pack string of horses” The author has already forfeited this argument with his own words, since that pack string of horses is allowed. Either both must be allowed or both must be banned–you can’t have it both ways and claim to have a valid argument.

    “the cumulative effect of numerous tires does create additional erosion, sedimentation in streams, and potential for trail damage.”
    As does the cumulative effects of numerous boots. Studies which have compared the effects of sustained trail usage by various groups show similar erosion from the same quantity of boot users and knobby users — both of which are far less than horses. The evidence with regard to trail impact is that there is no reason to favor hikers over bicyclists.

    “but the numerous new and often completely unregulated creation of trails.”
    Bikers have no corner on the market of unregulated or illegal trails. Hikers end up creating trails to lookouts, waterfalls etc. In the open space areas near my home, the hikers are as much, or even more responsible for the creation of such “social” or “bandit” trails. When two mountain bikers were discovered creating a bandit trail leading from the forest into Garden of the Gods, within 48 hours, the local bike club had mobilized and erased every last trace of the illegal trails. I’ve never heard of hikers self-policing so well.

    Nothing creates damage and hastens erosion like cutting switchbacks, which is almost exclusively a hiker phenomenon. And as for going off trail, that is done far more by hikers and even more by equestrians.

    “As previously outlined, mountain biking can and do more damage than walking.”
    Wrong, as supported by unbiased research.
    “The idea that some activities do more damage than another is not a reason to expand damaging activities.”
    And it is also not a reason to favor one group over another. And it certainly isn’t a reason to favor a more damaging group over a less damaging one. That doesn’t even pass the giggle test. If access needs to be limited, then so be it, but limit access in a way that allows all equally low impact users equal opportunity. Anything else is indefensible.

    “Zipping down a trail they can rapidly approach other trail users, whether horse riders or hikers.”
    I have been passed by trail runners when riding my bike. I grew up with horses and could gallop my horse faster than I ride my bike.

    “If one only mountain bikes, it may be difficult to understand why those on foot often are dismayed when a favorite trail is discovered and commandeered by mountain bikers.”
    First, use of the word “commandeered” is prejudicial and badly misused here. It’s also ridiculous that someone who has access to 100% of the trails in roadless areas can claim someone who has access to less than 20% could accuse the other of “commandeering” anything.
    Second, the implication that a cyclist can only see the issue from a cyclists point of view is also pejorative. Most backcountry cyclists are avid conservationists and share the same the same ethos with backpackers and cross country skiers than the Red Bull downhill bike racing crowd.
    Personally, I became an avid hiker at age 9 and didn’t get my first bike until age 35. In all those thousands of bike encounters when I was exclusively a hiker and equestrian, I never once had a negative experience with a cyclist. In fact, it was the many positive encounters I had which first led me to consider the bike as another appropriate means of enjoying the woods.

    “The more advanced our technology we drag along with us, the greater our alienation and separation from the spiritual values of wilderness areas.”
    Have you looked in the modern backpackers quiver? Freeze dried foods which contain a full day’s worth of calories in a sealed foil pack weighing no more than a couple ounces. Ultralight cookstoves no bigger than a soda can which can generate enough BTUs to boil a pan of water in only 5 minutes. Oh, yeah–those cookstoves allow the backpacker to burn fossil fuels in the backcountry–bikes don’t do that. Tents made with aerospace titanium poles and UV resistant ripstop fabrics. The mechanization of a bike is relatively low technology compared to a 5 ounce handheld GPS which pinpoints the users position on the earth by triangulating a signal off a constellation of satellites in orbit around the earth. And as far as technology taking you away from the wilderness experience is concerned, nothing beats an ipod, again far more prevalent among pedestrians than cyclists.

    “To many who are walking in quiet contemplation of nature, mountain bikes are an intrusion”
    Elitist claptrap. As if there’s only one way to enjoy the Wilderness! And how convenient that it’s your way! I enjoy the woods on my bike just as I do on foot. Nobody should be beholden to your narrow ability to commune with nature.

    “We honor those people by maintaining the sanctity of the philosophical purposes of the Wilderness Act intact.”
    If that were true, you would not arbitrarily exclude an equally low impact user group which the “philosophical purposes of the Wilderness Act” never sought to exclude in the first place.

    • Logan says:

      Excellent post.

    • ZeeWolf says:

      “elitist claptrap” is having to spend thousands of dollars on a piece of equipment.

      • John Fisch says:

        Nobody is “having to” do anything. Whether someone wants to spend that kind of money on a bike is optional. A solid, trailworthy bike can be had for as little as $500 new, much less used.

        You can pay that much for a top of the line hand held GPS. The combined cost of a quality backpacking tent, sleeping bag, and backpack will well exceed that amount. That’s before getting all the peripherals like hiking poles with mechanically shock absorbing tips, featherweight camp stoves, water filters, mess kits, etc. Most hikers think nothing of dropping 150 clams on just a pair of boots. Of course, much of the above is also optional, just as is if one wishes to purchase a bicycle and for how much.

        Impact is relevant. Impact is equal. Cost is irrelevant, unless you’re jealous that someone else has a more expensive equipment than you do.

        • Ida Lupines says:

          Most hikers think nothing of dropping 150 clams on just a pair of boots.

          🙂 You’ve got to have good footwear.

    • rork says:

      It’d take a long time to counterargue every point, since there’s been years of polishing the pro-bike arguments, but I’ll try a few.
      Bikes being better than horses does not make bikes good. I agree both should be banned – you win.
      Studies of bike vs hike impacts are often flawed, measuring equal number of passes at a fixed location. But you see, most bikers travel farther. Allowing biking increases traffic near me, and the trails do get in very bad shape (2 feet deep ruts are a new thing). Sociologically, where bikes are permitted, less hikers want to go there, cause the traffic is heavier. And I’m more likely to encounter bikers than hikers cause they are covering more ground – I admit that in places I really like, a biker would cover less ground since they’d be carrying their bike.
      Bikers won’t use freeze dried food, cookstoves, or tents I guess, good for them. I often do stewardship work for my state (MI) with about 100 other environmentally concerned folks. When 80 mountain bikers show up to plea for more trails on the land we work, exactly one of them is one of us, and except for him, I and the other stewards are there to fight them.

      • Ray says:

        The basic take away from this I see you don’t like to see bikes. No concrete evidence. A two foot deep rut sounds more like a problem with a poorly designed trail than anything, so instead of fighting the 80 mountain bikers, it might be a better idea to enlist their help with trail maintenance. I’m fairly certain they would be more than willing to offer up some volunteer hours, and the result would be a win-win.

        • John Fisch says:

          Hear, Hear!
          I was exclusively a hiker from age 9 to 35. In all those years, I never heard of a trail work day. I didn’t know such things existed. Yet within a very short time of joining the mountain bike community, I was quickly enlisted in trail maintenance and repair activities, and have remained active as such.

          Of all the trails I have built and maintained, I’ve never once sought to make any of them bike exclusive. Everyone who can sustainably use them should be allowed to do so. Who am I to deny hikers access to trails on public lands, even if they only exist due to the fruits of my labor and the labor of my fellow cyclists?

          Inclusiveness, understanding, and cooperation are good things.

      • John Fisch says:

        “Allowing biking increases traffic near me, and the trails do get in very bad shape (2 feet deep ruts are a new thing).”
        Hmmm, on my last backpacking trip in the Holy Cross Wilderness, I saw miles of the most badly rutted trails I’ve ever seen–and these trails had never seen a knobby tire. Ditto my ascent up the west route of Pikes Peak (not a Wilderness area, but not a bike trail either). Conversely, I’ve ridden many trails which see very heavy bike traffic and they show no significant degradation over time. Again, the blanket ban needs to be removed so trails may be assessed on an individual basis.

        • Not afraid of the future says:

          Same in the Wind River Mountains wilderness in Wyoming. What a mess, and no cyclists on whom to blame it. I saw one pack outfitter cut a switchback with his entire pack train–a couple of horses and then a bunch of mules loaded with supplies for his clients’ outdoor showers, salmon and arugula dinners, fancy tents, etc. He didn’t register that I was being sarcastic when I asked him how he was doing. He replied, “Living the dream.” LOL.

          • rork says:

            Sounds like you are (both) pointing out what is mostly horse damage but not attributing it to horses. I’ll agree to keeping horse riders higher on my enemies list than bikers.
            Worst I’ve seen is in the Cascades wet alpine meadows, West side Pasayten for example.

            • Not afraid of the future says:

              Totally agree, Rork. I saw that one place on the west side of the Pasayten was a mess because of the horses and pack trains. Have you been to the Eight-mile/Billy Goat trailhead north of Winthrop? It’s really depressing.

              • The Wilderness Guy says:

                Now there is something we can agree on. I am also no fan of outfitters (climbing, rafting, hunting, and horseback) and feel that they should be very limited in how they can profit on the wilderness. Having giant mule trains cross the wilderness to usher people who would otherwise not venture back there so they can setup a mini hotel defeats the purpose of a wilderness. The Frank Church Wilderness also faces these sort of things with the rafting community. All should be limited.

              • Not afraid of the future says:

                I’m glad we do agree on that. I heartily dislike the luxury packfitter operations and think your characterization of the destination as a mini-hotel is exactly right. I also share the concerns about widespread cattle grazing, both in wilderness and elsewhere, that Dr. Maughan mentions in his biography in the “about” section of this website. Cattle have ruined untold square miles of public land. There, though, I think I’m a bit of a hypcrite, since I like hamburgers and steak.

            • John Fisch says:

              I don’t think so. I’ve only packed the Wind River once, so I’m not familiar with travel patterns there. However, I’ve packed the Holy Cross numerous times and seen no shortage of other packers, but never an equestrian on that particular route.

    • Immer Treue says:

      To preface my reply to your comment, I was both a member of IMBA, and raced mountain bikes for seven years, and through the years have found Mt Bikers be a very agreeable and helpful group of people. Though I agree in spirit with much you have said, this statement sticks out.
      “2. Get increasingly sedentary Americans out into their wild places–under their own power, not from behind the window of an automobile. The bicycle requires no more infrastructure than the boot and it is physically taxing (unlike riding a horse, which is allowed in Wilderness).”

      Most if not all Mt Bikers are anything but sedentary Americans. They were/are a very active group of people, and mountain biking gives them another avenue for activity. I would think that the couch potato group would not be very inclined to spend 2K or more for a decent rig, and take off into wilderness areas. The learning curve of bicycle maintenance can seem rather steep for a novice, and without a mentor, can be down right intimidating, as can the terrain. Buffed out novice trails are not what one is likely to find in wilderness areas.

      I think more trails will continue to become available to cyclists, however, I am in the camp that there are plenty of trails available for most MT Bikers without extension into wilderness areas.

    • Brian Ertz says:

      The Penn State Law Review article most mountain-bike incursion advocates get their ammo from on this issue does a lot of stretching/reaching.

      John says:

      During the formation of the Wilderness Act, the word “Mechanized” was used synonymously with motorized. . .

      The true original intent is clear in the original statute that implemented the Act. To avoid confusion, it defined “mechanized” as “powered by a non-living source.” The simple spouting of the word “mechanical” as evidence against bikes is disingenuous, misleading, and not in accordance with the original intent of the Act.

      This is not true. The statute did not define the term as you suggest.

      The language you paraphrase came from the Forest Service promulgated reg. *36 C.F.R. §§ 293.6(a)&(b)*:

      (a) Mechanical transport, as herein used, shall include any contrivance which travels over ground, snow, or water on wheels, tracks, skids, or by floatation and is propelled by a nonliving power source contained or carried on or within the device.
      (b) Motorized equipment, as herein used, shall include any machine activated by a nonliving power source, except that small battery-powered, hand-carried devices such as flashlights, shavers, and Geiger counters are not classed as motorized equipment.

      That said, the language of the statute doesn’t seem to support the promulgated FS reg that it appears you cite to:

      Except as specifically provided for in this chapter, and subject to existing private rights, there shall be no commercial enterprise and no permanent road within any wilderness area designated by this chapter and, except as necessary to meet minimum requirements for the administration of the area for the purpose of this chapter (including measures required in emergencies involving the health and safety of persons within the area), there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area.

      16 U.S.C.A. § 1133(c)(Emphasis added).

      additionally, you’ll note that proponents of mountain-bike incursion rest their entire legal argument on the idea that, as John says – drafters of The Wilderness Act ‘used the word “Mechanized” synonymously with “motorized.”‘ If that be the case than the “. . .no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport. . .”, 16 U.S.C.A. § 1133(c), language is superfluous, i.e. “no other form of mechanical transport” redundant to “no use of motor vehicles.” If “mechanical” was meant to be synonymous with “motorized,” why not just include one or the other ? the language, “no form of mechanical transport” or “no use of motorized transport” ?

      The reading of the statute that proponents of mountain-bike incursion advocate necessarily requires a contrived ambiguity. The reason for this is not unintentional. It’s a legal attempt to avoid a plain language construction in the courts. Courts are to first attempt to ascertain the legislative intent of a statute from the language of the statute itself. BedRoc Ltd., LLC v. United States, 541 U.S. 176, 183, 124 S.Ct. 1587, 158 L.Ed.2d 338 (2004). Where the statutory language is plain and the meaning is clear and unambiguous, the courts do not search for legislative intent beyond the express terms of the statute and must give effect to the language as written. Hughes Aircraft Co. v. Jacobson, 525 U.S. 432 (1998). Most proponents of mountain-bikes in Wilderness conflation of the terms “motorized” and “mechanical” comes from a 2004 law review article in which the author bends, stretches, contorts, and damn-near accomplishes a proverbial downward-dog in his attempt to project ambiguity onto the Wilderness Act where there is none. See Stroll, Theodore J., 2004. Congress’s Intent In Banning Mechanical Transport in the Wilderness Act of 1964. 12 PENNSELR 459.

      It makes more sense to me that the plain language list, the inclusion of all subjects, including both “motor vehicles” and “no other form of mechanical transport,” clearly suggests an intent that both subjects – not just one with two ways of saying it – are meant to be prohibited from Wilderness.

      • ZeeWolf says:

        Brian – thank you for this perspective on the Wilderness Act of 1964. I have been trying to get this point across in some of my posts, but I am not as good researcher as you, nor as eloquent in my writings.

      • topher says:

        Ertz lays it down. End of discussion.

      • Not afraid of the future says:

        “Mountain-bike incursion advocates”? LOL. That sounds like “militant feminist wackos” or “environmental extremists,” i.e., Rush Limbaugh talk.

        I think you’re nit-picking at that article. The point it makes is that all sorts of “mechanical transport” is allowed in wilderness despite that seemingly all-prohibitive language, from rock-climbing pulleys to fishing reels to boats with oarlocks. So where did Congress intend to draw the line? The article explains Congress wanted rugged human-powered travel in wilderness and didn’t want roads or people carted around in wagons. I’d agree the bike is more of a pure machine than the oarlocks, but I can’t see it being more of one than the pulleys or fishing reels. I know: let’s ban fishing reels! Probably some people would actually favor that.

        Someone could go to court and test this theory. I bet it hasn’t happened because it would cost tens of thousands of dollars even if you got lawyers to donate their time, and a win would be somewhat symbolic, since (a) many wilderness trails are either overcrowded or pretty much abandoned, (b) others are far too rugged to be bikeable, and (c) I’ve heard in places like Idaho the Forest Service doesn’t give a fig if mountain bikers are riding on wilderness trails. Probably true elsewhere too.

        • Elk375 says:

          ++I know: let’s ban fishing reels! Probably some people would actually favor that.++

          Then we can all learn Tenkara.

        • Jay says:

          Fishing reels are mechanical transport? Really? How do I ride a fishing reel? Pulleys in rockclimbing are transport? You have a pretty loose interpretation of mechanical transport. Rockclimbing is an activity, not transportation–the climber typically goes up then comes down to the same spot he started as a form of recreation. The pulley is a simple tool, much like a tennis racket. Neither are effective complex mechanical tools for transportation like a bike or car.

          • Ida Lupines says:

            I don’t like rock climbing because it can deface and scar the rock and mountains permanently. It is not a benign activity either. The more people who take up this activity, the more damage will be done. A pulley to move you could be construed as transportation, if you aren’t climbing under your own power and naturally occurring rock crevices.

            • Ida Lupines says:

              Again, it is a ‘challenge’ and adrenaline junkie type activity, not enjoying nature for itself, and leaving it as you found it. It’s one-sided, not giving back. Nobody is against enjoying nature, just taking more than our fair share, and not giving back.

              • Ida Lupines says:

                So, we should be happy with the places that are already open to these activities, and leave other areas alone and ‘untrammelled’. Why do we need more all the time, especially when human activities already dominate the entire planet? Leave some places alone and undisturbed for wildlife and plants. I’m willing to leave places alone, and I’m happy with the numerous trails that already exist for me.

              • Ken Cole says:

                I could turn this back on you and change the subject this way but I won’t:

                Why aren’t mountain bikers clamoring for access to the interstate system? Could it be due to the inherent conflict between 80 mph traffic and 20 mph mountain bikers?

                I’d like to see that one play out.

                This post is about mountain biking in wilderness.

            • Jay says:

              Well I could sit on a log and someone could drag it, constituting “transport” in some eyes. Therefore, all logs should be banned in the wilderness.

              If you want to equate simple devices that are part of a recreational activity where the intent isn’t travel in the most common-sense definition as “transporation”, that’s your perogative. I’d bet dollars to donuts more level-headed arbiters (courts) wouldn’t see it that way.

              • Ida Lupines says:

                Well, as long as the dragging wasn’t mechanized or motorized, you’d be ok. 😉

                It’s the amount of damage done by mechanical and motorized ‘help’, that is the problem. Not to mention the large herd numbers of people.

              • Ida Lupines says:

                Nobody seems to be able to answer why we can’t be satisfied with the trails that already exist for any of our recreational activities, and why we can’t seem to leave well enough alone.

              • Jay says:

                I can make a pulley out of wood, and modern metal oarlocks are simple improvements of the old style where an oar was placed between two upright pegs of wood. Neither are remotely comparable to a modern, high-tech mountain bike. Simple mechanical advantage goes back as far as mankind, whereas the mountain bike as we know it now is what, 20 years old? I’m not necessarily arguing against bikes, only the nonsensical comparisons between high-tech bikes and simple tools as justification for the allowance of bikes.

              • Ray says:

                It’s easy to be “happy” with what you have when you’re not losing access to 100’s of miles of trail that have been traditionally open your choice of recreation. Closing trails like this just over crowds other trails.

              • Ken Cole says:

                Ray, you aren’t losing access to these trails, you just can’t ride your bike on them.

              • Ray says:

                So you would be content if some of your favorite trails became “bike only”?

              • Ken Cole says:

                In wilderness, which is what we are talking about here, I would.

      • JB says:

        Thanks for the perspective, Brian. And I appreciate the clarifications of Zeewolf and others. As I said, I don’t really have a stake in this issue, and took John at his word.

        BTW — This is the longest non-wolf related post I’ve seen in some time! Who would have guessed that bicycles could get folks so riled up?

        • Ida Lupines says:

          I don’t know that it’s the mountain bikes so much as trying to stem the tide of advancement of destructive human activity. Just one more of a seemingly endless onslaught.

          • Not afraid of the future says:

            It’s a legitimate concern, but land managers know how to stop wild areas from being overrun. You can have a permit system, ration by price, build more trail mileage, set usage by alternate days or weeks—there are endless alternatives. Quite frankly, I’d be happy with Mountain Bike Wednesdays in wilderness areas, and let the traditional users have the other six days. Is it a deal?

  20. jimt says:

    Excellent article, George. I guess the folks here arguing for wilderness access really don’t “get” the idea of “untrammeled” when it comes to these areas. These places exist sufficient unto themselves; they do not need human purpose to validate their existence and preservation.The idea that there are still large contiguous areas that are only touched by hiking boots gives me comfort even if I never visit them all.

    • John Fisch says:

      “I guess the folks here arguing for wilderness access really don’t “get” the idea of “untrammeled” when it comes to these areas.”

      Every study shows the impact of feet and bike tires to be equivalent. So, if a bike “trammels” an area, so does a boot. There is no justification here to favor one over an other. If an area truly needs to remain untrammeled, then access should be restricted–period–not just one type of equally low impact access.

      Policy should be made based on facts and demonstrated impact, not on your “comfort.”

    • Nancy says:

      The first sane comment I’ve seen so far, regarding this discussion jimt 🙂 Thank you!

      • The Wilderness Guy says:

        John whines on just about every website when it comes to wilderness and getting mountain bikes in them. Guy has no life, obviously. John, i’m younger than you, and I like wilderness… it’s all I seek for outdoor activities.

  21. Not afraid of the future says:

    It’s basically a stalemate. It wasn’t any law passed by Congress that banned bikes. It was the decision of a handful of Forest Service bureaucrats in 1984—before then, the few mountain bikers around rode legally in wilderness, along the lines of what Congress really intended as the signature of wilderness (no motors, no roads, no big infrastructure).

    But no bureaucracy ever wants to revisit anything it isn’t forced to, and Congress shies away from any hint of controversy. So we’re stuck with a lack of legal access to wilderness (as opposed to de facto access) in the near future.

    But wilderness purists shouldn’t be celebrating, because the price they’ve paid for founding and insisting on federal support for the Church of Wilderness is a stalemate. We don’t have legal access, but because Congress doesn’t like controversy, from now on, as has been true for the last decade, it’s going to be like pulling teeth from an unsedated polar bear to get Congress to create any more wilderness anyplace cyclists like to ride.

    If the clergy of that church thinks the tradeoff is worth it to them—forget about us—that’s a great example of cutting off your nose to spite your face. Yet it’s understandable, because the wilderness movement is now as much a faith-based one as one based on reason or science, and no one ever accused those driven by faith of being particularly wise. Is anyone going to the great 50th anniversary Wilderness Jamboree, Revival Meeting and Papal Conclave in Albuquerque in October? You’ll see all sorts of lunacy there, from a movement that’s willing itself into eventual extinction.

    • ZeeWolf says:

      N.A.of the F. – The 1964 Wilderness Act clearly states in Section 4(c) “no other forms of mechanical transport”. Bicycles are mechanical forms of transport and are therefore banned from designated wilderness areas. If mountain bikers were riding around in congressionally designated wilderness areas in 1984 they were doing so illegally.

      • Ray says:

        It also says no commercial enterprise, but people don’t seem to have a problem with outfitters fetching a pretty penny by arranging trains of horses to carry people and their supplies in for luxury camping trips.

        • ZeeWolf says:

          Ray – Section 4(d)(6) “Commercial services may be performed within the wilderness areas designated by this Act to the extent necessary for activities which are proper for realizing the recreational or other wilderness purposes of the areas.”

          • Ray says:

            I don’t feel like having someone else doing all the heavy lifting is in line with the intent of the act. I don’t agree other “special provisions” such as motor boats aircraft etc. Perhaps if there were a special provision to allow biking to continue in new or proposed Wilderness there may be more support.

            • ZeeWolf says:

              Ray – “I don’t feel like having someone else doing all the heavy lifting is in line with the intent of the act.”

              You will have to provide better documentation than your own opinion in order to convince me. Personally, I have never needed nor wanted anyone to haul my stuff for me as I’d rather do it myself. But I think Section (4)(d)(6) makes it perfectly clear that allowing outfitting was congress’ intent. I don’t agree with the other provisions as well, but they, too, are allowed by law. I am guessing these were compromises made in order to make the Wilderness Act of 1964 more palatable to some members of congress. There are actually quite a few “grandfathered” exceptions. I certainly don’t like grazing inside designated wilderness (or anywhere on public lands) but that was the compromise made to get the deal done.

              I see the writing on the wall. In certain cases, in order to protect public land from devastating extractive industry, I am willing to make a compromise regarding mountain bikes in those areas where that use has been long established. However, that being said, I would also like to see mountain biking on public lands reviewed by NEPA and an EIS beforehand. And, any land protected from development or motorized use but open to mountain bikes wouldn’t be wilderness nor, in my opinion, should it be called such.

              • Ray says:

                I agree with you on the grazing in Wilderness especially. On other public lands most likely as well. As far as my opinion, I understand it would take more than that to sway someone, but you understood what I meant, and somewhat agree even if the act says it’s allowed. If there is compromise and bikes are grandfathered in, but the land isn’t designated as Wilderness, so be it, but it is still wilderness or the back country riding that many people long for.

        • JimT says:

          BS. A LOT of folks who treasure the original concept of wilderness oppose horses, especially the large outfitters. I have seen what horses can do in the wilderness areas around Crested Butte, Colorado, especially in the wet times of the years. If allowed, there should be strict limits on the times of year and the local conditions so the trails don’t get as trashed as I witnessed.

      • Not afraid of the future says:

        ZeeWolf, that’s a reasonable thing to believe in light of that language, but all sorts of mechanical transport is in fact allowed in wilderness, so a law review article 10 years ago delved into the wilderness act’s history to see what Congress had in mind to ban exactly. It wasn’t human-powered transport; they wanted to encourage rugged and physically difficult travel to answer the challenge of the Soviet Union (this was the early 1960s). Here’s a link to that article. It puts it in an entirely different light from what people tend to think when they read that no-mechanical-transport text in the wilderness law.


        It may be that someone has made a serious effort to refute the view in the article, but if so, I can’t find it on the Internet. If anyone does see anything, please post it; I’d be curious to see what it says.

          • Not afraid of the future says:

            Thanks, ZeeWolf, but I see that it predates the law review article. I’m interested in anything that would refute it. If you find anything, please pass it along.

            Even given that article, I’d agree the legalities are uncertain and it’s not definite that the wilderness act allows for bikes in wilderness. If that’s true, though, it remains a mistaken policy not to allow them. Wilderness advocates, if they want wilderness to be around in the next 50 years in the same basic form that exists today, should be advocating for human-powered travel and not endorsing the current hypocritical system, which keeps environmentally benign cyclists out while allowing, as you and Ray have pointed out, all sorts of wealthy urban types to be wined and dined in wilderness in a kind of luxury, with gourmet cooking, wine, and so on. At least that’s what the websites of some of these pack outfitter advertise.

