I'll give you an example. You probably think you know who your friends are, and who your enemies are, politically. One group of politicos is pro-bikes, the other is anti-bikes, right?
Well, not exactly. Check out some letters to the editor from the Denver Post about recent moves to open National Park lands to mountain bikers. First the editorial:
A proposed federal rule that could open up thousands of miles of national park trails to mountain bikers is sure to cause a dustup.
But we think the change would be a good one for the park system's future.
The Interior Department earlier this month issued a rule that would give park superintendents greater say in opening up selected trails to mountain biking.
As it stands, precious few trails in the park system are open to mountain biking.
The proposed rule, which is subject to a 60-day comment period, has reopened a long-standing and often pitched battle between hikers and bikers.
Hikers accuse cyclists of creating erosion and bad karma with their speed-seeking ways. Mountain bikers say hikers are narrow-minded ideologues who see no other way to enjoy the wilderness.
We think there can and should be a way for these users to co-exist on selected trails.
And we also think park superintendents, who intimately know the parks and their users, are best-suited to make these judgments.
As it stands, national parks have been seeing an alarming decline in use, particularly in the backcountry. During a decade ending in 2007, overnight backcountry stays went down by more than 20 percent, according to National Park Service statistics.
Biking advocates say that young people would be more inclined to visit those areas if they were allowed to do so via mountain bike.
Furthermore, biking can be easier on those with aging and damaged joints so long as severe climbs aren't involved.
As far as damage to trails, that is a management issue. Trails that are overused will become damaged, whether they are traversed by humans on foot, on bicycles or on horseback.
We would expect park managers to closely monitor trail conditions, as they routinely do, and temporarily shut down those that get too beaten down.
In some ways, it's a good problem to have. The best way to build support for our precious national park system, which comprises 84 million acres in every state but Delaware, is to have citizens who know the parks and love them.
Purists who believe nature is best experienced on foot will be upset by potentially having to share trails with mountain bikers, but we would ask them to have an open mind about it.
At the earliest, the rule would take effect in mid-2009. That means the Obama administration, and proposed Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, will have the final say on the matter.
We hope the next administration will give serious consideration to leaving the rule intact so a new group of outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy the splendor of our parks in their own way.
That's about how I feel as a rider - share the trails. I think people should get out to appreciate the land, and as long as we can do it together safely, we should do so. You shouldn't close vast tracts of beautiful nature to people who don't have the time to do a 6 day roughing-it style hike to get there. I'm grateful that The First Mountain Biker sees things my way.
A lot of hikers don't, apparently. Here's the letters in response:
Re: “Hikers, bikers should share national parks,” Dec. 28 editorial.
Your editorial went badly off-track. First, there are ample opportunities for mountain biking in national parks. All roads and vehicle accesses are open to mountain bikes as well as many trails. The only issue is access to narrow backcountry trails.
There is currently a process for bike trail designation that was initiated under President Reagan. This process is not broken and allows input by hikers and others who feel they may be run off trails by fast-moving bikes.
One issue The Post omits is that the Bush plan would open up nearly 8 million acres of proposed wilderness lands in approximately 30 parks to mountain bikes. This big reversal of Park Service policy could prevent these lands from ever enjoying the permanent protections of the wilderness system.
The Post should acknowledge that this plan is really a special interest grab for what may become (through millions of tire ruts) exclusive access to many of the best lands in the national park system, with reduced opportunity for public comment and review. It is one of the several questionable parting gifts left by an environmentally challenged Bush administration and should be put on the shelf.
Jeff Ruch, Washington, D.C.
The writer is executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
Bicyclists, pedestrians just don’t mix well
The city of Denver’s bicyling ordinance states that “riding bicycles upon or along sidewalks, whether on public property or private property opened for use by the general public, shall be unlawful except when the operator or rider thereof is a uniformed city employee riding a bicycle or a police officer riding a bicycle is a marked or unmarked official police bicycle while engaged in the discharge of his or her official duties, or when the operator or rider thereof is engaged in the delivery of newspapers or where the sidewalk is part of a designated bicycle route. Bicyclists shall yield the right-of-way to pedestrians on the sidewalks, and shall leave the sidewalk or dismount if necessary to yield such right-of-way.”
