Several local newspapers including the Bellingham Herald, Tacoma News Tribune and The Olympian reported on a national push to support controversial legislation to amend the 1964 Wilderness Act to allow mountain biking within designated Wilderness Areas. However, in Washington State, Washington Wild has helped lead an alternative common ground approach to both preserve mountain bike access and designate new Wilderness.
The 1964 Wilderness Act protects our nation’s wildest places from logging, mining, roads and other development. It also prohibits “mechanized” travel. In the 1980’s, as the sport of mountain biking emerged, federal agencies determined that mountain bikes were a mechanized use and therefore not allowed within designated Wilderness areas. Since then, likely conservation allies — mountain bikers and Wilderness advocates — have found themselves at odds.
The Wilderness Act is one of the hard fought benchmark conservation laws in our country’s history that has stood the test of time for 50 years. Unfortunately, the proposed legislation includes a number of provisions that could fundamentally change the long standing goals of the Wilderness Act. Such a legislative effort is certain to be used by Wilderness opponents in Congress to weaken the Act.
Unlike in most of the country, Washington Wild and Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance have invested considerable resources and efforts to build trust and find common ground on this issue over the past decade. Mountain bikers have been consulted early on in the process during Wilderness designation campaigns with the goal of drawing proposed Wilderness boundary lines that preserve key mountain biking trails while gaining support for Wilderness and Wild and Scenic River designations.
In Washington State that approach has been successful. The Wild Sky Wilderness, which was designated in 2008, was crafted to exclude any key mountain bike trails form Wilderness boundaries. Legislation to add to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and designate two new Wild and Scenic Rivers near Snoqualmie Pass was designated in 2014. Based on negotiations with local mountain bike advocates, the Middle Fork Trail was excluded from Wilderness designation, preserving mountain bike access but also protecting the trail within a Wild and Scenic River Corridor. As a result, the legislation was endorsed by local and national mountain bike advocates.
The Wild Olympics legislation, currently pending in Congress, applied the same approach on a much larger scale on the Olympic Peninsula. Mountain bike compatible Wild and Scenic River designations and carefully drawn boundaries to exclude key mountain bike trails from Wilderness designation were used, resulting in endorsements for new Wilderness and Wild Scenic Rivers from mountain bike advocates.
The Washington approach to mountain bikes and wilderness has proven to be successful over the last 10 years and we are committed to continuing to work together with our mountain bike colleagues to find common ground around Wilderness and mountain biking moving forward. We invite our colleagues in other states to join us in this approach.
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