            • ZeeWolf says:

              NAotF – Refute: To prove to be false or mistaken. If something predates another thing does that automatically exclude the former from refuting the latter? I suppose it might, but I’m not sure either way. Perhaps in the legal world refute specifically addresses the temporal aspects of related arguments. That being said, I suppose what you mean, explicitly, is that you are wanting an article that directly responds to the piece posted by the IMBA. That I cannot provide.

              Although not a direct response to the IMBA piece the Wilderness.net piece does address the same sections of code. To wit: the IMBA article specifically cites the 1966 decision by the United States Forest Service to allow (or at least not prohibit) non-living forms of mechanized travel. The Wilderness.net article offers evidence that the USFS was mistaken in this interpretation because the original code (the portion of (4)(c) that I cited earlier) made no mention of living or non-living power. Therefore, I feel that I was able to provide an article that refuted the IMBA article, even though it had been published earlier.

              The last time I checked, Colorado had about 24 million acres of public lands of which about 3.7 million acres, or 15 percent, are designated wilderness. Why is access to this small percentage so important to the mountain biking community? I firmly believe that the intent of the Wilderness Act of 1964 was to restrain this type of fast-paced activity.

              Sunday, I took a hike up and down the Doctors Park trail. I must have been passed by about three dozen mountain bikers, and to everyone’s credit all participants were cheerful and agreeable. Yet, speaking as a hiker, it was cumbersome to have to constantly remove myself from the trail to let people zip by at high rates of speed. If wilderness areas are opened to mountain biking, then where am I supposed to go to escape from this fast paced activity? I can pass the same number of hikers or equestrians and not feel encumbered although my solitude might be slightly disturbed.

              Wilderness areas have been cited as the place to go to find solitude, but what I don’t see being cited and feel is just as important is to be able to find a place to go where speed and velocity are not so fast. Horses conform to this perception of slow-paced travel, but bicycles do not. Would the mountain biking community be willing to impose a speed limit on trails? I doubt it, since my perception is that mountain biking is more about the thrill of velocity than appreciation of solitude and nature.

              As far as decrying the wealthy urban types who might be out in the wilderness utilizing pack animals, just who do you think will be using the wilderness on bikes? The wilderness areas would be overrun by these same wealthy urbanites only in larger numbers and further reduce the opportunity for solitude and slow-paced recreation.

              • Not afraid of the future says:

                ZeeWolf — Good points. I was using “refute” in the formal sense. I must have learned it in graduate school. I did read the article you linked to. Someday maybe a court will decide this.

                As for Doctor Park Trail (I’ve never been clear on whether it’s Doctors Park or Doctor Park, so I settled on Doctor), I understand your complaint. Although I don’t live in Colorado, I’ve mountain biked it two or three times and once had to pull off on one of the super-narrow stretches and clamber up a steep hillside to let a bunch of motorcyclists pass. It’s since been closed to dirt bikes. How about alternate-day use for popular trails? I’d go for it. I’ve read that it works and is respected in Washington state and Tennessee (but can’t cobble up the sources for that in a couple of minutes). People argue it doesn’t work on the Tahoe Rim Trail, but there it’s just a suggestion, not a rule.

                As for wilderness, I have the impression, mostly from personal experience, that a lot of them are hardly visited by anyone and the risk of a hiker being annoyed by streams of mountain bikers is low, because there are hardly any hikers in them anyway.

                I realize that no one’s mind is likely to be changed in this debate, but I think it’s good that people at least become aware of other people’s point of view.

              • John Fisch says:

                “The Wilderness.net article offers evidence that the USFS was mistaken in this interpretation because the original code (the portion of (4)(c) that I cited earlier) made no mention of living or non-living power.”
                Which is why we must go back to the actual congressional testimony leading to the Act–there is where we can find what Congress really sought–the testimony all focused on exclusion of motorization, never all forms of mechanization. That’s why the original USFS interpretation and implementation were spot on.

                “The last time I checked, Colorado had about 24 million acres of public lands of which about 3.7 million acres, or 15 percent, are designated wilderness. Why is access to this small percentage so important to the mountain biking community?”

                Colorado has 3,727,157 acres of Wilderness. Colorado has 4,434,936 acres of roadless area. So about 84% of the most desired areas for mountain bikes are off limits. Mountain bikes are designed for the backcountry. Nobody wants to ride a mountain bike in the Pawnee National Grasslands or some logged out area crisscrossed with logging roads. And regarding the amount of public lands, mountain bikes are also banned from National Parks, National Monuments, and also get excluded by other designations by the USFS, BLM, state, or local land managers. Add to that the fact that many otherwise excellent mountain bike routes which start and end in open areas, pass through some portion of Wilderness, rendering the whole ride nonviable. Look at some maps of Wilderness sometime and see how often the boundaries jut out and crab a small portion of trail or how often a small portion of trail wanders over the line. If you, as a hiker, were banned from over 80% of your most desirable routes, I doubt you’d be saying “That’s okay, I have other trails. And lets designate even more for hiking exclusion while we’re at it!”

                “I firmly believe that the intent of the Wilderness Act of 1964 was to restrain this type of fast-paced activity.”
                While on the trail, I have heard “on your left” from trail runners. And I can certainly gallop a horse faster than I can ride my bike. In fact the allowance of horses is where this argument totally breaks down. The bike still requires it’s rider to be fit and self reliant. The horse obviates this need.

                “Wilderness areas have been cited as the place to go to find solitude, but what I don’t see being cited”
                I agree completely. However, bikes don’t disturb solitude, people do. And if the bike is traveling faster, it will be in your field of view for a shorter duration, actually intruding upon your solitude less than another hiker would.

                “my perception is that mountain biking is more about the thrill of velocity than appreciation of solitude and nature.”
                And your perception is prejudicial and false. There are different kinds of cyclists. The types who are fit, disciplined, and skilled enough to access the backcountry are every bit as conservation minded and appreciative of nature as hikers. This is not the Red Bull, armor-wearing, ski lift, downhill racing crowd. There are hikers, backpackers, hunters, and equestrians who lack respect for nature as well. No one user group has a monopoly on either vice or virtue.

                “As far as decrying the wealthy urban types who might be out in the wilderness utilizing pack animals, just who do you think will be using the wilderness on bikes? The wilderness areas would be overrun by these same wealthy urbanites only in larger numbers and further reduce the opportunity for solitude and slow-paced recreation.”
                Already answered above. For review: The bike is human powered and requires both fitness and skill–the horse does not. There is no comparison. The wealthy can, and do, buy their way into the backcountry by owning or hiring horses. It doesn’t matter how much money one spends on a bike, he can not buy his way into the backcountry. The statement that “wilderness areas would be overrun by these same wealthy urbanites” is demonstrably false.

            • Elk375 says:

              ++The bike is human powered and requires both fitness and skill–the horse does not. There is no comparison. The wealthy can, and do, buy their way into the backcountry by owning or hiring horses.++

              BS. Horses require both a degree of fitness and skills way beyond skills of a mountain bikers. Horses are dangerous. I have both. Riding a bike is a skill you learn at 6 and is transferred to the mountain bike. Horsemanship and mulemanship is a life learning process and requires a year around commitment to the welfare of the animals. Riding and packing horses requires many more skills than riding a mountain bike.

              There has been several comments about the intent of the Wilderness
              Act whether it allows non motorized mechanical devises. If it does then should a team of horses and a wagon be allow in the wilderness.

              Some years ago a mountain bike rider was racing down Sourdough Creek Trail South of Bozeman and tried to sneak around a horse. The horse kicked him in the head and he lost a eye. I have seen several times where a horse starts to get excited with bikes nothing serious but things can get quickly get out of hand.

              • John Fisch says:

                “BS. Horses require both a degree of fitness and skills way beyond skills of a mountain bikers. Horses are dangerous. I have both. Riding a bike is a skill you learn at 6 and is transferred to the mountain bike. Horsemanship and mulemanship is a life learning process and requires a year around commitment to the welfare of the animals. Riding and packing horses requires many more skills than riding a mountain bike.”

                Basic bike riding skills transferring to mountain biking is a huge stretch–there is no comparison to riding the road and riding rough singletrack. Just look at Lance Armstrong’s foray into mountain biking. He would fare pretty well in a race like the Leadville 100 where most of the route was on fire roads, but he did poorly where the course was technical, despite his superior fitness level.

                I’ve also had both, although I gave up the equestrian gig some years ago. I disagree that horsemanship is a lifelong learning process. I pretty much had it sewn up by the time I was 19. I will grant that additional learning takes place with each individual horse, but that’s because each horse in unique, not because of the complexity or everchanging nature of horsemanship in general. Much the same could be said switching from one model bike to another.

                The bottom line with fitness, however, is that an unfit person can still ride a horse deep into the backcountry, not so with a bike.

      • John Fisch says:

        You missed the part where the 1964 regulation specifically defined “mechanical transport” as “any wheeled contrivance powered by a non-living source” — fully in accordance with the intent of the Act as evidenced by a thorough study of the congressional testimony leading to it’s passing.

        • topher says:

          According to Wikipedia the act was reinterpreted in 1986 to ban bicycles. Maybe you’d have better luck in the courts arguing against that interpretation but it seems unlikely.

  22. topher says:

    Anyone know where I can get me a good set of 21 speed oarlocks and how much they might set me back?

  23. Ida Lupines says:

    Are these posts from the American Mountain Bikers’ Association? They sound a lot like the American Paddlers Association group lobbying for more access to lakes and rivers in the wilderness from awhile back. It’s not about a slow pace enjoying nature, it’s all about speed and thrills. 🙂

    I don’t know who these gourmet backpackers, galloping horses, and others are on mountain trails. I hope they don’t all have a lobbying group!

    • John Fisch says:

      “It’s not about a slow pace enjoying nature, it’s all about speed and thrills.”
      False assertion. Those who seek speed and thrills are not the ones who seek to ride remote areas. The ones who seek to ride remote areas have far more in common with hikers than they do with bikers who seek speed and thrills.

      On those occasions where I have taken a GPS track of my travels, they reveal that my average hiking speed is around 3 – 3.5 mph and my average riding speed is about 4.5 – 6 mph. Not a big difference there.

      • Ken Cole says:

        Not a big difference? Almost twice the speed is a big difference and you are comparing averages not minimum and maximum. What is your maximum speed? Have you ever hit anyone? Have you ever scared the crap out of anyone? Be honest.

        • Not afraid of the future says:

          I’ll be honest. I’ve mountain biked maybe 30,000 miles and scared hikers three or four times and startled horse-riders two or three times. I always stop and apologize. I’ve never hit anyone.

          I was most impressed by the horse-riders I startled on the Dyke Trail in Crested Butte a few years ago. They were real horsemen and when I came upon them in thick foliage that made it impossible for us to see one another they handled their horses excellently and nothing happened. Hats off to them.

          • Ken Cole says:

            How much wildlife have you killed while riding your bike? Snakes, lizards, other animals? That’s not nearly as likely to happen while hiking because you and the animals have time to react.

            The reason I ask, is that I overheard someone yesterday while walking in the park say that he ran over a snake while riding his bike in the Boise foothills.

            • Not afraid of the future says:

              Zero in all that time. How much have you killed driving your car?

              In fact, I stop and remove snakes off of trails before some horse can come along and tromp on them. Or some hiker who doesn’t know anything about snakes drops a heavy rock on them.

            • Not afraid of the future says:

              Years ago I did, however, once probably run over, in a rented SUV, a beautiful iridescent blue snake, about four feet long, on a remote and empty road in central Nevada on my way to a trailhead for a mountain bike exploration of a semiabandoned trail. The possibility haunts me to this day.

            • Not afraid of the future says:

              The environmental impact of mountain biking is at the very bottom of the scale, along with day-hiking. The only thing that could have less impact would be to stay out of wildlands completely. Anything else, notably backpacking, has a greater impact. How many backpackers have unwittingly scared wildlife away from a safe drinking source because they were camped next to it? I may well have myself, when I used to backpack.

              If you are eager to lower your environmental impact on wildlands to the minimum possible, short of total avoidance of an area, you will want to stop backpacking and start day-hiking or mountain biking (where it’s permitted).

        • John Fisch says:

          Okay, so if almost twice the speed is a relevant difference, what about trail runners who run faster than 6MPH? What about the PCT thru-hikers who are doing it solely for the purpose of setting a new record or personal best?

          What about boats with fixed oarlocks? Try to paddle a laden watercraft upstream with a single, handheld paddle–you’ll move at a glacial pace, if at all. Yet throw the mechanical advantage of oarlocks on there and you can move at “twice the speed” quite easily–or even, by definition, infinitely faster if the current is such that you couldn’t make any headway without the oarlocks.

          Try cross-country skiing without a pivoting toepiece and compare that to your speed with a mechanically pivoting toepiece. Again, you’ll move at even more than “twice the speed.”

          As far as trail conflicts, I’ve had exactly four in my 15 years of riding, two with pedestrians and two with equestrians.
          1. As equestrians approached, I stopped and dismounted my bike while they were still over 25 yards (75 feet away). I stood with my bike a few feet off the edge of a fairly wide (4′ trail). The last horse got spooky and began thrashing a bit and left the trail, kicking up his heels in the proximity of my head, despite my being off the trail.
          2. I approached equestrians from the rear. About 25 yards away, I announced my presence and asked, in the friendliest voice possible, to be given the opportunity to pass when it became convenient. One opportunity passed without being given a response, so I asked again. Before the next opportunity to pass, the group stopped and chatted among themselves and ignored my next request. Were they deliberately being obtuse? It sure seemed like it. Then another and another. After three opportunities with no response and my friendly communication each time, when the fourth opportunity arose (a trail braid running parallel about 10 ft from the main trail), I announced that I was passing. As I passed, I was the recipient of such vitriol, even though I did everything right, and even went beyond what should be expected.
          3. I saw a trail runner approaching on narrow singletrack. About 50 yards from meeting, I stopped, dismounted and stood aside the trail. The runner also stopped, I’m guessing to get her breath as she was ascending a significant hill. She just stood there panting, looking down. After about 10 seconds of zero forward motion on her part, I remounted and continued on my way. As I reached her, she stepped back onto the trail, almost knocking me off a cliff into the Missouri river 50 ft below, a potentially fatal exchange.
          4. Approaching a hiker from behind I slowed to walking pace and asked permission to pass, but was ignored. Again, I went through this cycle 4 times with no response? When the trail widened, I passed, startling the hiker–who was wearing and iPod!

          Oh yeah, there were two other negative encounters, each time with unleashed, uncontrolled dogs. One, a cow dog ran up on me from behind and put deep puncture wounds into my lower right calf. The other, a Great Dane, running around a blind corner, took out my son on his bike.

          And having been an avid backcountry hiker and backpacker for 40 years, but a cyclist for only 15, I have many more hours in boots than on knobbies. In all my years of hiking, I never had a bad encounter with a cyclist. In fact, it was the positive exchanges I had with them which made me consider adding cycling to my means of backcountry travel in the first place.

  24. Not afraid of the future says:

    I forgot to answer your question about the importance of wilderness to (many, not all) mountain bikers. It’s because a high percentage of the most beautiful and remote public lands are in wilderness. The kind of mountain biker who wants to ride in a wilderness is going to be, 98% of the time, a nature-lover just like most backpackers are.

    I used to do a ton of backpacking, but I got tired of the blisters, the curling up of moleskin, the dust, the filthy feet and clothes, the insect bites, the heavy backpack, the sometimes desperate hunt for water, and the sheer slowness of it. I love mountain biking because it’s cleaner and one sees so much more nature so much more pleasantly (although riding a mountain bike on anything like Doctor Park Trail is hard work and I bagged it once because I couldn’t even make it up Spring Creek Road from Harmel’s). At its best, one flows along a trail rather than trudges (as I now see it). True, there are fantastic areas that are open to mountain biking, but it seems peculiar to me, and hard to justify, that suddenly there’s a sign proclaiming “Powderhorn Wilderness” (to name one in your area) and the bike you were riding that was fine, suddenly isn’t.

    • Kathleen says:

      “…it seems peculiar to me, and hard to justify, that suddenly there’s a sign proclaiming “Powderhorn Wilderness” … and the bike you were riding that was fine, suddenly isn’t.”

      Your conceal carry gun was fine on the street, now, at the courthouse door, suddenly it isn’t.

      The kid’s Bud Light T-shirt was fine at home, now, in the high school classroom, suddenly it isn’t.

      Your dirt bike is fine on motorized trails and thousands of miles of open Forest Svc. roads, now, at the paved, non-motorized bike path, suddenly it isn’t. Doesn’t seem peculiar to me.

      • John Fisch says:

        But what has changed at the point the sign appears to justify that? Certainly the presence of the gun in a courtroom is of great concern. Yet, there’s nothing on the far side of that Wilderness sign that is any different with respect to the presence of a bicycle than on the open side of that sign, other than some prejudicial accusations and false assumptins.

        • Kathleen says:

          “But what has changed at the point the sign appears to justify that?”

          A boundary designated by the Wilderness Act of 1964–a boundary that designates a change in management. It needs no further justification. And, BTW, I’ve spent lots of time on a mountain bike, too.

        • Angela says:

          What changed is that wilderness areas limit human penetration into them so as to protect wild areas and wild things. Allowing bikers increases human penetration and disturbance and thus reduces the core area of wilderness.

          • The Wilderness Guy says:

            Thanks Angela, these dumb dumbs have zero comprehension of ecology, and are just in this to say “hey ma..look at me” while they fly down a mountain with their gopro’s attached to their heads and try not to kill themselves. They have enough places to ride. They don’t need the wilderness areas, or the National parks and monuments, too. I see many of these areas as preserves first and foremost for wildlife, and nature, not for a few man’s thrill park adventure ride. These guys that are in these mountain biking organizations are just the personification of the x-games and six flags adventure mentality. They’ll destroy it all if they can in the name of cheap thrills and trying to look cool in front of their peers.

            • John Fisch says:

              ” these dumb dumbs have zero comprehension of ecology”

              You mean like hikers who defecate and/or set up camp within 100 feet of streams, Cut switchbacks, build illegal fire rings leaving permanent scars on the land, and start forest fires which destroy millions of acres of pristine habitat? Or equestrians who bring invasive species into the Wilderness with them?

              “These guys that are in these mountain biking organizations are just the personification of the x-games and six flags adventure mentality.”
              This statement is totally unfounded and falsely prejudicial. I (and everyone I ride with) bring exactly the same conservation minded, low impact ethos into the backcountry on my bike as I, and you, do on foot.

  25. Ida Lupines says:

    I hear nobody talking about injuring themselves, someone else or disturbing/injuring wildlife with mountain bikes. Is it all always about human needs, or do we ever consider any other creature on earth? A slower pace take everything into account. There are some places that should just be left alone – where does human encroachment all end? If we truly value wilderness, we should leave some wilderness alone.

      • Ray says:

        You do realize that guy was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon right?


        Other instances of non rational behavior as well.


        I imagine some of these traps wouldn’t be good for the animals either.

        Here’s a good collection of various studies done on different user groups. Everything from erosion to animal impacts.


        • Ida Lupines says:

          Well, some people get a little carried away.

          It seems that mountain bikes disrupt the elk herds too.

          • Ray says:

            Good soldering to you as well! When the other arguments point to the fact that each user group has their own impacts, you fall back on the bikes are dangerous, it’s not a race track etc. It’s obvious? Yes, when hikers cut switchbacks creating fall line erosion, that’s extremely obvious, and sorry, but a rider plus bicycle is now way more damaging than a thousand pound horse. But, I have nothing against horse riders, it’s quite possible mountain bikers and horse riders can work together. Here is a great example.


            See how people can work together so that everyone can enjoy the trails? Not so difficult.

            Its disruptive? Bike riders also have to be alert for other trail users, perhaps even more so because any incident will get blown out of proportion.

            Who is really dangerous? People who hang on to misinformation as fact. Bad information is discredited for a reason. It’s not selfish to want to share the trails, it’s selfish to not want to.

            • Ida Lupines says:

              I’m not directly my comments to you personally, I can take or leave mountain bikes, as long as I don’t get run over (after a quick ‘on your left’ while I’m concentrating on birds and wildflowers), but I do worry about the increasing impact of humans generally into previously untrammeled areas, with no concern for anything else except our own accessability. That’s really my only concern. It’s never enough.

              I’d have more sympathy if we didn’t take and occupy nearly everywhere habitable on the planet already. But there’s always a new ‘gotta have’.

              Even woodland caribou habitat, what little remains after we have taken almost all of it, is under threat because we want more for snowmobiling. Is it really worth it to wipe out and animal and it’s predators so that we can ride a smelly, noisy vehicle? Can’t we ever do anything quietly? Dan Ashe says there are plenty in Canada tho, but with the energy mania there, I don’t think we can rely on that for very long. Our country is turning into an ugly, overdeveloped place, one almost indistinguishable from another.

              There are some places that should be left alone, I believe, even from hikers. But in the future I don’t think they will exist, because neither political party values them except for one-sided gain. There’s no giving back to protect wilderness as there has been in decades before.

              I don’t understand why it’s cool to be outlaw bikers and paddlers.

              • John Fisch says:


                Let me start off by saying that I agree there may be places in need of a level of protection that no human encroach regardless of mode of transport. I also agree that our country is “becoming an ugly, overdeveloped place.” However, there is no justification for placing any one equally low impact user group above another in those areas where human intrusion is allowed.

                Just as every bit unbiased research shows bike impact equivalent to hiking impact in terms of erosion, sedimentation and vegetation (whether or not you choose to accept that, it is fact(seeKeller, 1990; Wilson & Seney, 1994; Chavez et al. 1993; Ruff & Mellors; 1993, Cessford, 1995a; Woehrstein, 1998, 2001; Weir, 2000; Thurston & Reader, 2001–lots of independent studies there and nary a one to the contrary), so it also is with wildlife.

                Since we’re talking about wildlife now, here’s a few more:
                Taylor and Knight (1993) studied the responses of wildlife to hikers and cyclists on Antelope Island, Ut. Species studied included Bison, Mule Deer and Pronghorn. They concluded there was no difference in wildlife response between pedestrian and cycling forms of human intrusion.
                Papouchis, Singer, and Sloan (2001) studied the responses of Desert Bighorn Sheep. In that study, the Bighorn fled in 61% of hiker intrusions and only 6% of biker intrusions! The researchers postulated that this was due to hiker actions being more unpredictable and their greater likelihood to directly approach the animals.
                Gander and Ingold (1996) studied the responses of Alpine Chamois in Switzerland and noted no difference between hikers, trail runners, and cyclists.
                Looking at our National Bird, Spahr (1990)found that walkers caused the highest frequency of eagle flushing, with 46% of walkers causing eagles to flush. Fishermen were second at 34%, with bicyclists at 15%, joggers at 13%, and vehicles at 6%.

          • John Fisch says:

            I’ve seen more Elk on my bike than on foot. And multiple independent studies confirm my anecdotal evidence.

            And when you think about it, it makes sense. Most species, especially game species, are conditioned to be wary of humans on foot–after all, that’s who carries guns.

        • Ida Lupines says:

          I find they are dangerous and seem to come out of nowhere when you are trying to enjoy a hike. I have not seen anyone especially polite or impolite, but you have to be alert for them and it is disruptive. I think a lot of these studies have either been discredited or there just isn’t that much information, so they can legitimately say that ‘no studies show’ anything! It’s obvious that they have much more impact to plants and animals, and soil erosion than walking, or even horseback riding. A hiking trail isn’t a racetrack.

          • Ida Lupines says:

            What was the final outcome? I’m trying to find it. It actually says the bikers were on restricted trails, not that that justifies any altercations:


            You are following the usual script of selfish, consumptive users – discredit, push your own agenda, and align people who want to protect the environment with radical terrorists and criminals. Good soldier!

            Meanwhile, who really are the dangerous ones?

            • John Fisch says:

              “You are following the usual script of selfish, consumptive users –”

              As for consumptive, impacts are equal, so you can’t claim one group is more consumptive than the other.

              As for selfish, that’s quite an accusation coming from someone who has access to 100% of the most desirable public lands towards someone who has access to less than 20% of those same lands.

              • topher says:

                “As for selfish, that’s quite an accusation coming from someone who has access to 100% of the most desirable public lands towards someone who has access to less than 20% of those same lands.”
                Nobody’s banning mountain bikers from accessing the other 80% of public lands as long as they leave the bikes at home and strap on a pair of boots.

              • John Fisch says:

                Expecting anyone to enjoy the activity in the same way as you is both selfish and elitist when other forms are equally or even lower impact.

        • Ida Lupines says:

          I did not realize that – it is interesting.

  26. Not afraid of the future says:

    <blockquote cite="Nobody’s banning mountain bikers from accessing the other 80% of public lands as long as they leave the bikes at home and strap on a pair of boots."

    Of all the arguments in favor of clinging to the status quo, this is probably the most offensive.

    Let’s travel back to 1960, shall we?

    “Why, no, Mr. and Mrs. Steinberg, no one is stopping you from buying a house here in Restrictive Covenant Township. In fact, anyone is welcome to, as long as they convert to Christianity.”

    • topher says:

      I don’t think it’s as offensive as your comparison. Maybe you can get the A.C.L.U. to take up your cause. Your argument is with the land managers so maybe you should try and feed it to them, although I doubt they care to eat it any more than I do.

      • Not afraid of the future says:

        Sigh . . . the standard and entirely too indignant response. “How dare you compare me to a religious apartheid advocate? I’m only a trail apartheid advocate!”

        I’ll do another. “Why, sure, Bob, no one’s stopping you from marrying Steve. He just has to be a female.”

        Cue the outrage! 🙂

        • Not afraid of the future says:

          By the way, the comparison is both apt and fair. People are passionate about their religion, but one’s religion isn’t a basic human characteristic, unlike race, sexual orientation, etc. People convert from one religion to another all the time. Religion is a choice, even if a deeply felt one. Similarly, people are passionate about their favorite mode of trail travel, but whether you mountain bike or hike or use a giant trail-destroying mammal is not a fundamental part of your biological makeup either. It’s a choice, even if a deeply felt one.

          • topher says:

            Then you won’t mind me exercising my choice to be a wilderness snob. I don’t make the rules and the people who do seem to disagree with your interpretation of the original intent of them. You can argue all you want but being smug and clever won’t win anyone over. Take it up with the land managers but I don’t expect I’ll be seeing you on my favorite trails anytime soon.

