Mountain Bikes on Trails in Wilderness Areas? Maybe.

Published Jan 5, 2017

At first glance, an Op-Ed piece at PennLive published on January 3, 2017, written by Edward Zahniser, appeared to be bogus to my eye. Mr. Zahniser was concerned that the 1964 Wilderness Act -- that prohibits the use of "mechanical transport" -- might be circumvented by new legislation. Mountain bikes in Wilderness areas, now expressly forbidden, would be permissible.

In Edward Zahniser's words:

A new bill in the U.S. Congress, would radically alter this primary intent of the Wilderness Act by directing the U.S. Forest Service, which administers wilderness areas, to identify trails to be opened for mountain biking.

Local rangers would have just two years to identify trails that might be opened to bikes. That is an impossible task if the public is to be heard in the usual open process. If the deadline is not met, the trail will simply be opened to bikes.

The clear language of the 1964 Wilderness Act itself prohibits mountain bikes, as a form of "mechanical transport."

Senator Mike Lee of Utah introduced the bill he calls the "Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act" on July 13, 2016. You may read all it about it here.

Should mountain bikes be allowed on the Appalachian Trail? By definition, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail -- a part of the National Park Service -- is a "2,180+ mile long public footpath." A footpath. The AT is not a horse trail, a mountain bike trail or an avenue for any mechanic transport.

How many trails in other wilderness areas might be affected should this bill pass?

We urge you to read the proposed legislation. If you believe this act should not become law, please contact your legislators.

Tags: Attractions, Appalachian Trail, News, Robert Sutherland Travel Writer, Conservation, Hiking Safety, Recreation, Information, mountain bikes on appalachian trail, 1964 wilderness act, and mountain bikes in wilderness areas

About the Author Robert Sutherland:
Robert Sutherland is a travel writer enjoying life. Robert has two adult daughters and six grandchildren.
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jeffb on Jan 6, 2017
100% of the AT is untouchable in this legislation, since it was congressionally designated as a footpath. Which is why horses aren't generally allowed either. Given the trail topography, I understand not many cyclists are interested riding the AT anyway.

My guess, if enacted, is few to no trails will permit bikes in individual Wilderness areas. But cyclists will be far more supportive of future Wilderness designations if they aren't categorically excluded from exploring trails they've historically had access to. Keep in mind that the recent Boulder White Clouds Wilderness in Idaho didn't lose its Wilderness characteristics by allowing mountain biking for 30+ years.

I trust local land managers (e.g., USFS district rangers) to know which trails in their Wilderness inventory could support mt. biking, even if it was for a month or two per year during the shoulder season.
RegularDave on Jan 12, 2017
Thanks again for an interesting article.
Todd McMahon on Mar 6, 2017
Jeff b.

You are kidding yourself when you say 100% of the AT is untouchable. If you start changing the rules for one National Scenic Trail, that opens the door for every NCT to be changed.