Why do you believe such an ordinance exists? It is because pedestrians and bicycles don’t mix very well. And if regular bicycles and pedestrians don’t mix well on city streets, why do you think that hikers and mountain bikes, many of which are typically operated with “extreme” behaviors, will mix well on narrow trails in the backcountry of national parks?
Bill Wade, Tucson, Ariz.
The writer is chair of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees’ Executive Council.
Bikes in parks are like roller skates in church
Mountain bike trails have no place in our national parks, contrary to the Denver Post’s enjoinders to create such moving violations within them.
Nature will be natural, if we let it be. And our national parks will be natural preserves of a world untouched by time or technology if we minimize the incursion of the artificial within it.
Mountain bikes are machines, devices of gears, sprockets, and chains. As such, they are artificial means of transportation. Their presence within a national park abrades its mood and mission as much as roller-skating in church. With the incursion of such off-road vehicles into a natural area such as a national park, it becomes less a park and more a playground, a place less for experience and more for entertainment.
Marty Tessmer, Denver
I was also standing in line behind a couple guys from a national advocacy group last week, waiting to buy lunch downtown. I knew this because they were wearing monogrammed shirts. You'd recognize the name of their group, you may have given money thinking it was a good thing to do. They were very excited because recent changes in the political landscape will probably permit them to convince the legislature to reclassify hundreds of millions of acres of federal lands as off limits to anything other than limited numbers of hikers. They were talking about getting the new rule change reversed, and then some, based on the reception they've received to their political overtures. So mountain bikers, grazing farmers, lumber companies, miners and oil drillers will all be in the same bucket. We're not talking about shutting off the local MTB trail to you, we're talking about putting enormous tracts of land off limits, and rendering them basically inaccessible to anybody except for hikers with the wherewithal to take multi-day, possibly multi-week unsupported trips.
The lineup of characters advocating one thing or another probably defies most of your stereotypes. How's that make you feel, Verne?
This situation illustrates that most of us don't know what we think we know. We're lucky if a good percentage of what we think we "know" is true, and if even a little bit of what we surmise is accurate. Yogi Berra said, "In baseball, you don't know anything." The older I get and the more I learn, the more I'm starting to believe that "in life, you don't know anything." The people you'd expect to be your friends may not be. The people you are positive are your enemies, may not be either. Life can't be simply summed up by generalities and most people can't just be relegated to the camp of "good" or "bad." Life simply has to be about a long string of particular circumstances and special cases; otherwise you simply can't get your head around situations like this one. It makes my noggin hurt to have to think of things this way, it's painfully complex. Yes, it's also a very old school Tory outlook, but I don't see any readily available, effective ways of filtering life and understanding what's happening other than to struggle to consider the particulars of any given situation and to be slow to pronounce judgment on it. I really do believe that you just don't know anything in life.
In this mountain biking / federal lands situation, you might find that if you're a mountain biker, grazing farmers, Pacific Gypsum, Exxon, loggers and uranium mining companies are your friend, and a lot of hikers and environmental groups aren't. That's a bit mind bending and it doesn't fit the usual template. I wish it was different; insofar as I have a stance on the issue, it's that American land should be used to everybody's benefit, and that entails a painstaking balancing process to permit the preservation of wildlife habitat and our beautiful spaces, responsible (e.g. good stewardship) exploitation of natural resources, and measures to ensure the public at large can visit these places. I think there's no reason we can't share, but I may be weird to think this way. I get the feeling a lot of land users across the spectrum think everybody else is a jackass and should be shut out. Careful consideration of individual cases, with a general policy of trying to serve all the people, strikes me as the best management philosophy for land that we theoretically own in common.
But what do I know. I'm willing to consider the possibility that I may be wrong about this.