            • Not afraid of the future says:

              I don’t mind at all. Let a hundred flowers bloom. 🙂

              • The Wilderness Guy says:

                Actually your comment is not even fair. You weren’t born with a bike attached to your butt. You have a pair of legs that are needed to power a bike. They can also be used to walk. Hence, you are not excluded. I know you might think your bike is attached to your rear end, but i’m willing to bet that it is not.

              • Not afraid of the future says:

                [Somehow there’s no reply link to The Wilderness Guy’s post, so please read downward if this posts above it.]

                No one’s born with a religion hard-wired into one’s brain either. It’s inculcated by your parents.

                I avoided comparisons with race because that is immutable. The comparison with same-sex marriage is made for a different purpose, and that is to show the essential unfairness in the you-can-hike argument (i.e., no one’s stopping you from doing x as long as you do it the way we want you to do it). I’m not suggesting sexual orientation and recreational preferences are on the same plane.

                The more I read the comments about this issue, in fact, the more I realize this is essentially a religious dispute. It’s not an environmental dispute; horses are much worse than either bicycle tires or feet but you hear almost zero complaints from wilderness purists/puritans about horses. It’s an argument over one’s relationship to the wild and the validity of certain people’s view that the way they conceive of that relationship constitutes the one true faith.

              • John Fisch says:

                Wilderness guy
                You also aren’t born with boots on your feet or a horse under your butt. The comparison stands. Demanding others forgo their preferred low-impact activity in favor of yours is still selfish and elitist.

  27. Ray says:

    A NY Times article from 1964 highlights Interior Secretary Udall’s fondness of the bicycle. He is credited for creating some of the countries first federal bicycle paths.


    A few quotes from Frank Church, also a key player in the passing of the act.
    “I support the multiple-use principle in the ad- ministration of our public lands wherever it makes sense, that is, wherever the land is suited for multiple use.”

    As Church argued, “it was not the intent of Congress that wilderness be administered in so pure a fashion as to needlessly restrict their customary public use and enjoyment.”


    I believe if mountain bikes had been around during the creation of the act there would have at lease been some consideration, especially since exceptions for motorboats and aircraft have been made.

    • Not afraid of the future says:

      Interesting! Thanks. I wish I had time to read all this stuff. I agree with you that trail-capable bikes would at least have been considered for wilderness access if they’d been around back then. Hard to know what Congress would do nowadays. It would probably be one of those incredibly divisive issues, with the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society on the fearful side (also, they have to kowtow to the more rabid among their members) and the International Mtb Association, the Outdoors Coalition, and many other nonmotorized outdoors groups saying do a trial run and see what happens. And it’s almsot certain a trial run would result in very few problems, mountain bikers would drop our opposition to more access-killing wilderness, and everyone (well, everyone not in the Church of Wilderness) would be happy, or ought to be.

    • topher says:

      Here is a link to an article that explains the original intent of the law and how the Forest Service got wrong in 1964. Concerns about the original wording were addressed as early as 1965.

      • Ray says:

        Yes, I saw that article. Written by a lobbyist and strategist for the Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, and Alaska Coalition. Couldn’t contain a bit of bias. I don’t doubt that some people involved with the creation of the act would have been against the inclusion of bicycles, but certainly you must concede that some would have been fine with making that compromise. There was much give and take prior to that Act passing in the first place. Why are there exceptions for some “mechanical advantages”? What makes them more pure than the bicycle, or a sail boat for that matter?

      • Not afraid of the future says:

        Thanks, I just read it. His argument seems to come down to: “A bicycle is obviously a mechanical device and obviously a form of transport. The plain words of section 4(c) of the Wilderness Act prohibit bicycles in wilderness areas. Ditto for wheeled game carriers.”

        He could be right, although what about rock-climbing equipment devices like pulleys? Or even fishing reels? They’re obviously mechanical and obviously a form of transport—in the one case for humans, in the second for fish. But they’re allowed.

        I think a court is going to have to straighten this out eventually, because I can’t see either Congress or the Forest Service doing anything. Congress is paralyzed and the Forest Service is a bureaucracy that doesn’t want to make trouble for itself. Maybe one of those mountain bikers you’re sure you won’t be seeing on a wilderness trail will be ticketed at some point—they’re definitely out there—and she or he can fight it in court and we’ll find out the answer.

    • topher says:

      When Frank Church talked about lands suited for multiple use I’m pretty sure he was talking about lands outside of designated wilderness being freed up for other purposes and I think he was referring to consumptive use. I also don’t think mountain biking would be considered a customary use in the wilderness areas that I visit here in Idaho.

  28. Angela says:

    It is sad that some mountain bikers can’t be satisfied unless all public land is open to their form of recreation, including wilderness. That they would oppose new wilderness designations because it would restrict mountain biking seems extremely selfish–their fun is more important than keeping some places free from human disturbance. I grew up riding horses, but I don’t think horses belong in wilderness and wouldn’t want to ride in a wilderness area. Wilderness is for the wild things first. A human walking on a trail is far less stressful to wildlife than a mountain bike bombing down a hill. It’s obvious to me that mountain bikers pushing for wilderness access simply do not value wilderness or understand the idea of having areas where human access is deliberately limited so as to reduce impact and penetration into core wild areas. That is the very thing that makes wilderness special! I would be perfectly happy if human beings were not allowed in wilderness at all, because I care more about keeping some places wild than I care about almost anything. Sounds like mountain bikers care more about their own personal pleasure than they care about wild places and wildlife. Really? There can’t be some areas where you have to use your own two feet? Sad.

    • Ray says:

      I have never heard a mountain biker say they want access to every single trail. The opposition often comes because trails that have been ridden by mountain bikers for years would close. Would you not feel the same way if one your favorite hiking trails became reclassified as “bike only”? As far as the impacts to wildlife; have you read many of the studies? There are at least a few that point to hikers as having the bigger impact. Also Wilderness was not created to limit human access, only to preserve it from the increasing growth of the US population.

      “In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States”

      “For this purpose there is hereby established a National Wilderness Preservation System to be composed of federally owned areas designated by the Congress as “wilderness areas,” and these shall be administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use and enjoyment”

      • Ida Lupines says:

        Mountain bikers vs. Hikers vs. Horseback Riders – could we all stand to use a brushup on our behavior and etiquette when in the outdoors? Probably. On an individual basis, you’d probably find a mountain biker who might behave better than a hiker, and vice versa.

        My pet peeve is clean up your freakin’ trash! there’s nothing worse than seeing beer cans, plastic grocery bags, remains of impromptu fires when signs ask you not to, and used scumbags. People really are gross and don’t deserve wilderness. 🙂

        • Ray says:

          Agreed. Bad apples in all user groups, and the lack of respect and trashiness of some people does indeed suck.

        • Not afraid of the future says:

          I agree. I’ve hauled trash out of a wilderness area. And I think the people who left it were motorcyclists, judging by the tracks that led to the location of the trash. Yes, in the real world even motorcyclists are riding in some wilderness areas. So many of them are essentially empty. I’ve been warned to stay away from the Yolla Bolly Wilderness in California because of the danger of stumbling across a marijuana grow. That’s the consequence of current federal policy, which is to lock even many would-be human-powered travelers out. It’s a mistake.

  29. Nancy says:

    Back in 2008 this fellow started documenting mountain biking accidents & deaths. There are 478 incidents to date (and I’m sure he missed a few) There is even discussion of one man killed after being thrown from his horse after an encounter with a mountain biker.

    This IMHO, is an extreme sport and is more in line with pitting one’s self against nature, rather than enjoying it. No place for it in wilderness areas.

    “19. ANOTHER Dead Mountain Biker!
    There seems to be a pattern here”


    • Ida Lupines says:

      You got it, Nancy. “Pitting oneself against nature”. I wasn’t able to put into words what it is about the human view of nature and wildlife that bothers me. Instead of working with nature, it’s almost always a battle against or a contest. That’s why I like to walk and hike so much – you’re just there enjoying it. I don’t think all of time hikers are disturbing the wildlife, I know I make it a point to be as unobtrusive as possible.

    • rork says:

      Most bikers near me (MI) seem man vs. nature types too, but there may be exceptions. I don’t want to argue about intentions though, or have to give a test if you are perceiving the green world “properly” (= my way).

    • Ray says:

      The link comes from someone quite extreme themselves. They were arrested for assault with a deadly weapons. Anytime you are going into the Wilderness you are pitting yourself against nature, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it, and although I haven’t been keeping track, I’m quite certain that there are at least that many hikers who have died since 2008; most likely many more.

      • rork says:

        “pitting yourself against nature” is nothing like what I’m wanting out there. I do a few chores and I receive many gifts. Mountain climbers and extreme boaters are the most pathetic to me, or winter travelers in lifeless places only there cause it’s hard. I’m not saying they can’t want that, but they might wanna think about why – or maybe they’d better not.

        • Ray says:

          I’m talking about the inherent danger of being in the wilderness. The weather can change, you could trip and fall, get lost, be the victim of an animal attack. Any number of things can go wrong when you’re out in “nature”. I’m not sure what extreme boaters are, but most times in the wilderness, you are climbing mountains. As for venturing out in the Winter, I can’t answer for everyone, but it changes the landscape dramatically, and of course there is most likely even more solitude.

      • Nancy says:

        He seems to have a lot of thoughts on the subject Ray.


        “Arrested for assault with a deadly weapons” please share.

        • Nancy says:

          Oops I missed your earlier post on this Ida. And Ray, I can’t get up the link you posted about the assault.

          • Ray says:

            Yeah, he’s quite the character. Look at his introduction. ” I first became interested in the problem of mountain biking in 1994.” He obviously has a personal vendetta against mountain bikers. Apparently he was found innocent of a previous vandalism charge and the charge of assault was dropped due to lack of evidence, but of course, that doesn’t mean he didn’t do it. Based on his hatred for mountain bikers though, I wouldn’t put it past him. Not many people hike with a saw on a fire road.

            Obviously some people have their mind made up, but if you look at some of the other links I have posted about the history of the act. You can see that if it weren’t for compromise,and the idea that it should evolve over time, the Wilderness Act might not have ever passed in the first place. Whatever your belief, there is an interesting history behind the act. I think the bottom line from people that mountain bike and pursue the interest of mountain biking in Wilderness, is that we understand the importance of these areas, otherwise we would’t be so passionate about them ourselves.


            • Nancy says:

              Ray – personally, I’m all for areas set aside where no humans (or livestock) are allowed to step foot 🙂

              Around here – dirt bikes & ATV’s in the summer months and snowmobiles in the winter months and the locals are passionate about their right to access public lands & forested areas, regardless of the damage their form of entertainment might cause (including pollution & noise) to wildlife and wild areas. Yet if questioned, I’m sure most of them would say they treasure the wild places.

              • Ray says:

                I’m not opposed to areas set aside for no access, but I’m not certain it is necessary. Possibly in some of the more populated areas I could see it, but in many remote low populated areas not so much.

                While I don’t ride dirt bikes or any of the others, I recognize that they do have a place on public land. There are ways to manage trails to minimize impact. I’ve seen motorized trails in better shape than some hiking only trails, plus they do a lot of the post Winter trail clearing where they are allowed. The bad thing about motorcycles in my opinion, is that when misused, the can do a lot of damage and it is usually significant, however there are quite a few responsible riders and organizations out there that are attempting to educate others. And I do believe they (at least some of them) legitimately treasure the wild lands.

  30. JB says:

    Most of the arguments could be succinctly summarized as: I don’t think X group belongs in the wilderness because (a) I don’t like them (or the way the recreate), or (b) they interfere with my recreational experience. The first argument has no place in deciding the legitimacy of the activity, the second may have, if certain types of activities are more likely to interfere with opportunities for solitude–one of the key recreational purposes of wilderness. John Fisch (above) argued that the latter isn’t true about bikes because bikes/bikers need not speed through the wilderness. While this is true, it is also true that bikes give people greater ability to move quickly through wilderness, and therefore, will increase trail encounter rates (and decrease opportunities for solitude). This–of course–isn’t a fatal flaw for mountain bikes. Agencies could reduce encounter rates by requiring permitting and limiting the number/location of bikers or other recreationists (for example).

    I do find John’s arguments persuasive regarding mechanization and damage. I used to regularly run along some trails in a national forest where I would often encounter mountain bikers. The trails were fine for years–until the horse folks found them. After a year or two of horses they were so rutted that they were impossible to run without turning an ankle.

    • Louise Kane says:

      not sure summarizing the arguments into two camps includes George’s argument that the Wilderness Act was meant to exclude mechanized technology. That argument would not fall under the realm of personal preference…..i

      • JB says:

        I wrote: “Most of the arguments could be succinctly summarized as: I don’t think X group belongs in the wilderness because (a) I don’t like them (or the way the recreate), or (b) they interfere with my recreational experience.”

        I found John’s response regarding Congress’ intent where mechanization was concerned to be enlightening, and agree with the logic. Personally, I don’t really have a stake in the issue; I don’t get to wilderness very often, and my cycling is relegated to roads.

        • ZeeWolf says:

          JB – “I found John’s response regarding Congress’ intent where mechanization was concerned to be enlightening, and agree with the logic.”

          JB, you are being taken for a ride, pardon the pun. To be clear, what I mean is that you are being deceived. Part of John’s comment from above states:

          “The true original intent is clear in the original statute that implemented the Act. To avoid confusion, it defined “mechanized” as “powered by a non-living source.””

          This is simply not true. The Wilderness Act of 1964, as statute, states in Section (4)(c) “Except as specifically provided for in this Act, and subject to existing private rights, there shall be no commercial enterprise and no permanent road within any wilderness area designated by this Act and, except as necessary to meet minimum requirements for the administration of the area for the purpose of this Act (including measures required in emergencies involving the health and safety of persons within the area), there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area.”

          The language that is relevant here is “no other form of mechanical transport”. In 1966 the United States Forest Service set up regulations that defined “mechanized transport” as “any contrivance propelled by a nonliving power source.” The USFS language in their regulations was not necessarily in keeping with the intent of the Wilderness Act.

          Of the various litigation to reach the courts, I’ll quote from one decision that deals with the difference between statute and regulations: “Where the language of the statute is clear, resort to the agency’s interpretation is improper.” Medtronic, Inc. v. Lohr, 116 S. Ct. 2240, 2263 (1996)

          Eventually, the USFS changed their regulations regarding “mechanized transport” to include “living or non-living”. Are you surprised that (1) the USFS misinterpreted the law, (2) then implemented erroneous regulations contrary to the law, and (3) then took nearly a generation before correcting their original erroneous interpretation?

          John, and the mountain biking community at large, have repeatedly conflated regulation with statute specifically to fit their own needs. I dare you… no, wait… I triple dog dare you to find “powered by a non-living source” anywhere in the language of the Wilderness Act of 1964.

          If I where to come out and say “wolves are wicked and evil because…” and offered unsubstantiated evidence and misinterpretation of the law as my basis would you then say that you found my argument “enlightening, and agree with the logic”?

          I only ask because reading your posts over the years you have repeatedly, and in my opinion righteously, challenged those sorts of unsubstantiated claims based on erroneous misinterpretation of both law and peer-reviewed science. To quote from John again: “Congressional testimony leading up to the Act clearly indicates…”. Yet no direct quotes nor links to testimony are provided. John, I know you are reading this, would please provide evidence that congressional intent was to allow bicycles into wilderness areas?

          • Ray says:

            Certainly this misinterpretation was brought to light by the Wilderness Society. Senator Church was also critical of the Forest Service for dragging their feet and not protecting more land because of their “purity” standard. “It was not the intent of Congress that wilderness be administered in so pure a fashion as to needlessly restrict their customary public use and enjoyment.” However, without his pension for brokering compromise, the Act might have never passed in the first place.

            “Church’s wilderness legacy continues to resonate into the twenty-first century as recent wilderness designations have abandoned old “purity” standards and embraced the coalition-building ideal that Church championed. The trouble with wilderness had always been in its definition.78 What exactly was wilderness? Where did it begin? Where did it end? Church’s signal contribution to the great wilderness debate was to demonstrate that, while Congress would be the final arbiter of wilderness designations, “wilderness” itself was an evolving idea that defied narrow classification.”

          • John Fisch says:

            It’s one thing to say the letter of the Act (in all its ambiguity) predates the 1966 USFS regulation, and yet another to actually delve into the testimony that led to the act in an honest effort to understand the issue fully.

            Congressional testimony indicates that the original intent of Wilderness was to preserve (bikes diminish this no more than feet), provide non-motorized recreation (bikes fit) and get people out in their wild places under their own power (bikes fit), and preclude the creation of additional infrastructure (the bike requires no more infrastructure than the foot — a trail).

            A House member asked, “on page 17 of the bill . . . the language is as follows: ‘has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation.’ I wonder what ‘a primitive and unconfined type of recreation’ might be?”
            Representative Aspinall responded, “it just simply means that there will
            not be any manmade structures about in order to embarrass and handicap
            the enjoyers of this particular area.” (from 110 CONG. REC. 17443 (1964).)

            Testifying before a House subcommittee, Representative John P.
            Saylor of Pennsylvania asked to have included in the record a 1961
            statement by Senator Clinton P. Anderson of New Mexico, made when
            Senator Anderson introduced a prior version of the Act in the Senate. In
            a passage titled “Wilderness Recreation,” Senator Anderson stated, as relevant here:
            “Yet we must recognize and emphasize more than we have the values
            of wilderness recreation in providing for the health and vigor of our
            citizens. “Physical fitness is the basis of all the activities of our society,” and
            I say this in the words of President-elect John F. Kennedy writing
            thus in the December 26, 1960, issue of Sports Illustrated. In an
            article entitled “The Soft American,” this great and vigorous leader
            warns that this “age of leisure and abundance can destroy vigor and
            muscle tone as effortlessly as it can gain time.”
            “Many of the routine physical activities which earlier Americans
            took for granted,” he points out, “are no longer part of our daily life.
            A single look at the packed parking lot of the average high school
            will tell us what has happened to the traditional bike to school that
            helped to build young bodies. The television set, the movies, and the
            [myriad] conveniences and distractions of modern life all lure our
            young people away from the strenuous physical activity that is the
            basis of fitness in youth and in later life.”

            (Wilderness Preservation System: Hearings Before the Subcomm. on Public
            Lands of the Comm. on Interior and Insular Affairs, House of Representatives, 87th
            Cong., 2d Sess. (1962))

            Following subcommittee and committee hearings in June 1964, the
            House reduced “nor any other mechanical transport or delivery of persons or supplies” to “no other form of mechanical
            transport,” the language now found in 16 U.S.C. § 1133(c). But this
            amendment did not widen the prohibition. Rather, the intent of the
            original “transport or delivery of persons or supplies” language remained
            following the simplification. The historical record establishes this point:
            a member of Congress explained to the House Committee on Interior and
            Insular Affairs that the clause was being amended “solely for the purpose
            of clarification. The substance and intent of the original language and of
            the substitute language are the same.”

            Wilderness was intended to stop “a continued reduction in this type of area, a reduction by roads, a reduction by improvements, a reduction by
            lumbering in areas that should not have lumbering in them, and in other
            ways through commercial resorts. . . .”
            (Same Congressional session, statement by Rep Baldwin)

            In the House,human-powered recreation was welcome, even if aided by mechanical devices enabling activities like mountain climbing or skiing,and members of Congress saw such recreation as the proper use of
            Wilderness. “[T]he use of wilderness [is] those recreational pleasures
            that go with it—of . . . hiking, swimming, mountain climbing . . . and the general enjoyment of natural scenery and wildlife habitat.”
            (Statement of Rep Boland, 110 CONG. REC. at 17443)

            This is but a sampling.

        • Ken Cole says:

          JB, I have no problem if X group uses wilderness. They are not restricted from using the wilderness. They are only restricted in the methods they use wilderness. That needs to be clear and the arguments here seem to try to white wash that in various ways.

    • Not afraid of the future says:

      Good summary, JB.

      Our opponents, having seen exuberant mountain biking in smaller parks near urban areas, tend to see us as hedonists who want wilderness as a playground. It’s a somewhat understandable stereotype, but wilderness mountain biking isn’t really conducive to hedonistic romping. From what I hear, people are mountain biking in wilderness all the time, despite the ban, and are scarcely even seen, let alone cause a scene.

      As for us, we mountain bikers tend to see our opponents on the wilderness issue as dour Puritans who can’t abide the thought that someone else is doing something exhilarating, as opposed to merely dutiful. Note the repeated concerns in this essay and the replies about people having “fun” or “thrills” on their “thrillcraft,” as if fun and thrills are something to shed as soon as possible, hopefully by age 11.

      Few people change their minds in these debates, which can be found all over the Internet, but it’s still useful to air one’s opinions. If people met in person, they’d probably find more common ground than this discussion reflects.

      • Angela says:

        Interesting assumptions. I don’t know any wilderness lovers that “can’t abide..that someone else is doing something exhilarating.” Is this truly what mountain bikers think about their opponents? I also don’t know any wilderness lovers that are just being “dutiful” by walking and secretly wish they could be riding a bike or something else. The reason I personally go to wilderness areas or other remote spots is to be in an environment less disturbed by human beings. I wouldn’t even call myself a hiker–I go somewhere where I can be alone and sit silently to observe nature and wildlife and sketch. My footprint is as small as I can make it and I am an adamant “leave no trace” practitioner.

        On the other hand, yes, I do assume that mountain bikers want to use wilderness areas as a playground, because, if that wasn’t the case, and they are fine with leisurely travel, why the bike? But I also base my assumption on the mountain bikers I know and those I see on trails. I don’t see sedate travelers interested in the environment around them; I see people intent on getting to a destination and enjoying speed on descents. Am I to believe that the majority of mountain bikers wanting to use wilderness areas are the type that just want to poke along quietly? I don’t know what “hedonistic romping” is, but I view mountain biking as a lot like skiing–the joy is in the descent, with the most experienced tending to go the fastest and on the most difficult of terrains. Am I wrong in this assumption? Why do mountain bikers want access to wilderness?

        • Not afraid of the future says:

          Hi, Angela—Well, I can only repeat what I mentioned earlier. George, this article’s author, thinks of bicycles as “thrillcraft,” and all over the Internet one finds wilderness purists worrying about mountain bikers having “fun”; they use that precise word. The purists/puritans don’t mind fun per se; what they don’t like is the kind of exhilarating fun that mountain biking is rich in, because to their mind exhilaration is not in keeping with wilderness worship. You’re supposed to be reverential in wilderness, not laughing joyfully as you—dare I say it?—playfully negotiate a beautiful but also difficult trail section. The purists/puritans see the word “playful” and have reactions ranging from mildly disapproving to aghast. Reread George’s initial essay above, and you’ll see this mindset at work.

          Why do mountain bikers want wilderness access to be regularized, as opposed to the current discreet, clandestine state of affairs? I explained this earlier. People like me like remote places that offer (1) scenic beauty and (2) isolation from civilization (sound familiar?). Wilderness offers both. I could backpack. But I’ve long since grown bored with and unenamored of backpacking. It’s so slow and tedious. There’s no “flow” to it; one trudges. Blisters, insects, dirty clothing, etc. are all annoying. Mountain biking requires more physical fitness, even though it’s less hard on your body, so it takes a long time to work up to a level where you could ride in most wilderness areas. But the reward would be great, as it already is on so many other national forest trails (and, increasingly, national park system trails) where we can legally ride.

          I hope that goes some way toward answering your questions.

        • The Wilderness Guy says:

          Backpacking is slow and tedious, and that’s why it’s natural for our last remaining wilderness areas. You sound like a typical overstimulated maroon with how you think you need to speed through wilderness like it’s some race and video game. A very typical urbanized apex parasite.

          • Not afraid of the future says:

            Oh, not at all. Start riding a mountain bike and become skilled enough to do long rides on remote singletrack. You’ll then know better.

          • Not afraid of the future says:

            Actually, let me give you a more serious reply. Mountain bikers seek out riding on remote singletrack because it’s contemplative, relaxing, and somewhat Zen-like. And because you get to see such majestic scenery. Entirely the opposite of a mountain bike race or a video game. Not only would we not want to speed through wilderness, but it’s not possible, unless 7 mph is speeding.

    • rork says:

      Pretty good razor, JB. I worry trail improvements follow bike arrivals, de facto shrinking wilderness. We have mountain bikers doing trail improvement work for bike riding where riding bikes isn’t even permitted – they nail a little pirate seal to where they cut a tree from the trail for example, and we are supposed to like the improvement, as if better trails are a boon to everyone (they aren’t).
      I agree that many places I really want to go are unlikely to get bike trails under any limit-bike-access plan. But my experience is that we give them more, and it’s never enough access. I ask bikers, what would be enough? I did that about 2 months ago at a meeting and nobody answered.

  31. Ida Lupines says:

    “ Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”

    – Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

    Patience: The best times for viewing wildlife are generally first thing in the morning and late afternoon/early evening. You enhance your chances simply by finding a spot, sitting down and waiting. Be patient. The more you move around, the more conspicuous you are. By staying put, in effect you become part of the scenery and subsequently represent less of a threat.

    This is usually the times I go and how I behave when bird watching. I don’t go in a large, noisy group, because you won’t have success. Serious wildlife viewers remain quiet, do not approach wildlife and generally try to be unobtrusive, and I’ve gone with an ornithologist.

    In one of the eagle studies Mr. Vandeman mentioned had the mountain bikers to ride without looking at eagles and the some of the hikers stop, look and point at them. ???? Do people always behave that way when outdoors? I doubt it.


  32. ma'iingan says:

    I don’t really have a dog in this fight – mostly I’d prefer designated wilderness areas be off-limits to anything but research, but that’s my own personal bias.

    But I can add that I use my mountain bike a lot to search for den sites and rendezvous sites, and to explore likely areas for trapping and howl surveys, and I see a LOT more wildlife from the bike, and they don’t seem to recognize me as a threat – so I generally get better observations.

    If I were a group of shredders hammering down singletrack I’m sure the results would be far different.

  33. Ken Cole says:

    Mountain bikers aren’t restricted from wilderness, they can leave their bikes behind and walk like everyone else.

    • Not afraid of the future says:

      The same lame argument that’s already appeared in this thread. Of all of the antibike arguments, this is one of the least defensible and most off-putting.

      We could ban hikers and say the same thing: “You’re not restricted from wilderness; you can leave your hiking boots at home and get on a bike like everyone else.”

