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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  1. As reasonable and heartfelt as Dusty’s plea may seem, some of the comments that will almost certainly be posted below will quickly accuse him of being a selfish, lying, land-grabbing destroyer of nature.

    If the discussion of this issue on the rest of the internet is any indication, the science of trail impacts that Dusty mentions will be dismissed in favor of personal anecdotes; the highly successful, safe and sustainable sharing of non-Wilderness backcountry trails among cyclists and other users will be ignored in favor of inflammatory and unsupported assertions regarding user safety; the Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Area Act will be described as a “Trojan Horse” or “smokescreen” intended to throw open the gates of Wilderness to everything from motor vehicles to oil exploration and timber sales. Never mind that the proposed legislation does NONE of those things. Read it yourself. Just google “s.3205 wilderness”

    Managing bicycles on Wilderness trails is well within the capabilities of our professional land managers. They now have many decades of experience managing mountain bikes and they should be allowed to apply that experience to better serve the Wilderness and the outdoor community on which the Wilderness depends.

  2. “for more than thirty years, these wilderness trails have been closed to mountain bikers”: why can’t mountain bikers EVER tell the truth??? Mountain bikers have EXACLY the same access to Wilderness as everyone else: ON FOOT!

    • Indeed, it is a well-known fact that mountain bikers never tell the truth. I’m glad we’re having a reasonable discussion about this. While we’re on the subject, Attila the Hun was the inventor of the unicycle, and in the Gospel of Thomas, Satan is described as wearing rollerskates. No better way to argue a point than a calm presentation of the facts.

  3. Bicycles should not be allowed in any natural area. They are inanimate objects and have no rights. There is also no right to mountain bike. That was settled in federal court in 1996: http://mjvande.info/mtb10.htm . It’s dishonest of mountain bikers to say that they don’t have access to trails closed to bikes. They have EXACTLY the same access as everyone else — ON FOOT! Why isn’t that good enough for mountain bikers? They are all capable of walking….

    A favorite myth of mountain bikers is that mountain biking is no more harmful to wildlife, people, and the environment than hiking, and that science supports that view. Of course, it’s not true. To settle the matter once and for all, I read all of the research they cited, and wrote a review of the research on mountain biking impacts (see http://mjvande.info/scb7.htm ). I found that of the seven studies they cited, (1) all were written by mountain bikers, and (2) in every case, the authors misinterpreted their own data, in order to come to the conclusion that they favored. They also studiously avoided mentioning another scientific study (Wisdom et al) which did not favor mountain biking, and came to the opposite conclusions.

    Those were all experimental studies. Two other studies (by White et al and by Jeff Marion) used a survey design, which is inherently incapable of answering that question (comparing hiking with mountain biking). I only mention them because mountain bikers often cite them, but scientifically, they are worthless.

    Mountain biking accelerates erosion, creates V-shaped ruts, kills small animals and plants on and next to the trail, drives wildlife and other trail users out of the area, and, worst of all, teaches kids that the rough treatment of nature is okay (it’s NOT!). What’s good about THAT?

    To see exactly what harm mountain biking does to the land, watch this 5-minute video: http://vimeo.com/48784297.

    In addition to all of this, it is extremely dangerous: http://mjvande.info/mtb_dangerous.htm .

    For more information: http://mjvande.info/mtbfaq.htm .

    The common thread among those who want more recreation in our parks is total ignorance about and disinterest in the wildlife whose homes these parks are. Yes, if humans are the only beings that matter, it is simply a conflict among humans (but even then, allowing bikes on trails harms the MAJORITY of park users — hikers and equestrians — who can no longer safely and peacefully enjoy their parks).

    The parks aren’t gymnasiums or racetracks or even human playgrounds. They are WILDLIFE HABITAT, which is precisely why they are attractive to humans. Activities such as mountain biking, that destroy habitat, violate the charter of the parks.

    Even kayaking and rafting, which give humans access to the entirety of a water body, prevent the wildlife that live there from making full use of their habitat, and should not be allowed. Of course those who think that only humans matter won’t understand what I am talking about — an indication of the sad state of our culture and educational system.

    • Is it really that simple, Mr. Vandeman? Or is it the case that you were in fact arrested, charged, tried and duly convicted as reported. Then, after successfully fulfilling all the terms of your sentence, you exercised your right under California law to petition the court and have your conviction “dismissed.” That’s a right enjoyed by Californians who have been convicted of a crime and haven’t done any more bad things (sadly, internet trolling doesn’t count) that would lead the court to deny the petition. Is any of that ringing a bell?

      • Sorry to disappoint you, but I was never convicted of assault. The charge was dismissed. But you already knew that, and just chose to lie about it. That’s what mountain bikers are like. They never tell the truth.

        • Did somebody say “convicted of assault?” It wasn’t me. Can you remind us again who’s lying? But thanks for acknowledging that you were in fact tried and convicted of something. Maybe you’d like to tell us which of the six original charges you were and were not convicted of. Was the conviction for two counts of brandishing a weapon and and one count of battery? I can’t quite recall. If I’m not mistaken, your sentence consisted of 30 days on the Sherriff’s Work Alternative Program minus 8 days served in jail. Plus probation for three years, including a “Stay Away” order for trails in the Claremont Canyon Reserve and the UC Berkeley hiking trails. Have I got that about right?

  4. Why else post something about an accusation & trial – conveniently “forgetting” to mention that the charge was dismissed, and that the mountain bikers were all breaking the law by riding a closed trail and building an illegal trail. No surprise there!

    • So just to recap the facts as you seem to be confirming: At trial in 2010 you were convicted of two counts of brandishing a weapon and one count of battery. Three other charges, including at least one count of assault with a deadly weapon were dismissed at trial. What were the other two charges? Or were they simply additional counts of the same assault charge? Anyway, three years after your convictions, having completed the terms of your sentence, you exercised your right under California law and successfully petitioned the court to have your convictions vacated. Have we got that all straight now or is there something you’d like to add that is relevant to this specific discussion of your legal affairs?

  5. Dusty writes “That’s why I was thrilled when I learned recently that our Utah Senators Lee and Hatch had introduced a bill…” Well, I hate to break it to you, but Lee and Hatch have some of the Worst Environmental Records in Congress. They are not the people anyone should want making changes to the Wilderness Act. Being thrilled about it is akin to someone being thrilled about getting a tooth extracted or having a hemmorrhoid taken out. You make a big deal about the 1984 Forest Service Rule, well, that rule just clarified the Wilderness Act, it didn’t change the meaning of the Wilderness Act. Mechanical transport has always been banned in Wilderness Areas. So mountain biking cannot be “restored” to a Wilderness Area, because it was never allowed in the first place. You really need to read some of my blog posts on this subject over here: http://preservingthepct.blogspot.com/

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