utah wilderness mountain bikingBy Dusty Ott

I count myself as one of eight million lucky mountain bikers in the U.S. today. I say “lucky” because I know of no greater thrill and sense of enjoyment than riding my bike surrounded by the many scenic wonders of nature throughout our great State of Utah. From the red rocks of southern Utah to the scenic peaks of northern Utah, there is no better way to experience our great state than on two wheels.

For years, my fellow mountain bikers and I have longed to ride where we never have before: in our breathtaking federal wilderness areas. Wilderness trails offer the ultimate beauty and challenge to every hiker and horseback rider that are now permitted to use them. As an avid hiker, I have been privileged to explore some of the best wilderness trails Utah has to offer. Numerous times throughout the hike, I think to myself, “This trail would be incredible to bring my bike on.”

But for more than thirty years, these wilderness trails have been closed to mountain bikers. Federal regulations finalized 20 years after the 1964 Wilderness Act have unfairly created a ban on mountain biking, a law that never intended to set such limits.

That’s why I was thrilled when I learned recently that our Utah Senators Lee and Hatch had introduced a bill in Congress to restore the true meaning of the Wilderness Act by lifting this blanket ban and instead giving federal land managers in local areas the authority to provide mountain bikers with access to these trails where it’s sensible. For me, I find my greatest joy exploring new trails and getting away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Like every hiker and horseback rider, mountain bikers deserve to enjoy these picturesque wilderness areas. Not all, but the blanket rule is dumb and needs to be fixed.

There may be conservationists out there concerned over the environmental damage mountain bikes might theoretically do to these wilderness trails. These fears are over-inflated. Plenty of environmental studies have concluded that the environmental effects of mountain bikes are similar to hiking boots and much less impactful than horses and mule trains, which have long trod these trails.

The recently-introduced Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Act addresses these concerns anyway by providing boots-on-the-ground land managers with the discretion to limit or ban mountain bikes where they see the potential for environmental harm, impacting hikers’ solitude, or safety concerns.

As with many of my fellow bikers, preserving the environment around us is very important to me. We owe a great deal to the many who dedicate themselves to protecting our natural treasures. There must be a reasonable way, however, to enable more recreationists, like mountain bikers, to appreciate our wilderness areas firsthand without upsetting its uncommon beauty. The Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Act, it seems to me, strikes that balance by replacing a heavy-handed blanket ban imposed by Washington bureaucrats decades ago, before much was known about mountain biking, with a more flexible, discretionary approach managed by the local land managers closest to these wilderness areas.

A Utah native who loves the great outdoors, Dusty Ott was introduced to camping, fishing, hiking, and biking as a child in northern Utah, and that love has continued on to his adult life. His favorite outdoor activity is mountain biking and has spent countless hours on the trails from the slickrock of St. George to the high alpine peaks of northern Utah. Now with a family of his own, he finds no greater joy than spending outside with his wife and two children. He currently works at Hill AFB as an industrial hygienist and moonlights as a custom bicycle-wheel builder.

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