      Contrary to the belief that lies behind this justification for discrimination against a legitimate user group, there is nothing that is inherently morally, socially, psychologically, or environmentally superior about hiking, so banning it in favor of bikes would be every bit as justifiable as a bicycle ban (i.e., neither would be justifiable). Hiking was just there first.

      People with these attitudes are going to be the doom of wilderness well before the Blue Ribbon Coalition, the Republican Party, or logging and mining interests achieve it. But they’re watching your efforts with enthusiasm. Wake up, useful idiots.

      • Ken Cole says:

        I think it’s pretty defensible. If you want to enter the wilderness you can leave your bike behind. It’s that simple. Nobody says you can’t enter the wilderness on foot and the law says you can’t enter the wilderness on a bike. Get it? Pretty simple if you ask me.

        It seems that people with an attitude like yours are the problem. You, and your motorized recreation friends are in the same boat trying to chip away at the Wilderness Act for the sake of recreation. The Wilderness Act wasn’t written solely for recreation, it was written to preserve wild places from people like you.

      • Ken Cole says:

        And don’t call people idiots on my blog.

        • Not afraid of the future says:

          “Useful idiot” is a term of art you seem not to be familiar with. It doesn’t necessarily mean one is an idiot. In fact I never call people idiots in writing; it’s like calling someone a racist or a fascist, i.e., a term too broad to be susceptible of real meaning. “Useful idiots” are “people perceived as propagandists for a cause whose goals they are not fully aware of, and who are used cynically by the leaders of the cause.” (See below.) This well describes the wilderness purist crusade. You’re being used by people who want less wilderness, and they’ve been duping you for decades now. You don’t like mountain bikes? Well, your own efforts have preserved and protected thousands of square miles of pristine land for mountain biking and, worse yet from your perspective, motorized uses, because you’ve made Congress unwilling to create dozens of wilderness areas that wilderness advocates have long wanted. The Blue Ribbon Coalition is thrilled by your many years of missteps. And, frankly, I should be too, because although I am formally barred from riding my mountain bike in designated wilderness, the wilderness movement has protected giant swaths of beautiful land for mountain biking through its obduracy. Thank you!


      • Ken Cole says:

        You should try to make a real argument against what Brian Ertz said. Labeling his argument as “nit picking” isn’t an argument.


        • Not afraid of the future says:

          OK, here goes:

          1. For purposes of argument, I’ll accept all of the legalities and assume that a court would say no to bikes in wilderness.

          2. So what are we left with? Here’s my “real argument,” which isn’t premised on a legal argument. It’s that we’re left with:

          (a) less current wilderness than would otherwise exist;

          (b) little deep public support for wilderness—if you ask people, “Do you support wilderness?” 90% would say yes, but only a tiny and dwindling band really care about it.

          (c) a dim future for wilderness, since over time the constituency for maintaining it seems to be going the way of the Shakers.

          Don’t take my word for it. An op-ed columnist in The New York Times recently wrote that wilderness is in a “midlife crisis”:


          And one of the more striking things about that article isn’t anything in the article itself. It’s how few comments it generated, despite the enormous reach of The New York Times. And how relatively few “likes” each comment got. That speaks volumes.

          You should embrace your fellow nonmotorized trail users while there’s time.

          • Brian Ertz says:

            2. So what are we left with? Here’s my “real argument,” which isn’t premised on a legal argument. It’s that we’re left with:

            (a) less current wilderness than would otherwise exist;

            According to what ? A political designation or a landscape’s character ? Many of the lands that are subject to designation – that include the essential wilderness characteristics, but are not yet so designated, are already afforded de facto protections that enforceably preserve their wilderness characteristics – whether it be as a matter of law or as a matter of isolation/disinterest from/of would-be threatening anthropogenic impact. In essence, they are wild and there is little credible threat of that changing without protracted public resistance. In contemplating the prospect of more designated “W“ilderness, an on-the-ground assessment of the actual threat and the urgency of such a threat needs to consider the existing legal/regulatory mechanisms already in place. Are the areas protected via other designations ? What is the real likelihood that absent a “W“ilderness designation, the wilderness characteristics will be lost to the landscape ?

            W“ilderness should be more than a feather in the cap of an advocacy group (or coalition of advocacy groups), it should mean some advancement of actual, and essential, protection on the ground.

            (b) little deep public support for wilderness—if you ask people, “Do you support wilderness?” 90% would say yes, but only a tiny and dwindling band really care about it.

            Let’s assume that you are correct – that by being more permissive of popular anthropogenic influences “W“ilderness will garner more public support.

            1. You need to substantiate the claim that such an alleged differential in public support is/will be both so statistically significant as to be dispositive – i.e. that mountain bike support will make or break existing protections for “W“ilderness.

            2. You need to support the claim that the quantity of “W“ilderness is more important than the quality of it. In essence, by changing the nature of wilderness – by capitulating to more “acceptable” human influences within “W“ilderness in an effort to procure public support for “W“ilderness – advocates of mountain biking within “W“ilderness surreptitiously argue that ‘two apples is better than one – and you’d have an easier time getting from one to two apples with our support’ without ever acknowledging that what advocates of mountain biking in “W“ilderness require involves a human activity that renders the apple something else. You’re comparing apples (wilderness) to would-be oranges (“W“ilderness w/bike use). You’re asking wilderness advocates to acquiesce to the loss of an essential attribute of the subject of their advocacy in order to get more of it (or whatever it there-after becomes).

            3. You need to provide a convincing case that there is not an alternative avenue by which you could acquire the protection for the values that you seek to advance on the lands that you seek to advance them in the absence of the Wilderness Act. I argue that a landscape that involves all of the other protections of the Wilderness Act other than a prohibition on mechanical transportation is of its very essence something other than wilderness, fostering an experience other than that which the Act is meant to protect. That doesn’t mean that initiatives involving wilderness advocate and mountain bike enthusiast coalitions are not possible, nor does it mean that they wouldn’t be desirable, it simply means that mountain biking is not appropriate in existing “W“ilderness areas.

            Why in so many instances has the mountain-biking lobby conditioned their support, their willingness to engage in coalition with wilderness advocates to support protective measures that serve shared interests on increasing landscapes, on their access to existingW“ilderness areas ? Why not just acknowledge the essence of wilderness, leave those areas alone, and join efforts to protect those landscapes that are not subject to the restrictions of the Wilderness Act ?

            (c) a dim future for wilderness, since over time the constituency for maintaining it seems to be going the way of the Shakers.

            “Substance Over Form”

            In my personal estimation, diluting the essence of wilderness, allowing more and more anthropogenic activities that diminish its essential character, to keep a hold on the word “W“ilderness is more a dim future than the alternative. There are already too many more concerned with the notoriety of lines on a map than with the essential character of the landscape itself.

            How are those who champion wilderness – its essential, inspirational and aspirational value – supposed to do so while sliding backward more and more over time ? They can’t.

            It wouldn’t be honest.

            • Not afraid of the future says:

              Hi, Brian—I really like your post because it gets down to the nub of things. I will strive to give you the best answers I can.

              Regarding (a), I quite agree with much of what you say. Lots of land is protected from ruinous motorized or extractive uses and yet is not wilderness. So, as you correctly point out, that has to enter in the calculus about whether one should tolerate bicycles in existing wilderness or any new ones that happen to come along.

              I particularly agree with you that “Wilderness should be more than a feather in the cap of an advocacy group (or coalition of advocacy groups), it should mean some advancement of actual, and essential, protection on the ground.” I wish you were the head of the Wilderness Society; it needs pragmatic reasoning like that. What I hear, though, is that among the traditional organizations like the Wilderness Society it’s all about the acres—the psychological impetus is to have as much land designated wilderness as possible, even if it’s not of wilderness “quality,” so to speak.

              Regarding (b)(1), I agree that I’m required to do that. I don’t think I can empirically. But I think the wilderness advocates themselves would tell you that mountain bikers have become a huge (or at least moderate) thorn in their proverbial sides as they seek more designations. President Obama did sign a major wilderness expansion bill. But I’ve heard that it’s all but impossible to get land turned into wilderness if there’s strong opposition to it, and IMBA and other groups don’t want to give up an inch of trail mountain bikers have enjoyed for decades. IMBA strikes me as pretty influential (I’m a member and get its newsletter).

              On (b)(2), I can’t support any such claim any more than anyone else can, because it comes down to aesthetics—which, again, is why I like your long comment, because aesthetics are the core of this debate. Who is to say what wilderness quality is? I think pack trains and grazing despoil wilderness. Dianne Feinstein and Donald Trump might love wilderness excursions with pack trains in Orient Express–like luxury.

              So, you correctly point out, “You’re asking wilderness advocates to acquiesce to the loss of an essential attribute of the subject of their advocacy in order to get more of it (or whatever it thereafter becomes).” Exactly. It’s your decision, not ours.

              On (b)(3), I can do that. Because of my interest in this subject and acquaintance with people who are involved with it, including lawyers, I’ve seen draft legislation that would keep land preserved from extractive uses, roads, grazing, and the building of infrastructure, but would allow human-powered travel of any kind (it didn’t specify the kind of travel; any kind of human-powered travel is self-limiting because we humans are so comparatively physically weak) and simple infrastructure like log bridges, trail signs, and maybe the occasional primitive shelter. I don’t recall every detail, but this legislation would be more protective than current wilderness because it would cut way back on the pack outfitters and reduce grazing, but it would allow people to go on bicycles, pogo sticks, mountain boards (if those are gaining any traction), or however else they can propel themselves. I have no idea what goes on in Congress about this stuff, so I don’t know if it’s being considered by anyone.

              OK, onto point (c). You are not the only one who feels that way. Others too would prefer to hang on to existing wilderness in its no-wheels form than have any more of it if they have to accommodate bicycles. Again, it’s your choice. I would only comment that I think it’s an aesthetic choice, not one with serious environmental or social consequences—by which I mean if bicycles were legalized in wilderness hardly anyone would notice the difference while in a wilderness, although it might cause them to lie awake at night fuming about the concept. People are mountain biking in wilderness areas now and seem to be about as noticeable as neutrinos.

      • Ken Cole says:

        I can tell you one thing about your arguments, they prompted me to weigh in to an argument that I have mostly avoided. Your arrogance and name calling has served to focus my opinion against you.

        Ha ha! Take that!

        • Not afraid of the future says:

          Keep focusing on me, then; I’m happy to debate. You might do better to respond to my substantive points than attempt to describe my personality. I suspect you’re avoiding the former because it’s easier to circle the wagons than engage in serious debate. Your confrère ZeeWolf is doing a lot better than many people here so far; he’s actually engaging with the arguments, and doing a pretty good job of defending his perspective. I recommend reading his posts as a template for how to proceed.

  34. Ray says:

    That article is written by a lobbyist and strategist for the Wilderness society, Sierra Club, and Alaska Coalition about the thoughts of a couple of other like minded thinkers. Incredibly biased.

    What makes bikes so evil? There are exceptions for motorboats and planes in the original act. Logically, you have to at least entertain the idea that had mountain biking been around at the time, the same exceptions would be made.

    “Idaho Senator Frank Church (served 1957–1981) is one of the most important and underappreciated participants in the politics of the American wilderness move- ment. Church neither originated the wilderness idea nor crafted the language of the original Wilderness Act, but he made wilderness work”

    Church’s coalition-building vision of wilderness as a communally defined natural space, not necessarily “untrammeled by man,” became the standard for wilderness designation, and his enduring legacy is a model of citizen cooperation.


    • MAD says:

      That article is written by a lobbyist and strategist for the Wilderness society, Sierra Club, and Alaska Coalition

      oh, you mean in the same way that lawyer/activist Theodore Stroll, who is a member of IMBA and has advocated and argued long and hard for increased access to Wilderness areas?

      Please, step down from thy expensive, mechanical horse and walk amongst the fields and streams with us as advocates of Wilderness, and not opponents racing toward a finish line.

      • Not afraid of the future says:

        I don’t think anyone here has anything to worry about from pro–mountain bike activists, unless they go to court. If anyone hasn’t noticed, Congress is barely capable of agreeing on the naming of post offices these days. And the Forest Service, unless it’s unusual among bureaucracies, isn’t going to change the status quo either, no matter what individual employees might privately think.

        The only thing to consider is the trade-off. What is the opportunity cost (i.e., benefits already forgone) and what is the likely future cost of having no wheels in wilderness? It’s up to you to calculate that, if you’re so inclined. Of course I don’t think the trade-off has been worth it for wilderness advocates, if one accepts as true what they themselves publicly say about wanting more and better-managed wilderness.

      • Ray says:

        I didn’t mention the Stroll law review, but a different recap highlighting the compromises made in order for the Act to be passed in the first place. Church believed that the idea of Wilderness should evolve, and it hasn’t.

        I would gladly be an advocate of Wildermess if that same sense of compromise existed today. In other words, recognizing that some people prefer to pedal amongst the fields and streams.

        • Jay says:

          So you can’t support wilderness unless you get your way? Foot traffic only areas (i.e., wilderness) are a tiny fraction of public land, but you want that too? What compromise?

          Some people prefer to ATV and dirtbike amongst the fields and streams, so maybe wilderness should be open to them to in the spirit of “compromising”.

          • Ray says:

            And what percentage are mountain bike only trails? Extremely limited on public land and generally not the same experience as back country riding. While foot traffic only trails are a small percentage, hikers have access to pretty much everything else. Would you be willing to give up access to a few trails to even out that ratio? So to answer your question, no. The impact of mountain biking is similar to hiking so the exclusion makes no sense.

            As for ATVs, they have their place on public lands. Not in Wilderness. While my preference is to mountain bike, the main argument is with the intent of Wilderness, not being able to do what I want. I believe the intent of Wilderness was to encourage human powered activities had bicycles been equipped for off-road use at the time I believe they would have been included, especially looking at the other exceptions. I gladly support other land protection designations that protect from development but aren’t as restrictive as Wilderness needlessly is.

            • Jay says:

              As the Rolling Stones said, “You can’t always get what you want.” If you want to throw yourself to the floor and pound your feet and fists into the ground screaming “it’s not fair”, have at ‘er. Many, many hiking trails are open to mountain bikes, so you have plenty of places to ride, you just want the wilderness because you were told you can’t go there.

              • Ray says:

                I’m simply stating my opinion, but you’re right, it’s not fair, and also my opinion that it’s not the intent of the Act. Again, look at some of the exceptions made.

                Yes, many hiking trails are open to mountain biking, but how many biking trails are closed to hikers? If we tried to close a trail that we built to hiking, I can imagine there would be a similar outcry of “it’s not fair”, even though as you say, you have plenty of places to hike.

  35. Brian Ertz says:

    You know, when I think about the various iterations of the “W“ilderness debate, it astounds me how complicated it can all become – and how backwards.

    To me, wilderness is itself an ideal that necessarily has something to do with a self-willed landscape and community of inhabitants. It’s not so much about bestowing a human-contrived designation onto a piece of land – as it is about restraining ourselves from imposing our adulterating influence. In order for those places to exist – we have to prohibit human beings, and activities which are innately human, from leaving a lasting influence on the places.

    For all the ways that human beings complicate things, and adulterate them with their activities, there are places protected from such – where we, as a matter of law, restrain ourselves and allow something else to express its influence without the human influence leaving its mark.

    I could list a thousand reasons why this codification of restraint and humility are important to me. Many have to do with the profoundly spiritual and hopeful experience of being in a place without human influence. Others are aesthetic or stem from a sensory appreciation – the wild is so much more beautiful on its own terms. Some reasons are ideological, political – it’s profoundly hopeful to me that for all of humanity’s want, its ambition and ingenuity – there is humility and restraint too. The Wilderness Act is as close to proof as we have that our social institutions and political bodies are in fact capable of meaningfully recognizing – even codifying – our capacity for a collectively-realized human humility and restraint. It seems to me that such humility and restraint are wise, and perhaps are outright necessary, ways to live, if we want to do so sustainably. Likewise, it seems to me that such collective social humility and restraint serves as an antidote, even if only a token one as it stands now, to the unrestrained human ambition and ingenuity that, when allowed to run amok, tends to diminish and destroy any number of wonderful things.

    Many people, Wilderness proponents and opponents alike, often look down their nose at the wilderness “purists,” – a group that, holding the beliefs and conviction that I do, I suspect I belong to. This confounds me. If there is one thing in this world that it seems to me “purism” ought be celebrated as a requisite characteristic, it is wilderness. It seems to me that the notion “pure” is sorta a defining attribute of the word “wilderness.” At least, that’s always how I’ve understood it.

    Wilderness is aspirational, a promise much like “democracy” or “equality.” People have long pointed to how the Founders owned slaves and permitted unequal treatment under the law in direct contradiction to the aspirational edicts and articulated principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. To explore the analogy further, the documents were drafted with lofty intent – lofty principles that were by no means realized at the point of conception. Some argue that the Founders didn’t intend the degree of equality that we have realized today (to say nothing of such a degree that so many continue to reach for). They couldn’t imagine/comprehend it at the time. Should that be dispositive ? Does our Founders’ lack of comprehension of today’s increased degree of Equality change the fact that the principles themselves demand it ? Others argue that the Founders were forced to compromise, to engage in political expediency in order that the documents be enacted into law. Should we consider such expediency at that time a limitation on the principles’ reach today ? So too the idea of Wilderness is a principle, an aspirational one – and I for one will continue to throw my efforts toward advancing the integrity of its realization, and against efforts that would do otherwise.

    The question inevitably becomes that of a debate between quantity and quality. Political calculations suggest that increasing the inventory of “W“ilderness acres demands political compromise. But to those of us who believe in a wilderness that has less to do so much with political designation and more to do with a land’s actual character – and who recognize that on lands for which designation is considered there so-often exist a wide variety of alternative mechanisms of protection (Roadless, WSA, etc.) that serve to significantly buffer threat in the interim, why not insist on the integrity of Wilderness ? Why dilute its aspirational promise further ? Why hold such a short-sighted and immediate view that under-appreciates the ebb and flow ? Work on alternative vehicles for protection in the interim.

    Mountain bikes in “W“ilderness offend the essential character of wilderness. Should bikers want access to and emboldened protections for places with a variety of “wilderness” characteristics, work toward that – but do so without transgressing upon, and requiring the dilution of, that which is quintessentially, and aspirationally wild.

    • Mike P. says:

      Amen !!!

    • Not afraid of the future says:

      I respect the heartfelt way in which you express yourself, and I think you’d find tons of mountain bikers who share your views about the renewing quality of wild places.

      You’re quite right that it’s good to preserve places where the human presence, if allowed at all, is transient and leaves no permanent trace.

      It’s only the last paragraph, where you find that bicycles transgress these qualities, that becomes unpersuasive. There are two reasons for this that I can think of off-hand:

      (1) Mountain bikes leave less of a trace on the land than either backpackers or horse-riders do, and have a comparable impact to day-hikers. Social impacts are a different question, one that’s complex, but I’m trying to respect the confines of your point, which is the respect due to the land itself.

      (2) I’m not accusing you of this personally, but there’s often a lot of hypocrisy that accompanies similar sentiments. There’s a parallel debate to this one going on elsewhere, and I noted this one comment particularly (no, I didn’t write it; it’s better-written than I could have done):

      “I find it quite hypocritical that someone can float a Kevlar or carbon fiber kayak down a wilderness river, using their G.P.S. to navigate, stop and cook a meal on a high-tech, fossil fuel burning stove, put on their Goretex rain jacket, make a call on their cell phone, and then climb into their Hollowfill sleeping bag in their tent made of high-tech fabric and carbon fiber poles, turn on their battery powered lantern, and then say that the bike that passed them on the trail ‘ruined their “wilderness experience”.’ I also find it quite interesting that while all of these ‘modern conveniences’ are permitted in wilderness, a primitive person from thousands of years ago, dragging a simple, hand built, one wheeled cart behind them, would be cited for supposedly somehow ‘ruining’ the character of the place.”

      Here’s the site. It advocates for restoring mountain bike use in wilderness (it was legal until sometime between 1977 and 1984, according to the law review article discussed in this thread).


      • Brian Ertz says:

        I guess where I fail to follow the logic is in the argument that ‘because other uses transgress, our additive one should be allowed to as well’

        You won’t ever find me advocating from a position that suggests that because slavery existed during the time the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were penned, slavery was consistent with the documents’ principles. Nor would you find me likely to support a proposition that suggested that because slavery existed in spite of the principles – that less offensive transgressions that that of slavery ought necessarily be permissible.

        The point is that I don’t find the allowance of horses, or battery-powered devices, or anything else in particular – to convincingly vitiate the reasoning and conviction behind my reach toward realization of the principle.

        • Not afraid of the future says:

          Hi, Brian—That’s fine. Obviously few minds are going to be changed in this dialogue, and that’s fine too.

          I think the other writer was pointing to the hypocrisy of some who fulminate against the demon wheel while relying on some of the higher engineering civilization has to offer for their wilderness outings. So his point wasn’t about additive bad uses AFAIK. Which, of course, doesn’t mean that yours can’t be.

          Leaving aside this jousting over logical principles (although I do find it most entertaining), would it really bother you if you were on a wilderness outing and had two or three encounters with cyclists who were riding in a responsible manner? It sounds like it. If so, what would be foremost in your mind, if I may ask?

          • Brian Ertz says:

            Would running across responsible bikers in the wilderness bother me personally ?

            Probably not.

            Foremost in my mind ?

            Most likely my breath.

        • JB says:

          “The point is that I don’t find the allowance of horses, or battery-powered devices, or anything else in particular – to convincingly vitiate the reasoning and conviction behind my reach toward realization of the principle.”

          But what, exactly, is the principle you’re attempting to articulate? That wilderness is tarnished by all but the most primitive of conveniences? If so, which conveniences are primitive enough to be allowed? Am I allowed to carry my digital camera, or should I forgo it and bring film? Are my autofocus lenses too much? Do I need to purchase real wool socks and an old water bladder?

          It’s one thing to choose to be a purist and adopt these practices yourself, it is quite another to insist that others adopt them too.

          We set aside wilderness to provide opportunities for solitude and to protect nature in an ‘untrammeled’ state–neither of those goals is necessarily diminished by any individual’s use of gadgets or modern technological conveniences (much as you or I would choose to forgo them). It seems rather elitist to argue that the only way to properly interact with nature is the way that [group x] says is appropriate–especially if nature itself is similarly impacted in either case.

          All of this may be irrelevant to the question of whether we should allow mountain bikes in the wilderness, but Brian’s response suggests we should go much further than banning bikes.

      • Nancy says:

        Not afraid of the future – WOW your words are starting to inspire me!

        There’s a perfectly good paved highway from my area to the closest town but then again, there’s a dirt road (seldom if ever used – nor maintained – unless by people just getting off the beaten path) that also goes to town and wow, it would cut my traveling time considerably if the county would just consider paving it. It would also add a little more excitement to the otherwise boring drive to town now.

        BUT I’m afraid that road (the scenery) would eventually get old too.

        But wait! I hear there are all kinds of side paths created by cattle, 4 wheelers, hunters etc. that maybe when this new road gets too tiresome, they could pave those areas so my trip to town could continue to be exciting AND even quicker.

        But hell! As the crow flies? I could be in town in less than 20 minutes (instead of 45 minutes) if they’d just open up and pave, some of those restricted areas just up the road from me 🙂

        Get my drift?

        • Nancy says:

          And I should mention, I live close to the Beaverhead/Deerlodge National Forest. Google it. What isn’t trampled by 10,000 head of cattle and recreation vehicles, is pretty spectacular.

          • Not afraid of the future says:

            I envy you living in such a fine part of the country.

        • Not afraid of the future says:

          I do, but fail to follow its logic. You’re suggesting mountain bikers want to hurry through wilderness. Not so; what would be the point? True, by using a bike we might hope to go farther and see more in the same time. Or, like any backpacker or day-hiker, we might have a particular amount of time before we have to get back to family / work / sleep, and we hope to see what we can in that set time.

          The only people I’ve heard of hurrying through wilderness are through-hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail. The schedule for completing the ~2650 miles before the snow flies on the Canadian border is so demanding that, as described by PCT hikers themselves, some are virtually running and won’t take any detour to look at a waterfall or mountain, e.g. This is in fact a topic of considerable controversy among the PCT crowd.

          • Nancy says:

            You are forgetting the bikers, Not afraid of the future, that ride from Canada to the Mexican border (or from Mexico to the Canadian border?)

            Met a few of them over the years and they are a constant flow in my area, in the summer months.

            They spend most of their time on paved highways and most, I have to say, are very road smart – just to the right of the white line, but I’ve had to pass more than my share of bikers who pedal in the middle of the right side of road (two and three abreast sometimes) oblivious to traffic around them.

            Surprised more aren’t injured or killed by cattle trucks.

            • Not afraid of the future says:

              I think they mostly ride from Vancouver to San Diego, because the prevailing summer winds are from the north. I’ve ridden tens of thousands of road miles and I agree with you—it’s surprising there isn’t even more carnage among cyclists than there is, and there’s quite a bit. The danger also comes from logging trucks (dreadful in Oregon) and people texting and yakking on their phones. I commute to work on the road and it makes me nervous indeed.

              • Nancy says:

                Not afraid of the future – Safe to say you’re monitoring this site, closely, in hopes of swaying a few minds/votes, when it comes to off road biking?

            • Not afraid of the future says:

              And, to follow up, roadies who ride two or three abreast are not only being rude to drivers, but shortening their life expectancy. There are parts of the country where the bitterness between drivers and road cyclists eclipses any rancor between mountain bikers and hikers. Boulder, Colorado, is one such place, and San Francisco is another.

              • Not afraid of the future says:

                No; I enjoy debate for its own sake but have written repeatedly on here that I don’t expect to change the mind of one single person. It would be almost impossible.

              • Immer Treue says:

                And there are roads where “roadies” following all proper protocol who’s safety is put in jeapordy by punks and red necks who throw crap at them and every inconsiderate cell phone user not paying attention to the road. So, what’s your point?

              • Not afraid of the future says:

                Entirely true; almost every serious road cyclist has had those kinds of experiences. I was merely agreeing with Nancy that there are rude cyclists out there. (Maybe you’re addressing her and not me?)

