Gearing up for a fight

Gearing up for a fight

The battle over whether wheels should be allowed in wilderness continues.

The latest in that long-simmering argument is a letter signed by 133 conservation groups submitted last week to a congressional subcommittee. The letter opposes a move currently afoot to allow bikes and other wheeled, nonmotorized vehicles into wilderness.

The Subcommittee on Federal Lands on Dec. 7 heard testimony on the bill introduced by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif. The bill, H.R. 1349, would amend the 1964 Wilderness Act by adding: “Nothing in this section shall prohibit the use of motorized wheelchairs, non-motorized wheel-chairs, non-motorized bicycles, strollers, wheel-barrows, survey wheels, measuring wheels or game carts within any wilderness area.” 

A California-based group called the Sustainable Trails Coalition is behind the proposal. The organization insists the Act’s original intent is misunderstood and seeks to end the ban on bicycles and other wheeled vehicles. Instead, federal land managers will be given discretion to place limits on mountain bikes in wilderness.

The letter from the conservation groups points to language in the 1964 law referring to its declared purpose to protect areas from “expanding settlement and growing mechanization ... .” The groups also object to the “Seemingly cynical attempt to use people with disabilities as a justification for the bill.” Furthermore, noted the letter, the Americans with Disabilities Act has allowed wheelchairs in designated wilderness areas since 1990.

The International Mountain Bike Association has also come out against the idea. IMBA Executive Director Dave Wiens submitted testimony against H.R. 1349, a position that chapped some chamois in the mountain bike world. Wiens defended his position in a blog on IMBA’s website on Dec. 9, arguing that given the current political climate, public lands are more at risk than ever.

“A foundational element of our mission is our dedication to land protection and to working for new and creative ways to protect lands for mountain biking,” he writes. “We honor and recognize the fact that we are one of many user groups sharing our beloved trails. Believe me, I would like to see mountain bikers regain access to some Wilderness trails as much as anyone. However, we feel strongly that HR 1349, while addressing an important aspect of land protection reform (bicycles in Wilderness) is not in the best interest of mountain biking long-term.”

Nevertheless, he admits the conversation is far from over – no matter the outcome of HR 1349.