            • John Fisch says:

              I remember these bikers and the situation they face helps illustrate the lack of equity here. On the CDT or the PCT, hikers may (and do) make the trek from border to border on backcountry trails. However, the CDT traverses numerous Wilderness areas and the PCT bans bikes throughout its length, not just in Wilderness areas. There is simply no border to border trail route for cyclists. Nor is there any reason beyond the “I don’t like to see bikes in the backcountry” elitism that should prevent them from using either of these routes in their entirety.

      • MAD says:

        I’d like to educate you dear sir on the issue relating to the veracity of “law review” articles, since you seem to refer to the piece by Mr. Stroll as if he came down from the Mount with his article inscribed upon the tablets. Now I’m sure that your first retort will be, “what does this yahoo know about law review articles?” Quite a bit, I must say, having worked on one of the most prestigious Environmental Law Reviews in the nation (as an attorney), of which Penn State does not even rank in the top ten; which is why Ted probably was able to get his drivel published there. I have published a piece also (which was crap); but more importantly, I am privileged to have a wife who is a field Biologist, has published 7 papers in the last 4 years, and presented a new paper at the conference held last week in Missoula (Univ. of MT) hosted by the Society for Conservation Biology (after which she was approached to do an article for NatGeo).

        So, for the last 15 years both of have toiled in our disparate professions. But there are light years of separation when it comes to publishing a law review article, and a “peer reviewed” scientific article in a Journal. First, a law review article starts with an opinion, agenda, or an argument that one feels the burning need to publish. Second, after hammering out the article, and fully fleshing-out the author’s original intention, it is submitted to a Law Review. Nearly all common L/Rs in the U.S. are STUDENT-EDITED. I’ll say that again, STUDENT-EDITED. They are not peer-reviewed, they are not refereed by practicing attorneys who are expects in the field of law contained in the article, AND they are not reviewed for veracity of content! There are however, some Journals that have changed from being student-oriented Journals, to truly become academic, peer-reviewed Journals, but the process is slow and arduous – sort of like weaning a crackhead from his pipe, or getting a mountain biker to dismount and walk instead.

        Now, juxtapose this with a scientific journal, say, a few that my wife has published in – Polar Biology, Oikos, or Ecology and Evolution. Scientific articles are not based originally on opinion, point of view or perspective. It is supposed to be based on scientific research that occurs in the lab, in the field (or in both places) and is the result of observations (and conclusions)based on the protocols and methods employed. Additionally, the results MUST be verifiable. Moreover, many times the results are not exactly what the researcher may have originally believed what the result would be, but yet, they are ethically bound to report the actual results. When the article is submitted, the author is asked to provide a list of people who they feel are qualified to review and critique the article, based on the science, not opinion or point of view. The Editor of the Journal never uses only the names provided by the author in the peer-review process. It is commonly a minimum of 3 scientists who will review the article, anonymously submit critiques or questions, which then go to the author(s) and this process may take quite some time, and go back and forth.

        Contrast this with the Law review article submitted to your garden variety, student-edited, non-peer reviewed Journal. The article is written and submitted, it is read by the editorial staff, if it seems okay, if a review of the references check out, if the arguments appear to be legally-sound, and if the writing is not atrocious, it will be published.

        This is not to say that all law review articles and Journals are rubbish, nor am I implying that all scientific articles and Journals are beyond reproach. It’s just that, for people who are so fervently kicking and screaming for their legitimacy and equal access to Wilderness, and their oft-quoted law review article that PROVES they’re right – I must say that I have to disagree with what was in the article. I think Mr. Stroll’s arguments are weak, legally unsupported and as biased as anything that I have ever read that was written by a die-hard advocate.

        • MAD says:

          oh, just as an aside – my article was rejected for the Journal I worked on for a year – the Pace Environmental Law Review (which is one of the peer-reviewed journals). But they did publish it in one of their other journals (yeah, they threw me a bone).

    • John Fisch says:

      “Wilderness is aspirational, a promise much like “democracy” or “equality.””
      And yet, here in our democracy, an equally low impact user group is denied equality.

      “Mountain bikes in “W“ilderness offend the essential character of wilderness.”
      What part about the essential character of Wilderness do bikes offen?
      Untrammeled? A bike is proven to “trammel” no more than a boot and far less than a hoof.
      “where man is a visitor and does not remain?”
      Bikepacking is rare but backpacking is common. It’s the people on foot who set up camp and establish a presence in the backcountry.
      “where man’s works do not dominate the landscape?”
      How does a bike dominate the landscape? Wilderness is big and bikes are small. My bike takes up no more space than my tent. The bike passes through while the tent remains.

      Wilderness values center around preservation, self reliance, and “unconfined recreation.” Bikes degrade preservation no more than hikers, bikers operate under their own power, and when asked to explain “unconfined recreation,” Rep Aspinall said “”it just simply means that there will not be any manmade structures about in order to embarrass and handicap the enjoyers of this particular area.” indicating yet again that the intent was to eliminate permanent development and infrastructure, not exclude human powered activity.

  36. Ida Lupines says:

    I share those concerns. And I cling to the romantic idea that, when I step into wilderness, I’m heading somewhere better than us — that there are some places where we can still walk a few miles into red rock desert and when we get there, we’ll find not a fracking pad or a Burger King but instead (Insert Your Deity Here).

    I’m not one who needs to bring all the modern equipment and Limoges china to a wilderness experience (however, if it doesn’t damage the landscapes and you leave it as you found it, is it a problem? High-tech tent fabric isn’t the same as tearing up the trails), I want to get away from all that when I’m outdoors. I wasn’t crazy about the tone of that NYT opinion piece, I try not to let our jaded and cynical modern attitudes (I hope that wasn’t the intent) ruin the future of wilderness either. It does interrupt my solitude to have mountain bikes zipping past me, something I like to find in wilderness, and I don’t want to be disturbed by modern life.

    • Not afraid of the future says:

      Well, that’s fair enough. We’re lucky the government has set aside places where people can escape from at least some of the attributes of modern life. I think people on all sides of the debate on this thread have much in common, despite some fiery language here and there.

  37. APR says:

    I recently (finally) finished a book on why “wilderness” might be inappropriate in America. The editor saves the best for last:

    “After years of study and internal debate, I have come to the conclusion that ‘wilderness’ must be purged from our legal system and the American psyche. Not only am I opposed to the ‘creation’ of any more officially designated wilderness, but all existing wilderness areas should be de-authorized, and the Wilderness Act repealed, because it is racist legislation. By permitting this deception to continue, not only do we ignore the genocide of the past, but we allow it to color our treatment of America’s original owners. This does not mean that the bulldozers should be turned loose, but that we need to seriously rethink man’s role in nature. We could simply choose to call them Roadless Areas, but if those lands are to maintain the biological diversity they had prior to European arrival, which appears to be the generally accepted standard (McCann, 1999:16), then they must be actively managed, as was done by the aboriginal people.” – False Gods, Ecological Myths, and Biological Reality by Charles E. Kay, p259, “Wilderness and Political Ecology…”, Kay and Simmons, editors.

    Read the whole thing, kind of dry archeological stuff, but very eye-opening, if you are up for having “sacred” beliefs challenged.

    The closest I have seen to what he suggests is Canyon de Chelly National Monument in the Navajo Nation. There are Indians farming, herding and living right amongst the natural features, trails and campgrounds. We camped in what was essentially an Indian family’s back yard. We could walk on one or two of the trails, but only look at certain sacred areas, like Spider Rock. We hiked down to the White House ruins and there were people selling artwork. We could photograph the rock formations and ruins, but not the farm area nearby. It was an interesting experience.

    • Ralph Maughan says:


      For some reason I can’t fathom, Charles Kay thinks that because there were many of what will identify here as “Native Americans” at some point in the past, and these people modified the lands and waters, Wilderness protection makes no sense, and worse, is racist.

      In fact protection of ecosystems makes sense in any culture. The least modified ecosystems would qualify for protection as Wilderness.

      Then there are others who say no real wilderness exists because the influence of humans is everywhere. This is a crude fallacy because the influence of humans varies greatly over the landscape. Phrasing it this way, does the argument make sense? “Because all places are modified by human activity to at least a slight extent, it makes no sense to conserve even those areas with even small amounts of human modification.”

      I think now, putting out the entire argument, we see it is defective.

      • Mark L says:

        I agree Ralph, and will offer many underground areas as proof that some ecosystems are virtually pristine (y’all try caving sometime) . Underwater areas too. There’s a lot more wilderness than many are giving nature credit for…a lot more worth saving than just panoramic views.

        • Ralph Maughan says:

          Indeed, wilderness can be just plain ugly and unsuitable for recreation. Nonetheless, such areas can be important additions to the wilderness system.

          Too many people think of wilderness as a place only for specialized recreation. However, recreation is not the most important reason, in my view.

          • APR says:

            Ralph, you should read the entire book. When Europeans exterminated the original apex predator from this continent, they threw millennia-old ecosystems out of balance. The most notable effect was the elimination of human-started fires, which the Native Americans used to clear brush, limit tree growth, and encourage grasses to grow, which attracted the ungulates they depended on for meat and other materials. We live with this legacy today: the huge, violent fires that result from more than a century of fuel build-up. This continent was managed by humans since the last glaciers melted, so adhering to the Wilderness Act’s description of areas “absent of human influence” is a fantasy at best, a disaster at worst.

            • JB says:

              “This continent was managed by humans since the last glaciers melted, so adhering to the Wilderness Act’s description of areas “absent of human influence” is a fantasy at best, a disaster at worst.”

              I think most folks here understand that there is no place on earth that is untouched by human beings–but the Wilderness Act doesn’t require an area to be absent human influence; rather, it requires a dramatic reduction in human influence. The fact that we’ve set aside these lands and successfully managed human recreation on them (to reduce our impact) suggests that the Wilderness ideal is not a “fantasy”.

              Arguments about the ecological impacts of fire intensity aside, fuel ‘build-up’ is only a problematic insomuch as it impacts human habitations. By definition, wildernesses are generally far-removed from human populations. Your argument carries more weight when we’re discussing Forest Service lands that are not managed as wilderness.

            • Angela says:

              There is no such thing as an “original apex predator” though, is there? You are talking about an ecology at one snapshot in time. Considering the extremely short time that humans have been on the continent, indeed, in existence itself, it’s rather arbitrary to pick one point in time and say that only those ecosystems were pristine and “in balance.” Ecosystems are different now, yes, but no less worth saving because they are absent of Homo sapiens. That is a bizarre argument.

              I guess it is the ultimate in elitism that I would like core areas of wilderness to be off limits to humans in most respects, my reasons including: (1) in such areas, evolution can proceed without human influence, (2) it would be of interest to understand the population dynamics of animals free of hunting pressure, management, etc., (3) animals extremely sensitive to human disturbance, such as wolverines, grizzlies, etc. would be better protected for the long term. Is it elitist or unselfish to want some areas set aside for nonhuman species, free of human management for human benefit? (e.g., controlling wolves for hunters, maintaining trails for hikers).

            • Yvette says:

              APR, your initial post on Charles Kay, the anthropologist, was interesting enough for me to read a few excerpts from that book. I read some other excerpts, too. I attended a couple of symposiums that my tribal cultural and preservation department hosted. I hadn’t been to any anthropological symposiums before, but I noticed a tenor present in many of the anthropologist’s presentations that they reiterated upon; that was to stress that we Indigenous people had indeed changed our environments and landscapes. That makes sense. I can buy that and they were respectful. After all, humans will always alter the landscape and environment on some scale.

              With reading only excepts of a couple of Kay’s books, I’m reluctant to say much, but the tone of his writing struck me as defensive. It left me thinking that it was just one more descendant of European immigrants that was attempting to justify and/or relieve themselves from the responsibility of the massive scale of damage they perpetrated on this continent since their immigration began. I could be wrong.. There are so many variables—human population being one. Along with the influx of immigrants from Europe came their philosophies, land use practices, and religious beliefs that they used to justify the damage of ecological resources and extinction of animal species. An example is with the philosophy of private ownership and the introduction of domestic farm animals they immediately began their assault on native wolves of this continent. They had successfully eradicated wolves from England by 1500, and they came darn close to eradicating all wolves here. Thankfully, there are many working to turn correct mistakes from the past. I state this not to lay blame, but we need to seek honesty in the way we present.

              I’ve posted on this blog before about the stereotype of the ‘Hollywood Indian’ with an attempt to dispel that myth. I think that stereotype was created my non-Native Americans. I’ve also tried to stress that tribes are unique, and each have their own cultural practices and beliefs. I do this because I see non-Indian academics (and non-academics) tend to lump all North American Indians into one big pot. I can say that from my own perspective, work and life experience. I will also say that I believe, from experience, that most of us Native Americans hold reverence and respect for the natural world and that stems from a tribe’s cultural beliefs. How much of the old cultural knowledge and current practices of those cultural ways seems largely to be dependent on how much Christianity influenced a tribe and individuals.

  38. Ida Lupines says:

    Yes, far from having a midlife crisis and outlived its usefulness, the Wilderness Act is needed now more than ever. But if we want to give back the Black Hills, Manhattan Island, etc. we should feel free to do so at any time!

    • John Fisch says:

      Correction: Protection of our wild places is needed now more than ever.

      However, that protection should allow/restrict access in equal measure for equally low-impact users.

  39. Davey Simon says:

    What I find most disturbing about the conservationists arguments to keep a simple bicycle out of wilderness, isn’t turning a blind eye to decades of study that show horses are far more destructive to the trails. Or the unmaintained terrible trail conditions often encountered in wilderness areas. It is the fact that the conservationists numbers are steadily shrinking and at some point there will be few people interested in the concept of wilderness. Even now it is painfully obvious that many commenting here do not regularly use a wilderness area, only cling to the concept of wilderness as they see fit with a attitude that could only be compared to a religion. In the age of cell phones, video games and social media one of the only ways to engage the youth and get them outside is by introducing them to the mountain bike. I have been a mentor athlete and I have seen how a mountain bike has changed young peoples lives. Many of them develop a strong bond to the outdoors and continue to return long after the cycling program is no longer part of their lives. One former member of the cycling program just posted photos of a backpacking trip on Facebook and I am pleased that he discovered the outdoors while on the saddle of a mountain bike. I do wish that the many commenting here who do not see the mountain bike as appropriate to wilderness could take a real world view of the challenges that face our wilderness. The most problematic being lack of interest. Personally I would rather have a wilderness inclusive of mountain biking than no wilderness at all. Which will no doubt happen if the numbers of wilderness supporters continue to decline. Please approach the subject with an open mind and think of not just issues that affect yourself but solutions that could affect all of us. Thank you.

    • Ralph Maughan says:

      I have wondered about trends in the number of wilderness users as opposed to wilderness supporters.

      I have done quite a bit of web searching and can find very little information. Does anyone have a link or two?

      • Not afraid of the future says:

        Dr. Maughan,

        I think the federal agencies have those statistics, and on paper, if I recall correctly, wilderness visition looks pretty stable. Here’s one link that may be useful (I’m sorry I don’t have time to explore it myself):


        And here’s another, although it is 14 years old:


        But if it’s true that wilderness use has been fairly stable in the recent past, it’s a snapshot that shouldn’t lead people into complacency. As Brady Robinson talks about in this terrific TedX talk, there’s a demographic crisis in the organized conservation movement, i.e., the “wilderness supporters” you are asking about, with a membership whose average age is well into the 60s and few members under age 50. Interestingly, and I can’t recall where I read this, the average paid member of a conservation organization is about the same, demographically, as the average listener to the Rush Limbaugh radio show. And, as I recall, the average listener to that show is a 69-year-old white male who lives in a rural area.

        Here’s the link. This is well worth watching.

    • JEFF E says:

      where to start, where to start.
      Wilderness is not about “use”; it is about “non-use”
      It is about leaving the smallest footprint possible.

      • Davey Simon says:

        My point Sir, is that during the next economic crisis or terror attack everything can change. Including wilderness protections. We have all seen that over the last 15 years. Without a strong base of engaged users fighting to protect these rights, wilderness is in danger. Similar to the State Parks of California which went bankrupt during the 2008 economic crisis. Now a movement called Parks Forward is reaching out to the youth of the state and trying to engage young people to use the parks. Numbers have been in decline and it has affected the bottom line. You can check parks forward.com to see this movement and it would be wise for you to take note of the importance placed on finding solutions that benefit the park, not a small privileged number of users, is a top priority. It is folly for one to think limited government support can keep a huge area full of vital resources and space for housing a near private reserve for hikers, while excluding the fastest growing trail user group. The State Parks of California attempted this backwards thinking and now they are reaching out to younger users that are strongly engaged with mountain biking.

        • Jay says:

          “Privileged users”? Because they are willing to walk and not buzz around on $1500 bicycles?

          You mountain bikers sound a lot like spoiled brats.

          • Davey Simon says:

            If you want to engage in name calling Sir, you are more than welcome. It clearly demonstrates the righteousness and near religious furor that accompany those who sit behind a computer screen and call for vast amounts of public space to be off limits to those who do not share the same mode of non motorized locomotion.

            • Jay says:

              Remove “sound a lot like” and replace with “are”, at least in your case.

              Try getting off your high-dollar toy and try walking–trust me, it won’t hurt you.

            • Jay says:

              I guess in your mind calling someone willing to throw a pack on their back a “privileged user” isn’t name calling. In my eyes, that makes you a hypocrite–which user group requires thousand-dollar-plus toys to go play…who’s the privileged group here?

            • Jay says:

              Last comment: spare us the righteous indignation.

              • Not afraid of the future says:

                Davey Simon posts a thoughtful comment. His main point is, “Without a strong base of engaged users . . . wilderness is in danger.” And he gets a furious reaction that seizes on two words in his detailed post. Really, some of the bloggers here are their own worst enemy, assuming they support wilderness. If it’s up to them—and it may well be—wilderness is doomed; it’s only a matter of time.

              • Jay says:

                Furious? Really? I’m not furious, I just think you sound like little brats that think wilderness is going away if you don’t get your way to ride your toys there and the resulting loss of support. Laughable. Embarrassing actually, that you would be that selfish to potentially torpedo wilderness if your demands aren’t met.

              • Not afraid of the future says:

                OK, have it your way. Here’s what a writer for Outside Magazine said to National Public Radio recently:

                “I’m convinced that if mountain bikers, and hikers, and equestrians are fighting about whether, you know, there should be new wilderness or national parks designations, it means that there probably aren’t going to be new national parks designations. And, we’ve seen that already.”


                So, when you’re looking for someone to blame for less current wilderness and a good possibility that it won’t be around 20 years from now, look in the mirror.

                I’m not worried about the National Park System, despite what the writer thinks. It’s starting to allow, cautiously but steadily, mountain biking on singletrack trails in the national parks. It’s the Forest Service-based wilderness system that’s in serious trouble because of its ossification and the fanaticism of too many of its remaining supporters. The NPS recently ruled that rock climbers can leave unobtrusive fixed anchors in the NPS’s wilderness acreage. It’s being sensible. The Forest Service doesn’t seem nearly as worried, and why should it be? It’s a huge bureaucracy that doesn’t much rely on public support, and if wilderness vanishes a decade or two from now, well, it’ll be back to the road-building and the logging, which will be fine with many inside and outside the Forest Service.

                So, keep up your attitude. No doubt many logging companies are rooting for you, since it’ll lead to access for them in the long term.

          • John Fisch says:

            Spoiled brats?
            How about the hikers who have access to 100% of roadless areas while bikers have access to less than 50% of these roadless areas?

            How about hikers with $500 tents, $200 boots, $600 GPS, $300 backpacks, etc?

            How about equestrians on $5,000 horses which require $,000s more per year to maintain?

            Spoilage comes in many forms.

            But for one group who has access to it all to call another group who has access to so much less “spoiled” Is ridiculous.

      • Not afraid of the future says:

        JEFF E—Your purist vision may be what wilderness pioneers like Howard Zahniser and others had in mind, although I’m doubtful. But if that’s true, it spells doom for wilderness, because a government program that sets aside more acreage than the state of California has and presumably costs hundreds of millions of dollars (or more) to maintain cannot long survive without broad public support. That is an iron rule of governmental budgeting—it’s about as well established as the law of gravity. The core constituency for wilderness is shrinking every year, and it may have already passed the passed the point of political no return, despite all of the celebrating one may see at the Wilderness Society’s October conference. If you want wilderness, you don’t want “nonuse.” That guarantees its disappearance, probably sooner rather than later.

        • Ralph Maughan says:

          Not Afraid,

          You make the future of Wilderness sound dim, but would an infusion of support from Mountain biking turn things around?

          • JB says:

            This is a key point, Ralph. I don’t think any of these groups (i.e., hikers, backpackers, mountain bikers) are numerically that large–at least those that are virulent supporters. That may mean that bringing on mountain bikers as supporters of wilderness doesn’t buy you much; on the other hand, it might also mean that coalitions of interested users are needed to keep wilderness safe from exploitation.

            This topic has come up a number of times in the past under another guise–i.e., the appropriateness of hunting in the wilderness. A number of posters here have advocated against hunting. I don’t know if two makes a trend? In any case, it isn’t only about losing the support of these groups, it’s about turning advocate-allies into enemies, and thereby increasing the coalition of those who don’t want more wilderness.

            I’m sure that some will yet again accuse me of compromising dearly held principles and argue that this is self-defeatist. They are right on the first count, on the second… I suppose we’ll see.

            • Ralph Maughan says:


              I largely agree with what you say.

              I want to add that the current political threat to wilderness is not much different than to the public lands in general. The right wing has no use for either, so additions or subtractions to the wilderness coalition don’t make much difference in this time of a partially radicalized and dysfunctional Congress.

              Republicans would make radical changes in favor of extractive interests in every aspect of the public lands. That is the bad news. The good news is that for now nothing, not even tiny reforms, can pass both chambers of Congress and get signed into law.

              The election this fall could change all of this.

              • Ida Lupines says:

                It’s true I’d rather have a mountain biker than logging or energy extraction.

              • Not afraid of the future says:

                Dr. Maughan,

                The next time there’s a Republican president, a Republican House, and 60 Republican senators, public-lands conservation is going to need all of the allies it can muster. I doubt we mountain bikers would be a decisive factor in whatever happens, but forward-looking people should be thinking about coalitions now, not when the situation has become dire.

                Keep in mind that this is largely a cultural or aesthetic dispute, not a practical one. There’s so much wilderness out there that one isn’t likely to see mountain bikers very often if our access is restored to what we had for some years. Where there is a significant possibility of social conflict, i.e., too many people on a crowded trail, the agencies know how to manage that, be it by permits, staggered use times, or similar management techniques. So this dispute is, in a sense, a tempest in a teapot.

          • Not afraid of the future says:

            That’s not clear, Dr. Maughan. I don’t think anyone could predict that with certainty. What is clear, though, is that the best chance for the wilderness concept’s continued viability is to enlist the interest and enthusiasm of younger people. My young nephew is an enthusiastic backpacker, but he’s the only young person I know who is. By contrast, high school mountain biking racing is taking the country by storm. There are other younger user groups too, like rock climbers. A coalition is certainly better than a dividing human-powered users into contending factions.

            • Ralph Maughan says:

              Here in Pocatello, Idaho, where I live, I am not aware of any organized conflict between mountain biking and other recreation.

              Pocatello is a growing place to mountain bike. This growth has all been done by mountain bikers and the city of Pocatello’s recreation department. The county (Bannock) and most politicians are not aware, or don’t care, about the favorable economic impact of the growing sport.

              Mountain bikers and people like me are trying to get the Forest Service to reduce grazing on the local ranger district. However, seven grazing permittees’ cattle are allowed to disrupt road races, trail running, hiking, recreational riding, even including motorized recreation. These are not huge cattle operations, and they contribute little to the local economy.

              Nothing seems to deter the county commission and the Forest Service from reauthorizing the grazing, which most of us realize is, except for a token, free of charge.

              I am in favor of a coalition, but so far, nothing seems to be able to disrupt the hand of the past, and arguing over wilderness seems like wasted effort. There is not going to be any new wilderness in Idaho. We have a common enemy — grazing — but so far joint effort has not led to much.

      • Ray says:

        Where does the idea come from that Wilderness is about “non-use”? Right from the Act

        “shall be administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people.”

        The definition of Wilderness in the act speaks of “unconfined recreation”. As defined on Wilderness.net
        Unconfined recreation. Unconfined means “not kept within limits” and encompasses attributes such as self-discovery, exploration, and freedom from societal or managerial controls (Lucas 1983, Nash 1996, Hendee and Dawson 2002). The idea here is to provide opportunities for the physical and mental challenges associated with adventure and self direction as well as the personal growth that results from facing and overcoming obstacles (Dustin and McAvoy 2000, Borrie 2000).

        That certainly describes back country mountain biking. And, here’s that word “thrill” that so many associate with mountain biking.

        Marshall (1937) wrote passionately about the adventure and challenge of primitive, unconfined environments: “To countless people the wilderness provides the ultimate delight because it combines the thrills of jeopardy and beauty. It is the last stand for that glorious adventure into the physically unknown.”

        Seriously, looking at the exceptions as laid out in the Wilderness Act (Aircraft and motorboats), do you really think that the bicycle would have been excluded? It certainly fit all of the definitions of adventure and self reliance and strength building that seemed to be one of the purposes of creating Wilderness. If you still believe so, why? It requires your own power, is as challenging or more so than hiking, and has similar impacts as hiking.

        • WM says:


          So, you are an expert on legislative intent. You might want to give some thought to the original Wilderness Act, the compromises made to pass it, and the specific language in each act designating a specific wilderness. There are quite a few exceptions to the general rules about what goes on in Designated Wilderness, and it has quite a bit to do with acknowledging EXISTING USES on a specific piece of federal land, and compromises (maybe inconsistent with the Act’s purpose/goal made in order to get the area designated in some Congressperson’s back yard. I can’t say for sure, but I am not aware mountain biking is an existing use that is reserved in any Wilderness designation. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be accommodated to get a new Wilderness designated if it was an existing use, but I bet there will be a lot of discussion about how the activity can be acceptable in Wilderness in the context of Section 2(c) of the organic act (and see my post below).

          Your “physical challenge and adventure” language is a bunch of fluff as against other clear language in the Act.

          • Ray says:

            Not anymore of an expert than you, just expressing an opinion. The “fluff” language came from the people who came up with the ideal of Wilderness, I didn’t make it up. I read your post, and based on the wording of the act looked for the definition of “unconfined recreation” on a Wilderness website, and found the “challenge and adventure” fluff. Even though there have been improvements to the bicycle over the years, as true of all hiking/backpacking equipment, I wouldn’t call it a “sophisticated” mode of transportation, if it were, I suspect it would have readily replaced the automobile by now and saved the planet.

            • WM says:

              The point is mountain biking is a new technology-assisted activity never a historical use in any of the areas designated as Wilderness. That is important.

              And, I have seen the comparison of improvements to backpacking gear. I have some of them. So what?

              These are not really material to changing the character of Wilderness as envisioned in the Act. My pack weighs 40 pounds instead of 50, and my feet are a bit more comfortable, as is the sleeping pad, and rain gear I use. But, backpacking in Wilderness is still pretty much the same. And the crest of a hill, or a long distance, is still achieved slowly with honest human effort, unaided by mechanical advantage. That is what some of you mountain biking advocates just don’t want to acknowledge. Your view is inconsistent with the clear language and intent of the Wilderness Act.

              • Ray says:

                I won’t argue that there is some mechanical advantage to the bicycle, or the fact that off-road use is relatively new, but the bicycle itself is not new technology. The derailleur has been used since the early 1900’s. Why is the line for mechanical advantage drawn to exclude the bicycle? Because there are more moving parts? I would argue It takes every bit as much human effort as the others, especially to crest a hill or travel long distances. You mention the presence of a bike (bright colors etc) signifies that man is dominating the landscape. How exactly is a mountain biker anymore dominating than a hiker?

                The problem with clinging to an argument that hinges on the “ideal” of Wilderness, is that it is not logical for everyone to share the same ideal of Wilderness character. You pointed out in a previous post as have I, about the compromises made in order for the Act to pass, and I think that is where there are some differences on how we interpret the intention of the Act. I believe the intention was to protect as much land as possible while promoting healthy human-powered activity as an escape from urban and sub-urban sprawl. It took compromise then, and it will take compromise now.

              • Kathleen says:

                “The derailleur has been used since the early 1900′s. Why is the line for mechanical advantage drawn to exclude the bicycle?”

                This is entirely irrelevant. The Act prohibits mechanical TRANSPORT. Game carts are also prohibited and they are MUCH simpler than a modern mountain bike. Good grief.

              • WM says:


                Let me just add a little detail to Kathleen’s post.

                You are admitting that mountain bikes (well any bike) is a form of mechanical transport. After all, the important pieces of a bike are made from metal, extruded and/or machined or bent and milled for specific purposes. Some pieces are of exotic metallurgy giving exceptional strength at lower weight. Some parts are heat treated/hardened to give them additional strength. They are integrated into one unit with other parts of similar origin for one very specific purpose. In other words a bike is a machine. The definition of “mechanical” = the working parts of a machine. The function of a bike is to transport its rider from one point to another. A cyclists feet never have to touch the ground – that is mechanical transport pure and simple. It doesn’t make any difference how it is powered. Now, read the following part of the Act carefully.

                From Section 3(c):


                (c) Except as specifically provided for in this Act, and subject to existing private rights, there shall be no commercial enterprise and no permanent road within any wilderness area designated by this Act and, except as necessary to meet minimum requirements for the administration of the area for the purpose of this Act (including measures required in emergencies involving the health and safety of persons within the area), there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, NO OTHER FORM OF MECHANICAL TRANSPORT, and no structure or installation within any such area.++

                The phrase “mechanical transport” stands on its own. There is no reference to it having to be motorized. A bike is a mechanical transport device, as is a wheel barrow or a game carrier (a frame with one or more axled wheels operated by one or more humans on foot, often having handles).

                Wheel barrows and game carriers are not allowed in Wilderness either, and they are much simpler machines. So, if mountain bikes are allowed in the future as a change in the law, and if I want to carry my gear into Wilderness on an all-terrain wheel barrow or a game carrier, are you going to want to kick me off the trail?

                For those who don’t know what a game carrier looks like here is a link with pictures to multiple types, some of which are suited for the roughest of trails, and maybe even easier to use than a backpack or maybe to even haul behind a horse:


              • Ray says:

                If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, but I’m not the first to misinterpret the term. The Forest Service also initially did, perhaps because the term mechanical transport appears in a list of other items which all contain something in common; a motor, and many people would reason that the ambiguous term “mechanical transport” would also encompass anything else that contained a motor for transportation. It just seems ridiculous to exclude a human-powered activity.

              • John Fisch says:

                “The point is mountain biking is a new technology-assisted activity never a historical use in any of the areas designated as Wilderness. That is important.”

                False. People were riding bikes in the backcountry well over a half century before the creation of the Act. The precedent was there. They would have done even moreso, had there been more trails–the same trails that hikers now use.

                The fact is that, when the Act was reinterpreted in 1986, bikes suddenly lost access to thousands of miles of trail they had historically used, and used with no more impact than hikers.

                “My pack weighs 40 pounds instead of 50, and my feet are a bit more comfortable, as is the sleeping pad, and rain gear I use. But, backpacking in Wilderness is still pretty much the same.”
                And that 10 lbs makes a huge difference in how much ground you can cover. Backpacking has evolved as much as cycling. The modern mountain bike can go further, more comfortably than a turn of the century bike–just as can the modern backpacker. In fact, nothing removes the user from the self-sustaining, personal responsibility ethos of the backcountry as a 5oz GPS which will not only tell you exactly where you are on the globe, but also plot for you a way out of the backcountry, leading you by the nose every step of the way!

                It is arguable that the inclusion of bikes may or may not be in keeping with the letter of the Act, but it most certainly is in keeping with the intent as testimony by Rep Aspinall and others.

          • John Fisch says:

            “The phrase “mechanical transport” stands on its own. There is no reference to it having to be motorized.

            Hmmm . . .
            If the phrase “mechanical transport” stands on its own, then why is there all the other language surrounding it? Why is the phrase “mechanical transport” preceded by “temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft?” Clearly, the intent is to fully explain the class of mechanical transport of concern. All of the preceding list share one thing in common–motors. The intent was to say all these motorized things, and any more like them you can dream of, are excluded. If they weren’t trying to specifically call out the fact that their concern was motorized vehicles, they could have simply said “No Mechanized Transport” and left it at that without any clarifying preamble list.

            As for existing uses, bikes have been used in the backcountry for many decades before the Act. It may not have been widespread, but it was indeed present.

    • Ray says:

      I kayak as well as mountain bike, but not nearly as much. I had heard of this legislation and seen the initial outrage, but not followed it other than that. There is indeed some interesting conversation on that discussion as well. It seems all the legislation aims for is the ability for the park to develop a paddling plan.

  40. Ida Lupines says:

    The National Parks are not a playground. The very thought is ghastly. History isn’t really on the side of those waxing poetic about the joys of mountain biking or other sports. You may get a few people who suddenly ‘fall in love’ with the outdoors, but by and large, most people move through like a storm squall and move on. In fact I’d say the majority of people will not fall in love with wilderness and go back to whatever it is they do like to do after visiting. Are mountain bikers willing to volunteer their time to repair trails and pick up garbage left behind by other people? Most people balk at that suggestion. Someone mentioned something to that effect – but the question that goes unanswered is why the trails would need to be repaired that much in the first place.

    If those in DC are determined to open up wilderness to whichever lobbying groups squeaks loudly enough or waves around enough cash, those will be the ones who will have the Wilderness act rewritten to suit them.

    • Ida Lupines says:

      I should say ‘waxing poetic about the joys and benefits’ of mountain biking. Until the next fad comes around.

      The National Parks and Wilderness Acts represent an American ideal that doesn’t necessarily have to be exploited or have monetary benefits to exist. It’s to protect our lands as they once were. We in present day America have no values and fall woefully short of this ideal; in fact, it appears we can’t even understand it.

      A prime example is the Sportsmen’s Act, which isn’t satisfied with the hunting and outdoor activities they do have, but constantly want more, more, and more access. Skimobiles, ATVs, etc.

      Denigrating love of wilderness as the latest undesirable buzzword ‘religion’, or ‘think of the poor chiiiillldrrrren’ are just tired arguments that are always used. I’m tired of doing parents’ and schools’ jobs for them, let them teach their own ‘chiiiillllldrrreeen’ about wilderness and while their at it, cleaning up their trash after them.

      The entire thing boils down to selfish needs and the true ‘religion’ of making money our countr’s people have fallen victim to. And it’s probably true that our wilderness is going to suffer for it, so that companies can make money selling more outdoor gear.

      • Ida Lupines says:

        Sorry, ‘while they’re at it’.

        • Ray says:

          Ida, I think of National Parks in quite the opposite way. They are playgrounds, people come and visit, rarely stray from the roads, and don’t take any real appreciation of what they are.

          “In fact I’d say the majority of people will not fall in love with wilderness and go back to whatever it is they do like to do after visiting.” This statement is especially true of the National Parks.

          ?Are mountain bikers willing to volunteer their time to repair trails and pick up garbage left behind by other people? Most people balk at that suggestion. Someone mentioned something to that effect – but the question that goes unanswered is why the trails would need to be repaired that much in the first place.”

          Mountain bikers are some of the first to volunteer for things like this. Constantly looking to create alliances for the good of all. Here is one example.

          Every year on National Trails day, I have been part of a trail maintenance project, and I became chainsaw certified by the National Forest Service so I could help clear downed trees after the Winter on the NF trails.

          • Ida Lupines says:

            I’m glad to hear that you help with the trails. But, some downed trees are beneficial to the environment and are best left where they are. Hikers can walk over/around them, and they don’t always have to be moved for access as they definitely have to for mountain biking. The health of the forest should come first, not access and convenience of people. The Forest Service or other such agency entrusted with our wildlands should determine best how to do this.

            • Ray says:

              Walking around them just ends up widening and/or creating numerous other trails. How is that beneficial? Cutting a path through, or simply placing off the side of the trail keeps people on a designated path. Forest Service clears trails of downfall, however rely on volunteers to help because they cannot keep up with the work load.

              • Ida Lupines says:

                Not true. How does stepping over a downed log widen or make a new trail? And what about small watered areas such as creeks and streams? These are much more easily navigated by walkers. It doesn’t create new trails, or widen them, because normally you don’t have to go that far out of your way to disturb growth. I even take care to avoid tromping on tree roots, and of course I’m always on the lookout for plants and wildflowers because I enjoy that. You can also walk underneath.

                I’m just making the case for leaving some places alone and undisturbed, by anyone. The more we enter into wilderness, the more we will disrupt by making trails and keeping them safe for human access. These trees become part of the nutrient cycle and wildlife habitat.

              • Ida Lupines says:

                Wetlands areas are more or less with the weather and the seasons. Yes, waterproof hiking boots are a top priority for me. 🙂

                But as I said, I’d rather have a mountain biker to contend with I suppose than the permanent ruin of logging, and energy development.

              • ma'iingan says:

                “Well I agree with you there, that people need to be engaged in something other than technology.”

                Great advice – from someone who’s posted on this topic 16 times so far today, as far as I can tell.

            • Davey Simon says:

              While I do ride a mountain bike and participate in youth mountain bike mentorship I also go on several backpacking trips a year. I don’t agree that downed trees are not a big deal. It is nearly impossible for the many commercial equestrian pack trains to get around an obstacle like a downed tree and a 40+ pound pack and a downed tree make for a very difficult day of hiking.

              Also I did over 100 days of trail work during the winter of ’12 and ’13 and while I did not get as many days in last winter because of the drought, I have been learning new skills like bridge building and chainsaw operation.

              Regardless of people wishing to call me names like a “spoiled brat” I only wish to convey that on the front lines of trail maintenance, the trails do require quite a bit of work. The ideal of wilderness is quite compelling from a computer but the reality is very complex.

              The State Park system of California is out of money and looking for additional funding. They are trying to engage the youth and source new activities because traditional outdoor activities hold little appeal to the youth. I do wish we could return from our current reality of social media, cell phones and young men and women who can not put down their smart phone but that is just wishful thinking. I fear it wont be long until the State Parks are privately run and the developers step in. This can be avoided by embracing the new trail users rather than pushing them away.

              I support the ideal of wilderness however all I am trying to do is express how this ideal largely falls on deaf ears. Or maybe can’t get through the iPod earbuds. As someone who believes that wilderness is important it would be nice if we could be a little more cordial and stop it with the blanket statements, “such as bikes tear up trails.” The reality is that water erosion causes over 90% of trail wear and the only way to restore trails and make them passible is a large government budget, or a core group of volunteers.

              Lets try to move on past the stern and inflexible ideas of wilderness as purity. We need to work together as outdoor enthusiasts to ensure the protection of wilderness areas from development.

              Thank you.

              • Ida Lupines says:

                Well I agree with you there, that people need to be engaged in something other than technology. But let’s try to do it so that they appreciate nature itself, instead of another means of entertaining themselves.

                Audubon has wonderful, hands-on programs for children, young people and adults actively involving them with wild plants, butterfly counts, bird counts and identification. Children are very enthusiastic about them too, as only children can be. 🙂

              • Not afraid of the future says:

                I couldn’t put it any better.

            • Ray says:

              I have rarely seen people simply step over a downed log. Most often the smaller branches hold the trunk off the trail at a distance that it makes walking around much easier, and it is usually not contained on one side, but trails develop on both, and trampling plants and roots in doing so. In the case of small creeks and streams, if it is not shallow enough to ride through, it is generally walked, same as a hiker.

              • Ray says:

                Also, I would say walking through wetlands is extremely damaging, and trails routed through them should be re-routed.

              • Ida Lupines says:

                Yes, I have walked underneath rather than go off the trail in that case too. Sometimes you can walk over the lower end. I personally haven’t seen any actual ‘trails’ created this way because plant growth around it is quite thick. Other times there’s really no way around, and you have to turn back and find another route.

                Finding a way to step on any stones or logs in a stream is quite challenging at times and quite fun. I wouldn’t think driving tires through a wetlands area would be a good idea at all.

              • Ida Lupines says:

                Wetlands on an approved trail, not protected wetlands in the official sense, there’s a difference. A lot of us hikers are very mindful that these are delicate landscapes when we visit, we just don’t bust through them in a careless fashion. There are a lot of elevation changes too, sometimes steep dropoffs – and I don’t think a mountain biker could negotiate them without getting hurt. So not all trails are going to be suitable without human – so perhaps it is a self-limiting activity.

                Sunday Wildlife Report: a female yearling having her breakfast of leaves; a good look at perhaps the singer of the most beautiful song in the woods, the Wood Thrush, and Carolina Wren very close in beautiful song.

              • Ida Lupines says:

                sorry, ‘not all trails are going to be suitable without human intervention’.

  41. Nancy says:

    How prevalent is this mentality in mountain biking?

    “What does this mean to you? Well it depends on what your main goales are when riding. My main goal is to have fun, which for me means challenging myself to climb and descend steeper, trickier terrain and exit corners as fast as possible. I also enjoy exploring, getting exercise and being out in nature, but they are sub goals”

    See more at: http://betterride.net/blog/2013/i-was-wrong-mountain-bike-29ers-just-arent-as-much-fun/#sthash.09hvRcEA.dpuf

  42. WM says:

    Let’s be clear. Wilderness is what Congress says it is on any given day as regards any piece of federal land which it oversees, when it passes a law an the President signs it. The 1964 Wilderness Act was compromise legislation between President Johnson (and before his death President Kennedy) and very powerful Colorado Representative Wayne Aspinall, who chaired the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs. Aspinall was the gatekeeper on this organic legislation, and no fan of any kind of restrictions on the use of federal lands which would prohibit its economic development of the valuable resources there: water, mining and energy extraction were always somewhere in his agenda, and the act shows those lingering hand prints concerning economic development, and to some extent preservation of existing uses to some degree, even today.

    But to say the Wilderness Act categorically does not prohibit mountain biking is a complete spin job, as eloquently stated by MAD in his response to a mountain biking advocate earlier here. Attorney Ted Stroll is smoking something as he makes his advocacy argument for allowing mountain biking in designated Wilderness, absent specific language in the enabling legislation for a particular Wilderness. His law review article is an advocacy piece, from its opening to it closing sentences. And, let’s also be clear, if any future Congress wants to add mountain biking as a reserved and permitted activity in a particular designated Wilderness it can do it. Whether it has the will, in view of the Act’s purposes is questionable.

    Under the existing Wilderness Act let’s just consider the concept of Mechanical transport – Well if a bicycle does not meet the definition of mechanical transport I don’t know what does. A modern mountain bike is the poster child example of a late 20th Century complex assemblage of constantly evolving engineering marvels from alloy frame, wheels, complex gears, levers, even shock absorbers, designed and built at great cost to reduce weight, and improve mechanical advantage to propel, ever more efficiently and reliably, a rider up or down a trail, sometimes at great speed, over complex and unforgiving terrain.

    Then there is the mountain bike rider, often motivated to improve personal bests, keeping up with traveling companions, sometimes showing off skills of speed, balance and endurance, accompanied by a whoop and a holler, above the background noise of the iPod earplugs sometimes playing heavy metal or to the intense backbeat of “Highway to the Danger Zone” (Theme from Top Gun written by Kenny Loggins).

    Let’s not forget a mountain bike is capable of regularly delivering its competent rider at up to 3 or even 4 times the speed of a backpacker, hiker or horseman on portions of the same shared trail.

    I personally have nothing against mountain biking. Still riding my old Trek 950 purchased in the 1990’s. Designated Wilderness is just not the place to ride it, and never has been.

    Had the technology been available and considered in 1964 I still don’t think the Congress that enacted the law, would believe high-speed and costly mountain bikes are consistent with the stated goals and philosophy of Wilderness in the Act.

    Let’s look at this language from Section 2(c):

    ++… An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; ….++
    If present or future Congresses think it is, then they need to include provisions for use of such technology in the clear and unambiguous language of future designated wilderness.

    Oh, and here is where I derive my – belief and it has little to do with human-powered, but directly addresses MECHANICAL transport. And, let’s be clear the wheel, as we know from a simple dictionary definition, and our study of physics is a MACHINE, and the mountain bike a very sophisticated one. A mountain bike’s presence, or evidence of its passing anywhere is not consistent with “primeval character.”

    1. Most wilderness areas (and the agency rules which govern, whether written by USFS, BLM, NPS or USFWS) don’t even allow the use of any single wheel axled devices sometimes even for maintenance or employee use for any purpose – for example a wheel barrow, or in the case of a hunter, a wheeled game carrier. Federal agencies, have however, struggled with how to deal with this in their evolving regulations. Not much in favor, of mountain bikes to date, however (If I am wrong on this please point to current regulations favoring mountain bikes, with citation to regulations or policy guidelines)
    2. AND, here is the clincher for me, one or more continuous lines imprinted clearly in mud for each bike that passes, showing tread patterns, or vaguely outlined in dust make it clear to me there is EVIDENCE of man’s machine at work. Add that the visual experience of cycle and rider in a brightly colored red or yellow striped jersey on a shiny neon bike frame with gleaming metal forms of wheel, chain, sprocket, and shocks, say very clearly to me MAN IS HERE AND HE IS DOMINATING THE LANDSCAPE.

    I suppose one could say the same of a horse, and evidence of its presence/passing, but that means of transport has been acknowledged and accepted in the law already.

    Mountain bikes in Wilderness doesn’t even pass the laugh test, as compared to the slight mechanical (lever) advantage offered by a simple oarlock on a rowboat! The latter, of course, even loaded with a couple passengers and gear, silently achieves a speed of maybe 3-4 miles an hours, with wind at your back, and the water goes back to its original state with no trace whatsoever of the boat’s passage.

    And last, I don’t think the future of Designated Wilderness will be substantially impacted by the threatened lack of support from mountain bikers. I think Congressional types will see thru that pretty quick.

    • JB says:

      Nice post, WM. You seem to know this area of law very well. And to think, you, George, and Brian agree on something… Too bad SaveBears is no longer around; I might have eaten my hat. 😉

      You did lose me with this paragraph, however:

      “Then there is the mountain bike rider, often motivated to improve personal bests, keeping up with traveling companions, sometimes showing off skills of speed, balance and endurance, accompanied by a whoop and a holler, above the background noise of the iPod earplugs sometimes playing heavy metal or to the intense backbeat of “Highway to the Danger Zone” (Theme from Top Gun written by Kenny Loggins).”

      Lots of stereotypes there. I suspect that, like hunters, a wide variety of types of people get into mountain biking for a diversity of reasons. Anyway, I’m quite certain that a variety of folks enter the wilderness seeking a thrill of sorts (climbers), or to improve a personal best (trophy hunters, runners, etc.). I’m relatively certain that while the wilderness act regulates what one does in the wilderness, it disregards their motivations.

  43. Ida Lupines says:

    An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable;

    Great, great post, WM! “Primeval character” – I love it!

  44. Ida Lupines says:

    But not in wilderness.

    Yes, it is logical for everyone to share the same ideal of wilderness character, and it does exist. We have enshrined it in the Wilderness Act and other such designations for our wild places. We value saving endangered wildlife from extinction with the ESA. Most everyone wants a place that is undisturbed by humans, and does not want our wildlife to go extinct. It is not about ‘you’ or ‘I’ or our personal fitness levels. It is about valuing something other than, bigger than, ourselves. To have a life of no ideals or values is certainly a fall.

    Posters have shown over and over again how foot traffic isn’t as damaging as forms of travel and recreation that allow more extensive and powerful forms of access that the human body is not capable of by itself, but some don’t want to accept it. The point is that bikers ought to be happy with the trails that already exist, and that won’t have to be permanently modified in order for bikers to use them, or repaired after bikers have used them.

    The argument that protecting land is racist because native peoples modified the landscapes is reaching also, because the modifications were never on the scale that they are today or mechanized on the scale we do today. Our natives peoples have always believed in preservation and have always been advocates of moderation – taking only what you need, and leaving things as you found them. It is only the European settlers’ view that everything had to be exploited to the nth degree possible, and things are ‘owned’; at least those who ultimately controlled the resources and manipulated the laws to their favor, created treaties and ignored them.

    • Ida Lupines says:

      Here’s an amusing essay about a cynical person ultimately coming to this conclusion:


      • Not afraid of the future says:

        Excellent article, thanks, Ida.

      • Kathleen says:

        Thanks for that. The Weminuche is my most beloved Wilderness. When I lived in the Four Corners it was my stomping ground (although I stomped lightly). The author mentions the spectacular Chicago Basin–as a volunteer I rehabbed fire rings there and served as a Wilderness Information Specialist, meeting hikers and backpackers who were getting off the Durango & Silverton narrow gauge railroad, giving them the leave-no-trace low-down.

        But a few of his statements were annoying or wrong–he claims the Act has become ‘impotent’ in its middle-age, but then lays the blame on a do-nothing Congress and on compromising citizens’ groups (accurate on both those counts). That’s not a shortcoming of the Act, however; that’s obstructionist politics, greed, and ignorant citizens willing to sell-out wilderness character just to get a designation–without understanding the damage their actions would do to the National Wilderness Preservation System going forward.

        He also perpetuates a very common misperception that Wilderness land is supposed to be “pure,” having never been touched (or trammeled) by humans. That is simply not true…e.g., cultural resources are often an important part of Wilderness preservation.

        • JB says:

          “…then lays the blame on a do-nothing Congress and on compromising citizens’ groups (accurate on both those counts).”

          Has it occurred to you that the reason our Congress can’t accomplish anything is that they steadfastly refuse to compromise? When you look at the political landscape today, is it really your honest assessment that any “impotence” associated with conservation can be blamed on compromising citizens’ groups? Is that something you truly believe? If so, you and I must live in different worlds.

          • JB says:

            I can’t let this go. Let me tell you about the reality of conservation from where I sit. I’m currently involved in a project geared at helping my state establish management zones and subsequent objectives for white-tailed deer. On one side, we have uncompromising hunters who want a deer (or better, two!) behind every tree; on the other, we have agricultural interests who claim there are deer everywhere and something must be done. These two groups are the most vocal, but we also get to hear from the folks that don’t want deer to die by human hands, and the tin-foil hat crowd who think our state agency flies around in black helicopters dropping predators here and there in order to kill all of the (insert species X) and ultimately, enslave rural people. Do these folks represent the majority? Not on your life! But they are vocal, and they write to their congressmen, show up at meetings, and otherwise make life hell for the state agency folks.

            Tell you what, I’ll make you a deal? I’ll trade some of our die-hard, no-compromise advocates for some of your overzealous compromisers? In fact, you can take as many as you’d like. 😉

            • Kathleen says:

              I don’t know what you’re railing about. The author of the piece in question denigrates the Wilderness Act as “impotent” for reasons that have nothing to do with the Act itself and everything to do with the political climate and those citizen conservation groups that (along with their logging industry collaborators, in the case of Tester’s Forest Jobs & Recreation Act) would sell-out wilderness values in order to get a watered-down version of wilderness designation. Sure, they could claim some kind of “victory,” I guess, but the National Wilderness Preservation System would never be the same going forward. I point this out and you get on some kind of high horse about deer in a heavily-populated midwestern state?

              • JB says:

                Come now, Kathleen, you know very well what I’m talking about. In fact, you took the time to make note of your agreement with the author’s point:

                “…he claims the Act has become ‘impotent’ in its middle-age, but then lays the blame on a do-nothing Congress and on compromising citizens’ groups (accurate on both those counts).”

                You’re parroting the same tired line we hear again and again on this blog–i.e., conservation failures can be blamed on compromise. I was merely pointing out that the reason Congress is incapable of accomplishing anything is that it has failed to reach compromise (the deer example was merely an illustration).

                If analysts are to be believed, that failure to compromise itself reflects profoundly different visions for the role of government in our society. I would suggest to you that the stalemates that often result around new conservation efforts are, in fact, a reflection of those different visions, which polarize interests and reduce the opportunity for meaningful progress– not the result of any sort of compromise.

                And, of course, the obvious answer to ‘why don’t we have more wilderness’ is that nobody’s making any more land, whereas we seem to be really good at making more people (or at least letting them in after they’ve been made). Increasing competition for finite resources + polarized electorate = hard sell politically.

              • JB says:

                And as a follow up, consider that the intermountain West–where most of the lands that might qualify as wilderness are– happens to be the fastest growing part of the U.S. More people = more demand for land and the services it provides. As this entire discussion illustrates quite well, designating lands as wilderness limits the types of services those lands can provide.

                (see: http://www.texastribune.org/2010/06/16/census-map-shows-population-growth-by-county/)

  45. Ida Lupines says:

    Whatever happened to SaveBears anyway? I thought he got mad at us and left – and maybe he just spoke in anger and didn’t mean what he said to Ken? I always thought he had some valuable insights, and expressed them usually in a very human way (even tho he is a bow-hunter.) 🙂

  46. Not afraid of the future says:

    I’ve noted the comments that laboriously parse each clause and phrase of the Wilderness Act for evidence that if Congress had been asked about bicycles back in the 1960s it would have taken a dim view of them.

    Who knows?

    Much more important is the future of wilderness if the law goes poof. Few laws survive over time if they’re both (a) controversial and (b) lacs public support.

    Where, I would ask the people who are playing lawyer here (or may be actual lawyers), is the public support going to come from to keep wilderness going? No one seems to want to talk about this.

    Today, High Country News published a gloomy article called “The Death of Backpacking.” The author, who admits he fears he’s a curmudgeon-in-waiting, says he’s one of a few people his age (he’s 40) who have any interest in it. His evidence is anecdotal but comes from multiple sources and it tends to show that backpackers tend to be age 60 and up and there’s fewer and fewer of them all the time.

    I don’t agree with every thought in this article. He shares the view of some people here that we mountain bikers are gearheads trying to dominate the landscape. It’s false, although we have our own worst enemy in our midst, which is the ridiculous and divorced-from-reality advertising by mountain bike manufacturers that portrays this very mindset.

    Here’s the link:


    It seems, according to a post above, that in its current rather strange form the wilderness act forbids the Forest Service to use a wheelbarrow in a wilderness. Does anyone care how such a peculiar law, which I’ve read now applies to an area larger than California, is going to survive a combination of indifference from the broad public and hostility from human-powered users like us, not to mention the vastly more numerous and influential motorized users and commercial enterprises?

    • Ray says:

      Good point. I guess it’s just hard to fathom why a human-powered activity would not be allowed, or a wheel barrow for that matter.

      • WM says:

        Guess you forgot about the very distinguishing marks left in the soil by the tires, and the part of the law that clearly says no mechanical transport, eh? Perhaps you can enlighten us on how exactly wheels on the ground and carrying some kind of payload are anything other than mechanical transport. Think of it, even a waterwheel in a stream is a means of mechanical transport, the water turns the wheel, which turns a shaft connected to gears connected something else that moves to do work, or convert energy to some other form (hydropower electricity comes to mind), with some sort of mechanical advantage where energy (in that instance gravity of water moving downstream) is converted to new uses. By the way, even a nature powered wheel of this type would also be banned in Wilderness, I believe.

        It has nothing to do with the human-powered phraseology you guys seem intent on clinging to for the purpose of justifying your desired activity.

        Here is a practical example where a wheelbarrow is (rarely) used by the USFS in a designated Wilderness. I personally know of other such uses by agency personnel in Wilderness in National Parks. The wheelbarrow is usually used by agency employees to do necessary trail or structure maintenance in the case of guard stations, when the use public is not around.


        There is an exception in the law which allows use of such things for administrative or emergency uses of human-powered (or even motorized) technology in Wilderness. And state and federal agencies can use helicopters or fixed wing aircraft for fish and wildlife management for limited purposes to fulfill their responsibilities. Sometimes, the skids never touch the ground, so that when they are done, there would be little visible evidence of their temporary presence (noise and visual excepted for the trip to and from their destinations and whatever work is done). Even that may be subject to court supervision, in certain instances.

        In contrast to this issue, there is a fairly recent book by author Philip K. Howard, titled “The Death of Common Sense.” It speaks to the problems caused by too many laws covering too many things, and which result in bureaucratic and court decisions bordering on absurdity, …. well perhaps even the example of limiting the use of wheelbarrows (or chainsaws which are also mostly strictly prohibited) by administrative agencies responsible for the maintenance of trails in Wilderness achieve absurdity under the law, and the regulations promulgated under the law.

        • Ray says:

          Nope, I didn’t forget, just think it’s ridiculous.

        • Not afraid of the future says:

          I think it would be OK if the agency uses a wheelbarrow, as long as the personnel gather afterward and say a prayer to the god of wilderness asking for forgiveness for this sacrilege. I would also hope they would obliterate the tracks left by the demon wheel.

          To be sure to placate the wilderness god, the employees probably should burn the wheelbarrow afterward in a ritual sacrifice.

          To show the nuttiness that the scriptural interpretations of wilderness rules lead to, I heard of one Forest Service supervisor telling his/her staff to go out and clear downed trees with a chainsaw, and then use a handsaw to make the cuts look they’d been done by hand! LOL.

          Let us pray . . . .

          • JEFF E says:

            Maybe you should sober up

            • Not afraid of the future says:

              Hey, at least I’m not writhing on the ground, handling snakes, showing stigmata on my hands and feet, or speaking in tongues, which is something that defenders of a bizarre doctrine forbidding a wheelbarrow in a wilderness might be suspected of doing.

          • WM says:

            Not a…,

            By your words you simply do not understand Wilderness – either the state of mind it evokes in many, or the more practical laws contemplated by Congress even with their caveats and exceptions, compromising the loftier philosophical goal. This is precisely why you, at least while you are on your mountain bike do not deserve to be there. It has been that way for 50 years. I will be working to keep it that way, excepting for the occasional utilitarian wheelbarrow or chainsaw doing good for those who visit while showing proper respect and decorum. Your irreverence confirms my stereotyping of some mountain bikers who would abuse Wilderness (JB, I think I called this one right from the start 😉 ).

            • JB says:

              I’m confident in your legal analysis, WM. What I question is the ‘gear head’ stereotype of mountain bikers. I’ve ridden FS land on a number of occasions and can imagine–if the opportunity presented itself–wanting to use a bike to access parts of the wilderness (mostly for photo opportunities that would otherwise require too much of my time to make them worth it). I suspect that, like me, lots of mountain bikers would be respectful of the wilderness ideal. However, given the higher speeds, I’m sure wilderness encounter rates would also go up (without limitation on recreation), which would reduce opportunities for solitude.

              Anyway, as I said, I don’t really have a stake in this–too far away, and my riding is now limited to streets. But I respect anyone who has the desire to enter into the wilderness to enjoy what our society is preserved there. And I do worry about the effect of all of this ‘no, no, no’ on future designations.

              • WM says:


                My animosity comes from three sources. First, I don’t find the mechanized part too appealing on Wilderness trails -with mechanical advantage comes speed that matches the trail terrain. Those trails with good bases, moderate elevation gains over longer distances and appealing destinations are already popular with certain hiker/backpackers, and some are already seasonally over-crowded. I can name one I was on for a few miles this past Memorial Day weekend, before going into more rigorous terrain, where the people thinned out. The lower part is a family hiker’s dream, with very slight upward grade, but narrow. I can imagine how a busy use period would go with hikers, a few horse people, and a bunch of new biker types (regardless of their rider etiquette). Step off the trail for the faster moving mountain bikers, possibly in both directions. There were nearly a hundred cars at the trailhead when we returned; only a half dozen when we set out 6 days before. Now, wherever one goes up, you get to go down on the return trip (or vice versa). Mountain bikers go fast downhill; that is AN AXIOM of mountain biking. If you are not going as fast as you can downhill, you are not doing it right, many will tell you. How would you like to share a trail and keep track of your two little ones on a heavily used Wilderness path with fast traffic on a trail, possibly coming from either direction?

                Second, I don’t believe bikers generally like to follow rules in urban environments or mountain biking terrain. Having ridden in both (as well as a driver avoiding inconsiderate cyclists on city streets), I think it is fair to make some stereotyping generalizations. All you need to do is try to be a walker around Green Lake, the Burke-Gilman or Inter-urban, or Soos Creek trails here in the Seattle area to witness the number of bikers who don’t follow rules, who ride fast, and weave through walkers like a slalom course. Why add to the mix and anxiety in Wilderness?

                Third, admittedly I am selfish, and prefer the status quo. As DLB says Wilderness gets plenty of use in most parts of the Northwest and elsewhere. It mostly doesn’t need more users. Why add another user group that degrades the experience for the rest of us? I prefer the status quo, and it appears Brian Ertz and Ken Cole do as well in this instance.

            • Not afraid of the future says:

              Hi, WM — I’ve been in tons of wilderness areas, for day-hiking and backpacking, and think I understand the setting and the ethos quite well, thanks. I just don’t agree with the entire ethos as defined by the self-appointed guardians of wilderness (or certain of the Forest Service’s tenets either).

              Frankly, I think wilderness could use a bit more of the “irreverence” you decry—not destructive irreverence, but an unwillingness to treat the wilderness concept as a particularly earnest religion. Would laughing out loud in a wilderness setting be a defilement? If so, we mountain bikers probably would be guilty, because what we do can be so exhilarating. I’m not being flippant; it’s a genuine disagreement. Keep in mind that this is a public resource, supported by taxpayers. It should be open to different approaches if they are benign (which I realize you don’t see mountain biking as being).

              • Brian Ertz says:

                solitude, spiritual sustenance, inspiration, however else one might put it, religious or not — these are legitimate values… for some they constitute foundational values when it comes to the human experience/idea of wilderness. it seems to me that language within the act demonstrates the legislation’s intent to incorporate, even exemplify, and certainly protect such values.

                not everyone shares them, not everyone agrees that they are necessary – but for many, they form an ethos that motivates wilderness advocacy – and that characterizes such space.

                it seems to me that when you trivialize that experience, when you make off-hand remarks such as “let us pray” or otherwise dismissive that value and the ethos behind it, you alienate yourself from any position that could reasonably be argued to be inclusive of that abiding ethos.

                if you believe, and vociferously espouse the idea, that people’s reverence for wilderness is trivial … why should they believe that you – or your user-group – will respect it ?

                it seems to me that your argument is that these subjective values are (a) such bullshit as to warrant mockery, (b) that your right to the experience of the subjective value of thrill on “W“ilderness lands is as legitimate as that of those who seek solitude, and perhaps (c) that because of the subjective nature of the experience of reverence, really – it’s up to the users themselves to ‘get over it’ and find the solitude they’re looking for in spite of the shared-uses you argue ought be entitled to access given they don’t trample other wilderness values (which i disagree with but for sake of argument…) and your dismissal of the value of a degree of solitude which precludes thrill-use of mountain bikes within such spaces.

                The problem, and George points it out, is that your right to the subjective experience of ‘thrill’ is not impeded in so many places, “W“ilderness being among the only places where it be restricted. you’re not asking for a solution that includes respecting some spaces for those who value the reverential attributes of wilderness, you’re arguing for the entitlement to access to everything – and suggesting such is consistent with the language of the Wilderness Act.

                it’s just not. The Wilderness Act explicitly recognizes the values that its ‘religious adherents,’ or however you dismissively phrase it, propose – and only through the prestidigitation of a (novel) interpretation of administratively promulgated enforcement language can you suggest otherwise.

              • Not afraid of the future says:

                Brian, you raise interesting questions that call for a more detailed reply than I can write at this moment. I’ll reply later.

                Meanwhile, I would invite you to go back through all of my comments here (yes, I know it would be time-consuming), and I think you’ll see that I’ve made a number of serious ones. They’re not all flippant by a long shot.

              • Not afraid of the future says:

                Brian Ertz — I’ve thought about this a bit, and I’ll try a different tack. Rather than launch another rhetorical volley, I’ll ask some questions. I intend for them to be real, not rhetorical, and I invite anyone to answer them.

                1. I’m curious why George Wuerthner wrote this article and so many people have jumped in to defend it. There seems to be little prospect of the Forest Service changing its mind about the bicycle ban. Congress would seem not to want to touch this issue with the proverbial 10-foot pole. So why is everyone so concerned about this seemingly dormant issue (if you know)?

                2. Do you see mountain bikers as solely seeking “thrills,” to the exclusion of the same kinds of experiences that other backcountry adventurers or users seek?

                3. Do you know any mountain bikers, and if so, are they the gearheads that some people assert we are in these posts?

                4. Do you think most backcountry mountain bikers have, for one reason or another, a less deep connection to the wildlands than hikers/backpackers?

                5. Are you concerned about the demographics that Brady Robinson talks about in his TedX talk? I recall he said the average Nature Conservancy member is in his/her 60s and there are few under 50. IIRC, he said the same is true for other organizations like the Sierra Club.

                7. Do you feel that if mountain biking were allowed in wilderness it would be overrun with mountain bikers?

                8. What do you propose to do to interest more younger people in wildland conservation?

                9. You make the point that we have lots of nice places for mountain biking, which I agree with. Would you be OK with a swap (obviously this is a theoretical scenario), in which we’d get exclusive access to all of the places we don’t have access to, and hikers/backpackers would get exclusive access to every place where we can legally mountain bike? If you would not accept that tradeoff, why not, since you would still have vast swathes of land off-limits to mountain biking?

                10. Let’s say your worst fears came true and mountain biking became legal again in wilderness. What kind of system would you want to set up to regulate it, to keep everyone as happy as possible?

              • Not afraid of the future says:

                Correction on question 9. Here goes:

                9. You make the point that we have lots of nice places for mountain biking, which I agree with. Would you be OK with a swap (obviously this is a theoretical scenario), in which we’d get shared access to all of the places we don’t have access to (although obviously trail and land conditions would mean we couldn’t go everywhere walkers can), and hikers/backpackers would get exclusive access to every place where we can legally share trails? If you would not accept that tradeoff, why not, since you would still have vast swaths of land off-limits to mountain biking?

              • DLB says:


                I’ll address #5, since it’s something that I ponder from time to time.

                I’m 32. I’ve had discussions with younger folks who work for conservation NGO’s, and the problem with getting younger folks more actively involved in the conservation movement is nothing new. Whether it’s backpackers or mountain bikers, stakeholders in my age group are not easy to galvanize for this particular cause.

                In Seattle, the groups who have most successfully targeted my age group have done so by tying charity into social events such as parties, 5k’s, etc. Not only do they hold those events, they effectively promote them to the extent that they seem to become associated with social status. I haven’t figured out yet how the conservation movement can capitalize on that opportunity. Maybe it can’t.

                Based on my personal experiences, I’m not convinced that younger mountain bikers would actively advocate any more than other user groups in the same age range if wilderness areas were to be opened to them.

              • Not afraid of the future says:

                Thanks, DLB. That’s interesting. It could be that mountain biking is a graying sport, just as backpacking seems to be, and, if so, it wouldn’t be a tie-in to conservation either.

                These activities may simply be more strenuous than younger people like.

                One clue would be interest in trail maintenance. Mountain bikers are famous for doing a lot of trail maintenance work, but, I’m embarrassed to say, I do too little of it myself, and so I haven’t registered how old we tend to be. The few times I have done it, I’ve seen a few younger people there, but many have been middle-aged, just like me.

              • DLB says:


                To clarify, I don’t think mountain biking is a graying sport. Quite to the contrary, it appears to be growing among my age group. My point was that no matter what the sport is, turning 20-40 year olds into active conservation advocates has been a challenge for NGO’s. That could be a major factor for why groups like the Sierra Club have such a high average age.

              • Not afraid of the future says:

                DLB, I’m glad to hear that. Certainly, high school mountain bike racing has gone from a couple of teams in Northern California to what seems to be a nationwide craze in just a few years. That bodes well for mountain biking’s future. I see your point, though: interesting younger people in conservation, and perhaps any charitable work, is a different question.

                I think we’ve become a dog-eat-dog society in which many people are forced to work way too long hours. That could account for the point you make: people may be too tired or too preoccupied with work to engage with much else beyond family and friends.

                Here’s a good discussion of this possible problem in The New York Times:


            • Not afraid of the future says:

              One more followup reply to WM:

              First, I agree with you about the Burke-Gilman Trail. It’s jarring to hear “on your left” over and over again, every 30 seconds. On any wilderness trail where something remotely similar could occur, let’s do alternate-day use, or even Mountain Bike Wednesdays. Isn’t alternate-day use what’s done on the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Trail? (I may not remember the name exactly.) It is said to work fine.

              Second, I applaud you for stating, “admittedly I am selfish, and prefer the status quo.” That is undoubtedly what underlies 99% of the energy that’s been expended in defending the strange wilderness regime that parses human-powered users into in-groups and out-groups. Your honesty is commendable and too seldom seen.

              • WM says:

                I think you will find the Wilderness Act itself is the “self-appointed guardian.” There is little wiggle room for mountain bikes to slide between the cracks. I am guessing it would take an amendment to the Act, or language recognizing it as a new use permitted in specific designated Wilderness new or old. Your advocate, Ted Stroll is pumping sunshine up your butt.

              • John Fisch says:

                “You misread Section 1. It is a statement applying to those lands of the Lolo in both categories. And Wilderness is what Congress says it is under the 1964 Act, and with specific legislation designating a particular geographic area. There is no reference to bicycling in designated Wilderness, only that it is a recognized use on some lands in the Lolo NF. By the way, the word “bicycling” appears once in the act, and that is in Section 1.”

                Section 1 is indeed very telling. You are right that it states that there are two categories described: one which is suitable for Wilderness and one which does not have Wilderness character, but is suitable as a NRA, and the act seeks to delineate and establish both as appropriate.

                You’re also correct that bicycling is only mentioned in section 1, but lets look at specifically where in section 1 and in what context, as well as what is said in the contrasting part of section 1. Bicycling is mentioned in 1(a)(1) where it says: This national forest area has long been used as a
                wilderness by Montanans and by people throughout the Nation
                who value it as a source of solitude, wildlife, clean, free-flowing waters stored and used for municipal purposes for over a century,and primitive recreation, to include such activities as hiking,camping, backpacking, hunting, fishing, horse riding, and bicycling;” Here it specifically links cycling to wilderness. Granted that is wilderness (small ‘w’), but we know that only something that actually exhibits wilderness character can be considered for Wilderness status. Therefore, the implication is that bicycling,having taken place in the wilderness and not having disturbed its wilderness character, is appropriate also in Wilderness.

                Now, if you can’t see that, then it becomes even more clear in 1(a)(2) which provides important context in establishing a stark contrast, “certain other lands on the Lolo National Forest, while not
                predominantly of wilderness quality, have high value for municipal watershed, recreation, wildlife habitat, and ecological and educational purposes.” No mention of biking here. The key is that the bikes are mentioned in the paragraph spelling out the areas which have wilderness character. This document does not align bikes with areas which do not have wilderness character, but rather the ones that do, right alongside a list of other activities which are allowed in Wilderness.

            • John Fisch says:

              There are many keys to understanding the “character of wilderness.”

              Those most often quoted by anti-bike zealots are:
              1. “Untrammeled”
              And yet it is proven over and over again that a cycle “trammels” no more than a foot and far less than a horse.”
              2. “Where Man is a visitor and does not remain.”
              Yet those on foot are far and away more likely to “remain,” establishing campsites, digging catholes, building fire rings and leaving all manner of permanent or lasting scars on the land.

              3. “has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation”
              a. Solitude is disturbed by people, not bikes. In fact, as you decry the “speed” of bikes, you must admit that, if a bike is traveling faster, your encounter with one will be shorter than an encounter with a hiker.
              b. While testifying, Rep Aspinall gave a definition of what he meant by “unconfined recreation” in the construct of the Act, and that was recreation free from roads, automobiles, or other infrastructure required to support them. Nothing in the testimony behind that wording would indicate a prohibition against nonmotorized, human powered travel.

              Many cyclists are far more reverent toward nature than many hikers. Those who aren’t will ride their local bike park; the armor-clad downhill warriors will ride the lifts at the ski areas in summer–the ones who head for the backcountry are the reverent ones, and seek the same experience as the reverent hiker.

              • WM says:

                Your sense of rationalization and hair-splitting is commendable.

                Your erroneous conclusions about definitions, and Congressional history are downright pathetic, and not supported by fact or law.

                And, if Aspinall were alive today, I bet he would distinguish a bike as belonging to other wheeled forms of mechanical transport akin to vehicles requiring a mostly continuous road surface for wheels – even if human powered. So, don’t be so tempted to rewrite Congressional history or intent. Most would find your conclusions embarrassing.

                And, let me say it again. A bike of any sort is a form of mechanical transport prohibited in Wilderness on the face of the words of the statute, itself. The question can be answered by looking at the law, and lawyers call that the “four corners” of the document test. There is no need to look at legislative history. Don’t delude yourself into believing this tale.

                By the way, your avatar, with the bike climbing a large rock says it all. And, if mountain bikes were allowed on the PCT or the CDT, it wouldn’t be long before they too would be trying for speed records to do their length – wonder what that would be like for hikers and horse mounted riders? And, you refer to us as zealots. That is indeed rich.

              • John Fisch says:

                “And, if Aspinall were alive today, I bet he would distinguish a bike as belonging to other wheeled forms of mechanical transport akin to vehicles requiring a mostly continuous road surface for wheels – even if human powered.
                And you come to this conclusion how? It makes absolutely no sense in light of Rep Aspinall’s testimony. He continually referred to the need to preclude infrastructure and development. Since a bike needs absolutely zero infrastructure beyond the exact same trail that a hiker would use, there’s no reason to assume he would have though bike inappropriate. Since his words do not specifically mention bicycles, we can’t know for sure what he would have said with regard to them, but it is clear that bikes do not violate the concept he was putting forth. If anybody is trying to “rewrite congressional history” it is you who are adding meaning not inherent, and actually at odds with those words.

                “And, let me say it again. A bike of any sort is a form of mechanical transport prohibited in Wilderness on the face of the words of the statute, itself.”
                And yet we are all aware and have discussed at length that there are forms of mechanical transport allowed in the Wilderness.

                “By the way, your avatar, with the bike climbing a large rock says it all.”
                Nice attempt to falsely discredit. That picture was taken on the 50 Year Trail outside Tucson, AZ. Much of that trail was designed, and is maintained, to specifically provide such challenges to cyclists. That type of riding is perfectly appropriate in that location. If anything, since rock is more resilient than dirt, that route has less impact than if the trail went around the rock. Just as I ride in a manner appropriate to that trail, so I also ride in a manner appropriate to backcountry trails when I am on them.

              • John Fisch says:

                We’ve spent a lot of words going round and round as to whether or not there’s ambiguity in the wording of the Act or whether it explicitly prohibits cycles without actually using the word “bicycle” or any such variant.

                Cycling is indeed “mechanical transport,” but as we have noted, other forms of mechanical transport are allowed. Setting aside the debate about impact or complexity and where to draw the line between what should and what should not be allowed, some prefer to rely on Congressional intent or at least their interpretation of it and/or the black and white letter of the act.

                Testimony leading to the creation of the Act (intent) does not support a ban, but it can be easily argued that the black and white letter of the final version does (law as written).

                So how do we resolve the disconnect here? How do we really know what Congress intended? Why not go to Congress themselves?

                Fortunately, Congress themselves did that for us when they finally did specifically address bicycles in actual Wilderness legislation- specifically in the Rattlesnake Wilderness Act of 1980.

                In the legislation, Congress declared “Congress finds that—(1) certain lands on the Lolo
                National Forest in Montana have high value [as Wilderness]. This
                national forest area has long been used as a wilderness . . . as a source of
                solitude . . . and primitive recreation, to include such activities as hiking,
                camping, backpacking, hunting, fishing, horse riding, and
                bicycling. . . .”

                Furthermore, they added that in creating the Rattlesnake Wilderness, they seek to “further the purposes of the Wilderness Act of 1964”.
                So not only were they declaring bicycling a form of primitive recreation in accordance with the Wilderness they sought to establish at the time, they also went so far as to establish it as furthering the purposes of the original Act and an activity consistent with Wilderness in general.

                Again, it is important to note that some mechanical transport is allowed despite the wording “no other form of mechanical transport,” but which ones should and which ones should not be allowed. Which should be the exceptions?

                Anti-bikers like to quote “no other form of mechanical transport,” but then have to scramble to find ways to justify those forms of mechanical transport which are allowed. They fall back on “complexity” or “impact,” impact, neither of which support their position since there are more complex and more impactful things which are allowed in Wilderness.

                But back to Congressional intent, as well as the letter of the law, and which end of the disagreement is in actual, or at least, in greatest violation.

                1. The original USFS reg which is supposedly a misinterpretation is at least in accordance with the intent as evidenced by the original hearings and later evidenced by the Rattlesnake Wilderness Act of 1980. And as necessary to contrast this point with (2) below, the original act never specifically mentioned mountain bikes (and again banned any form of “mechanical transport,” which loses force in the face the fact that some forms of mechanical transport are indeed allowed).
                2. By contrast, the 1984 ban on mountain bikes is in direct violation of the wording of the 1980 act, the first time mountain bikes were specifically called out–and included. Not only is this a direct violation of specific wording rather than a potential violation of possibly ambiguous wording which has rendered itself meaningless by allowing other forms of mechanical transport, the 1980 Act is more recent than the 1964 Act thus superseding it and providing more current guidance.

                Bottom line: The 1984 ban was far and away the more blatant and egregious violation of not just intent, but also the black and white letter of the law.

              • WM says:

                ++So not only were they declaring bicycling a form of primitive recreation in accordance with the Wilderness they sought to establish at the time, they also went so far as to establish it as furthering the purposes of the original Act and an activity consistent with Wilderness in general.++

                I think you (and your buddy Ted Stroll) need to go back and read Section 1 of the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness Act again, and then read the entire act in harmony, for context. If your version were so, there would be mountain bike trails in the Rattlesnake Wilderness. There are NONE, to my knowledge. However, there are designated bike trails within the National Recreation Area outside the designated Wilderness area. I believe that is the correct way to read the law. The Forest Service thinks so.

                You misread Section 1. It is a statement applying to those lands of the Lolo in both categories. And Wilderness is what Congress says it is under the 1964 Act, and with specific legislation designating a particular geographic area. There is no reference to bicycling in designated Wilderness, only that it is a recognized use on some lands in the Lolo NF. By the way, the word “bicycling” appears once in the act, and that is in Section 1.

                Forest Maps accompany this land designation and are part of the law, and to my knowledge there are no areas within the Rattlesnake Wilderness which are designated for bicycle use. The Wilderness can be accessed, however through a corridor which almost splits the wilderness on its southern boundary. I have not seen the detailed maps, however, just been told that was the case.

                Please correct me if I am wrong on this.

                And here is a copy of the Rattlesnake National Recreation and Wilderness Act of 1980, so you won’t be tempted to read portions out of context:


          • DLB says:

            ++I think it would be OK if the agency uses a wheelbarrow, as long as the personnel gather afterward and say a prayer to the god of wilderness asking for forgiveness for this sacrilege. I would also hope they would obliterate the tracks left by the demon wheel.++

            This is the same tired method of trivializing conservation oriented legislation, albeit with an eloquence that is exceptional compared to most others who take that angle.

            Backpacking is not going anywhere anymore than hunting is. Their are ebbs and flows to many sports, and long-lived recreational activities as well entrenched as backpacking don’t just die away easily.

            Here in Washington State, I have not noticed a decrease of foot traffic in popular wilderness areas. Take a trip into Alpine Lakes Wilderness and marvel at the number of stakeholders.

            People continue to highlight the exclusionary nature of Wilderness designation, and I’ve just become used to the idea that there will always be people trying to kick the door in on that one trail, road, area, etc. that they obsess over not being able to access with their preferred method of transportation.

            • topher says:

              Backpacking in Idaho seems as popular as ever judging by the number of people in the Sawtooths when I’m there. Most of them tend to be younger than me and there doesn’t appear to be any danger of that changing in the near future.

        • John Fisch says:

          Again, impact is relevant–perception is not. While a knobby print may look different than a boot print, studies repeatedly show they are equivalent in actual impact on the land, and far less impactful than hoofprints.

          Again, the use of the word “mechanical” was originally used synonymously with “motorized.” Timing and context are crucial here.

          • Ray says:

            I wouldn’t say it passes the “four corners” test. The statement in question is incredibly ambiguous, otherwise, the forest service would have gotten it “right”(your opinion) in the first place. I’ve asked several people to read the statement containing the term “mechanical transport”(none had a stake in the argument), and they have all agreed that it would be something that used a motor since all other items in the list share that trait. For instance, if someone said there were guitars, drums, keyboards, and other instruments you might think of a bass, and not a speedometer which is also an instrument.

            The value of looking at the legislative history is seeing the incredible amount of compromise that took place in order to pass the Act. I’m sure you and others would say that it’s a wasted effort, but things never change unless people voice their opinion, and perhaps one day enough people will see that the bicycle exclusion is completely ridiculous.

            • Immer Treue says:

              “…but things never change unless people voice their opinion, and perhaps one day enough people will see that the bicycle exclusion is completely ridiculous.”

              I’ve provided my Mt Biking credentials in past comments. So as one who has done both, backpacking and Mt Biking, I am one of the “people” who feels the bicycle exclusion is anything but ridiculous. It is quite rational.

              • Ray says:

                I have also done some hiking in Wilderness, and perhaps it has a lot to do with the region, but I saw no reason why sharing the trail with a bike would be detrimental to my or others experience (rationally speaking). I can see areas with more crowds where it may be an issue, but the majority of my experience on the trail with all users has been positive.

            • WM says:

              ++I wouldn’t say it passes the “four corners” test.++

              Sure it does. The plain meaning of the Wilderness Act, when read harmoniously as a whole (this is important, so don’t forget), and these specific provisions which we are discussing are pretty clear on their face (four corners).

              And, I would suggest you (and your friends’ with no stake) interpretation of the rules of statutory construction are incorrect.

              Here is a little primer on statutory interpretation the US Supreme Court suggests Congress consider when it passes laws. They are the rules most courts use, and plain meaning is right up there at the top; and sometimes legislative history is never part of the analysis, because it is never reached.


              Importantly, mountain bikes were not produced commercially until the early 1980’s, twenty some years AFTER the Wilderness Act. I don’t think you can reconcile that it was a known or even anticipated as a means of mechanical transport on crude, and sometimes poorly maintained trails within designated Wilderness.

              You can beat this dog all you want, Ray. I think the conclusions are the same. Again, point to any scholarly reviews of legislative history or rules of statutory construction supporting your view. The only one I have seen refers to the Stroll analysis, but only for the purpose of showing there is another view, however weak it might be.

              And here is another piece on point, and counter to your view, done by the Pew Center in the form of a Briefing Paper (Doug Scott, author, for the Wilderness Project in 2003), albeit to support the view that wilderness does not include biking, via careful analysis of the “mechanical transport” language. It, however, is well researched, and focuses specifically on the “mechanized transport” language which surely includes the post Wilderness Act invention/adaptation of the “mountain bike.” May I suggest you, and your friends with no stake, read it, including the part where the FS misinterpreted the law in the first set of regulations when they erroneously raised the “non-living” power source concept. Agencies often make mistakes and don’t follow the law. This legal mistake was later corrected. May I suggest you look carefully at pages 3-8 of the paper below:


  47. Ida Lupines says:


    You’re counting? I’m honored. Well, here’s another one for ya. What we were discussing was children and teenagers. So I like to keep up on environmental issues that are important to me and comment. I don’t play video games, don’t own a smartphone, don’t text, don’t use headphones, and only have a very basic computer – which I may dispense with entirely. I already dispensed with the printer.

    Kathleen and NAOTF, you’re welcome. 🙂

    • ma'iingan says:

      “What we were discussing was children and teenagers. So I like to keep up on environmental issues that are important to me and comment.”

      And you were pontificating about how hikers should be able to just step over downed logs, and that they won’t widen the trail by walking around the obstacle – which tells me you don’t stray too far from your computer.

      Tell you what, why don’t you strap on a 45-pound backpack and climb over a few down trees and tell me how well that works for you.

      There is NO reason to not remove downed trees from designated trails. None.

      • Ida Lupines says:

        I don’t have to answer to you, and you have absolutely no idea what I do or don’t, and it isn’t any of your business. Why don’t you continue to make excuses for wolf killing, and get paid for it. Maybe pittance, but you still bow to your masters. I really don’t know how people like you can hold your head up in public.

        • Ida Lupines says:

          Sellouts, hiding behind ‘science’.

          • rork says:

            I’ve mostly seen integrity, truth seeking, admitting to facts, trying to avoid bias and error. I’d pay to read what ma’ has to say.

        • Immer Treue says:

          ” Why don’t you continue to make excuses for wolf killing, and get paid for it. Maybe pittance, but you still bow to your masters. I really don’t know how people like you can hold your head up in public.”

          Can’t wait for the reply to this one. Don’t think I have ever read anything by ma’iingan making excuses for “wolf killing”; unlike other places.

          • Ida Lupines says:

            Me neither. I may even post twenty comments today. I may some days post a lot, others I don’t. And I do a lot of hiking and have done a fair amount of traveling in my past. If I have a day off, I may spend some time behind a computer screen. I trust that’s enough information? 🙂

      • Ida Lupines says:

        I think you are wrong, and those have been my experiences. I don’t think a trail has to be sterilized in order that humans may use it. In fact I’m sick to death of our meddling and I love to see anything that goes against our ‘order’. I love seeing downed trees, and I don’t take a heavy backback with me. Where I stray or do not stray is no business of yours, and I don’t care what you, or anybody else, thinks about it. The blog moderators will let me know if my post go over any legal limit.

        You’d like to keep all wilderness for yourself for research purposes? Your comments tell me you probably are a pompous ass. LOL

      • Jake Jenson says:


        Thank you for the work that you do and for sharing your knowledge. Your comments here are one of the few reasons I read here.

        I’ve worked at keeping trails open here in Idaho’s forests for many years. I’ve observed the walk around damage and impassible fallen tree situations across designated trails which at times while closing off the trail are dangerous and or impossible to climb over.

        I climbed over a 4′ high multiple log jam blocking a trail along a steep incline with 30′ drop off into a boulder strewn creek bottom a few days ago. On a hiking and horse backing only trail. About four miles in.

        I’m going to clean it up shortly.

        I’ve also removed rock slides. Single boulders. And built trail around impossible to remove blockages.

        We have USFS signs here advising staying on designated trails, no short cutting switch backs.

        I’ve even rescued a few broken down REI lightly equipped back country experts over the years. Sprains and dehydration. lol.

        • Ida Lupines says:

          So now we’ve got 24-hour trail service. Sure. I personally have not had to go out of my way or off trails, and it has never been too much extra effort to whine about. I’ve never been injured and I plan ahead and try to anticipate problems, and prepare for them.

          • TC says:

            This is a very simplistic response. Depending on objectives, there are very good reasons for removing downed trees and other large obstacles from established trailways. If the objective is to maintain one controlled and established trailbed in a sensitive ecosystem (and what ecosystems are not “sensitive”?), then removing obstacles will discourage people from developing alternate routes or volunteer trails. Removing obstacles also prevents people from treading in the same exact spots time and time again, causing compression, erosion, and gradual trail corridor expansion, especially on downhill sides of trails. The west is littered with large drought- and beetle-killed trees across trails, some far too large to step over and decorated with snags. We’ve all seen people cut new trails around them over time, often several routes, on feet, on bikes, on horses, and on motorized vehicles, as available and allowable. It’s not desirable. The obstacles (trees especially) can be placed strategically (for proper drainage) outside the trail clearing limit and still contribute to their role in the ecosystem. People then stay on established trailbeds appropriately, are happy, and may even graduate to becoming advocates for wild places. It’s people management via trail management.

            There’s a quote out there often attributed to Mark Twain or Abraham Lincoln (probably inaccurately), but the gist is that you’ve now “removed all doubt”… Been there, done that, cannot recommend it as a regular practice.

            • Ida Lupines says:

              There’s no way to ensure that people stay on trails, regardless of obstacles. You’ve always got the one who can’t abide by the rules, and usually they are on wheels also.

              Don’t put words in my mouth – I’ve never come across huge trees that were far too large for me to negotiate. I’m sure they exist. If the trails aren’t kept ‘managed’, whose fault is that? And the more trails there are, the more ‘upkeep’ they will need.

              If you have to resort to insults, usually it means you are out of a real argument. I’m done with this topic.

              I love dogs; but a human being is placing their dog in jeopardy by taking them out into the woods, and possibly damaging trails also. A dog trust their companion owner and will most times do whatever they ask. There’s ticks, Lyme disease, Leptospirosis, and wildlife who may feel threatened. We have to realize that there are some things as human beings that are off limits to us.

              • JB says:


                You’ve heard the phrase ‘path of least resistance’ right? When you’re hiking, it is almost always easier to walk around an obstacle (like a tree) than to go over it. The FS doesn’t clear trails in order to make more work for themselves; they do it because years of experience indicates that if they let trees lie in the middle of trails people will go around them, causing more damage, and creating more trails. For the same reason, the NPS often installs boardwalks and hardens trail surfaces in areas with lots of foot traffic.

                Recreation ecologists have been studying these impacts since the 1970s. In fact, somewhere in my office I’ve a text book with a graph of human foot traffic vs ecological impact. Briefly, the study found that the amount of damage increases dramatically with the first few uses, then damage levels off. The implication: overall damage is reduced by keeping people in high traffic areas (it’s hard to do any further damage to a compacted trail). The federal agencies are all acutely are of this and their management of trails reflects that knowledge.

              • TC says:

                I did not insult you. Straight up observation – you’re posting far above your level of competence, far beyond your experience level, and far outside your knowledge base, and that makes you a fool. We’re all fools often. It’s nice to have it pointed out and then modify your behavior or commentary accordingly. Take a moment to learn something as it were, or at least to appreciate maybe you’re not always correct. Or not.

                Dogs cannot go into “the woods” now. Yes, note to self. Disengage.

      • Immer Treue says:

        “There is NO reason to not remove downed trees from designated trails. None.”

        Emphatically agree. My longest backpacking trips employed a dog. He carried the tent, his food, and anything else I could put in his pack. On little used national forest trails, littered with dead falls, I had to precede the dog, who was inclined to just jump or scramble over fallen tree sections. Unseen snags on the opposite side most likely would have been fatal.

        Perhaps a word of advice to anyone who packs with a dog.

        • Ida Lupines says:

          We’re getting way off track. The point was that certain areas are best left in a primeval state, and not opened up to hiking, mountain bikes, etc.

          Why did an innocuous post from a nobody whose comments are dismissed as having no idea what she is talking about cause such a furor? I guess that we really should be happy with trails that already exist from a maintenance standpoint? lol

        • Ida Lupines says:

          It may not be wise to take your dog backpacking, and I don’t think they are allowed either – especially in areas where wildlife is protected. I’m surprised at you, Immer!

          • Immer Treue says:


            I’m going to be polite. All of my dog packing was in National Forest, not National Park. Check ahead… But most National Forests (all that I backpacked),dogs were allowed.

            Dog was a good partner, never smelled like a smelly human, perhaps whined a bit, but never bitched. Always under control, we all take chances when venturing into wilderness areas. Nice to have a “friend” always willing to go, whether carrying a pack, or pulling a sled in Winter.

            Your surprise is unfounded.

  48. Ida Lupines says:

    And as far as the case for mountain biking (and several others too!), I think it is effectively closed after WM’s brilliant ‘primeval character’ argument and post – at least for me. Well done.

  49. topher says:

    Self serving people are always looking, and often finding, loopholes in the law.

  50. Leslie says:

    I think Jack Turner called them ‘fun hogs’. The mountain bike in wilderness argument is akin to the paddling argument in Yellowstone.

    I have been almost knocked down many times by clyclists in legal areas on trails. They speed around corners downhill too fast for me to get out of the way; me or my dog.

    And what about grizzly bears and cyclists? Can you avoid a bear, or he you, while speeding around a corner? Many animals like to use trails. They can hear a hiker or horse and run off, but not a bike et al.

    Why is it that the spiritual or deep refreshment aspect of nature is always short-circuited for ‘fun hogs’? As was recently spoken by a Crow elder, the “energy through the land and universe is fragile and that energy is receding because of the human contact.”


  51. Mareks Vilkins says:

    Mountain biking: mud, sweat and gears in the Rockies

    The world’s toughest bike race runs from Canada to Mexico – and short sections of the route are great for intrepid amateurs


  52. Ida Lupines says:

    I don’t agree with Dr.Kay’s reasoning at all, or don’t understand how preserving land ignores the genocide of the past, is racist, or has anything to do with our treatment of them. Our dominant culture has swallowed up and almost eradicated Native culture.

    Humans have not managed the continent since the glaciers melted; we have managed certain small areas and small spheres of the continent, but our spheres keep getting larger and larger with our population, and why are we unable to stop? While human influence may be just about everywhere, there are places that show it more than others – and the ones that haven’t been destroyed and changed to suit us are worth protecting.

    I don’t see how this translates into a deception of the country’s original ‘owners’ – we could make amends for that any time by honoring treaties that ultimately cheated them – I don’t see how continuing to develop the landscapes is a desirable thing. This reasoning seems self-serving, and I don’t know that I could read this book after some of the excerpts.

    I really don’t think there is any way we can make up for what European immigrants have done to this continent except trying to preserve land, and of course, nobody has any intention of really trying. I have no idea where this man is coming from with this argument.

    I’m curious about the Native artifacts and remains that a CA whistleblower brought to the public’s attention that have not been accounted for by the Interior Dept. and there whereabouts cannot be traced. The Interior Dept. has been given 60 days to investigate and report back to the independent US Office of Special Counsel:


    No disrespect intended, but if there’s anything that impedes human development second to the ESA, it is a indigenous site.

  53. Roberto says:

    I rode my bike in wilderness last week-end. I could not notice any difference with the area nearby. Good times. Enforcement is non existent anyway.

  54. rork says:

    I’ve been meaning to note that my western hunting friends used to take bikes when hunting Montana/Wyoming. They were never used to transport humans, just elk meat. One can move allot of gear (or mushrooms) with such assistance (on not-the-hardest terrain).

  55. WM says:

    Looks like Wilderness is not the only place mountain biking (and zip lining which may be another thrill sport some might hope to expand), is coming under intense scrutiny. Seattle Park Dept. is getting pressured to turn inner city pastoral forest trails into a multiple use venues, and of course potentially disturbing the wildlife and the hikers desiring solitude there. http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2024180079_cheastybiketrailsxml.html

    • Not afraid of the future says:

      Horrors. Better to leave it to the “homeless camps, illegal dumping, drug use and prostitution [that] have made the park all but unusable.”

      • WM says:

        Those aspects of which you speak have much to do with the economic nature of this area of the City. Martin Luther King Blvd parallels this strip of forest for most of its length. And, racist overtones aside, these less desirable activities will likely continue regardless of how much “improvement” is made with a mountain bike trail system in this park.

        One using these trails, if developed, might even be expect to be relieved of their $2K mountain bike, watch and billfold if riding alone. Maybe even a little piano wire strung the right height to make the job easier. Consider this area the equivalent of the south side of Chicago. Sorry, just the facts and a little informed conjecture.

        • Ray says:

          Hikers go to an area the “equivalent of south side Chicago” for solitude? What keeps them from being relieved of their billfolds and watches?

          • WM says:


            Nothing. The police blotter and local TV news will tell you “stuff” happens in this part of town. A little improvement over time with changes in a suburb called Columbia City, and a light rail line, which limits access from the east (fewer street crossings directly from the bad areas, so acts a bit like a moat). And, there are more new condos on the west side of the light rail abutting the Park. It’s still a fringe safety area, from my experience. So, if you don’t look like you need to be relieved of your valuable property or are with locals, things might be better, in the daylight hours, anyway. I used to live in this general area years ago, but further east and a bit south – on Lake WA. In two years, my house and car (twice) broken into, and one unprovoked altercation that could have gone badly had other people not been around. That is why I moved.

            And, by the way, I’ve no real objection to mountain biking in Cheasty Park. The reason I called attention to the possibility of it is that there is tension among user groups – and it isn’t even designated Wilderness where the legislative intent issue prevents mountain biking.

    • Yvette says:

      Interesting. Zip lining sounds like a blast and I would love to have one here. I’d definitely participate. I don’t see why a zip line in Lincoln park is so controversial. While it’s a nice park it’s very popular, and thus, noisy. Lots and lots of screaming kids. Plus, there is a ferry station right next to that park, so how would a zip line be any worse? What am I missing? I’m not being sarcastic.

      Seattle has a lot of nice parks and greenspaces. Where in the city proper are the mountain bikers riding now? I remember you saying something about Greenlake, but isn’t that sort of flat and more like an urban park? Does Discovery Park allow mountain biking? There is a lot of acreage in Discovery Park and when I hiked some of the trails a few years ago it was pretty much empty. Maybe I just got lucky? How nice to have over 500 acres and be that close to downtown!

      I don’t understand why there is so much controversy and animosity between hikers and mountain bikers. Maybe I’m missing something since I’m not usually in a wilderness designated area. I don’t mountain bike, but I do hike. We have a fairly nice area here in Tulsa and the trails are shared with bikers and hikers. It’s a very popular spot with both groups. IT’s hilly, woody and is near the Arkansas River. It’s very popular with the mountain bikers, but I’ve never encountered any problems with them.

  56. Not afraid of the future says:

    I continue to be baffled by the posts on here and elsewhere. What exactly is people’s strategy for giving wilderness the best possible chance for surviving the next 50 years? The New York Times and other media are asserting that current wilderness is already in trouble. And getting new wilderness designations seems to have become a Herculean task.

    I understand the complaints on this thread about a subset of mountain bikers going too fast and either startling people or making them feel compelled to move off the trail and let cyclists pass. I just got back from a Sunday outing at a place where I saw just that, in an urban park popular with both mountain bikers and trail runners (and a few dog-walkers). One mountain biker even startled me, though I’m used to opposite-direction encounters with rapidly traveling mountain bikers on narrow trails.

    But for years now, we’ve proposed things like alternate-day use, trail design features (I’m sorry, but even wilderness trails are a man-made improvement and have an agency-devised design, much as some people might not like to admit it), and permit systems.

    The attitude here, as illustrated by WM’s comment above, seems to be that any mountain biking on any narrow trail anywhere can only be a disaster for everyone else.

    Do you all think mountain biking is just going to go away, or that you’re going to persuade agency managers of your views?

    I have a feeling many of the antis on this thread secretly harbor this view: “I sense that my attitude jeopardizes the long-term future of land conservation. But I’m going to be dead in 30 years and unable to do backcountry travel before then, so my goal is to preserve the current clubby arrangement for myself and other walkers as long as I’m able-bodied.”

    I would suggest that putting wildlands first might be the more altruistic approach.

    • WM says:

      Sorry, nothing says respecting nature and the solemnity of Wilderness like “mountain biking.” Or should I say nothing says “dominating nature….” They don’t call it “shredding” for nothing.


      There are dozens of youtube films that extoll the respect for mountain landscapes like this one….brought to you by corporate sponsor RED BULL (caffeinated beverages).

      • Not afraid of the future says:

        Sigh . . . with that attitude, you are going to be the architect of the doom that all you hold dear. Red Bull has as much relationship to ordinary mountain biking as those SUV or jeep ads in which the vehicle roars through one pristine river crossing after another at 50 mph while towing 10000 pounds.

        I will admit this, though. Whereas many wilderness purists are their own worst enemy, we have our own worst enemy in our midst too. It is the advertising campaigns of mountain bike and mountain bike tire manufacturers, which portray stupid trail shredding as both the norm among and the ideal for mountain bikers. Every dumb mountain biking ad that gains public notoriety probably undoes a thousand hours of painstaking advocacy work by groups like Seattle’s Evergreen Mtb Alliance.

        • WM says:

          OK lets’ go with the attributes of Evergreen Mtb Alliance advocacy, trail improvement among their strong talents, which of course, they then ride:


          Note the 5′ wide trails. Would you do that to Wilderness, as well as make other “improvements?” By, the way, they would get that wide with much bike use, even if they weren’t in the original design.

          Now on to mountain bike manufacturers…this from the Trek website [note picture of product in use]….”They live for sharp turns, drops, and rugged terrain, and don’t sweat it when the trail pitches up. They’ll let you go all day, get to places others can only dream of, and get back in record time. So go ahead, throw yourself into any challenge. We promise your bike will not hold you back.”

          “[Get] you back in record time.” OK. Just how incredibly dumb do you think Wilderness supporters would be to let mountain bikers get their nose in the tent, eh? There are lots of places you can “shred” and get to and back from fast, outside Wilderness or limited city parks.

          And it looks to me like there are plenty places to ride, even according to Evergreen mountain bike Assn.


  57. Not afraid of the future says:

    Correction: “. . . of the doom of all that you hold dear.” Since we can’t edit our posts, I need to proofread mine not just once, but twice.

  58. John Fisch says:

    “A man on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles.”

    ― Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

  59. Josh Jones says:

    Has anyone here actually learned about how the wilderness came about? The founders never wanted to exclude people from the wilderness, it was meant to get our urban growing asses in that day and age out into the woods again, and to keep gasoline powered equipment out of the woods, such as cutting roads through, logging, and just lazy RVer’s out of the woods.

    The founders only wanted to develop wilderness IF it meant everyone could enjoy it… there were no bikes or hang gliders then.

    Then come along lobbiests like the sierra club telling law makers what it meant, defining it, and no other lobby groups for a few bikers, why not exclude them.

    If you speak of mechanical advantage, don’t snowshoes count? don’t cross country skis? Don’t your fancy hiking boots with gel soles and fancy cleats count as a mechanical advantage? don’t think so, then go barefoot without a backpack next. Bikes, hang gliders, tents, backpacks, snow shoes, none of it should be removed from widlerness, it’s intent was to keep destruction out, but in no way people.

    A better test would be if the device runs on people, or is sustainable for its life. A bike could work in the wilderness without leaving for years, whereas motorized vehicles would require gas to operate, they don’t sustain. A tent, backpack, snowshoes, hang glider, all should be permissable… they could sustain and exist for years in wilderness.

    planes, motorcycles, cars, trucks, 4 wheelers, motorized scooters, cell phones, things of that nature should not.

    • Immer Treue says:

      OK, then ride your Mt Bike barefoot. This from an ex mountain bike racer. Back to the tired argument, there exist enough fine places to ride a mountain bike. Plus you’ll require that cell phone, reception required, when your feet are all torn up by the spd’s or egg beaters, and you can neither pedal nor walk out.

    • Angela says:

      You recreationalists have all the public land in the world to play with your toys thanks to the heavy political pressure to allow every kind of use from mining to ORV use to hunting and trapping. Animals that require large core areas of habitat undisturbed by humans in order to survive and reproduce do not have anything BUT wilderness these days; animals such as wolverines. People like myself who want to enjoy nature and solitude and GET AWAY from the people who see the outdoors as a place to get an adrenaline fix have very few options left, while recreationalists, due to the “multiple-use” mindset, can pretty much do their thing on any public land. I think the person who doesn’t understand the founders’ intentions might be you. Ask yourself why you absolutely MUST be allowed to use your bike in the wilderness as well as all other public lands. I prefer running into a “lazy RV’er” than a mountain biker any day; the RVer’s stay in their spot and enjoy the nature around them–the footprint of their disturbance is actually very small compared to a recreationalist’s.

  60. Kathleen says:

    “The founders never wanted to exclude people from the wilderness…” and no one is arguing that they did. From the Act, Section 2(a): “”wilderness areas”… these shall be administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use as wilderness…”

    “…there were no bikes or hang gliders then.” And that’s why the authors of the Act, in their wisdom, prohibited other forms of “mechanical transport” in addition to roads and specific motorized vehicles that *did* exist. It didn’t take the Sierra Club or anyone else to interpret it that way–it’s in the Act.

    “If you speak of mechanical advantage…” But no one is speaking of that. The Act cites (Section 4(c) “Prohibition of Certain Uses”) “mechanical transport,” which is certainly not the same as mechanical advantage. (Imagine a trail crew not being able to use leverage to dislodge and move a boulder, for example.)

    The Wilderness Act of 1964

  61. Jesse says:

    This is contagious, just saying no to biking on public dirt trails by public land managers . What if I have prosthetic legs does that mean I am not allowed on hiking trails because I’m mechanized ! Just like the mountain bike
    Hear on Cape cod the National seashore has ticketed not allowing mountain bikes with fat 5″ tires on the beach . Only on paved trails . I wonder how the bike is more of an offense to the ground than a wheeled beach cart ?
    What is wilderness , Anywhere there’s dirt under your feet ? In the spirit of , This land is your land this land is my land .


July 2014


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey