By Charles Pekow – The saga of turning Washington County, UT into a mountain bike mecca is advancing one more chapter. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has tentatively agreed upon a framework for developing its land in the area. A year ago, BLM put out for public comment Proposed Resource Management Plans (RMPs) for the Beaver Dam Wash and Red Cliffs National Conservation Areas (NCAs) that listed four options for development of the areas, including expanding mountain bike facilities. (See our previous article at https://www.cyclingutah.com/advocacy/mountain-advocacy/new-mountain-bike-trails-for-washington-county/) President Barack Obama created the two NCAs in 2009. Ever since then, BLM and local mountain bikers have been moving to expand and improve the trail system within them.
In early September, BLM issued an Environmental Impact Statement (https://eplanning.blm.gov/epl-front-office/eplanning/docset_view.do?projectId=64251¤tPageId=90517&documentId=79707) and is giving people until early October to protest if they don’t like the statement or proposed plans, a move required by law. BLM is charged with balancing competing interests, such as recreational use, resource development, and conserving and restoring native species including the Mojave Desert tortoise, which is protected by federal law.
As is custom, a year ago BLM proposed four options for public comment. It combined elements of them into the tentative plan it released Sept. 2. The NCAs lie within the administrative jurisdiction of BLM’s St. George Field Office. After BLM considers and responds to any protests, Governor Gary Herbert gets to review the plans. His review could take two months or more. Next year, BLM will develop an implementation plan and allow further opportunities for public comment.
BLM needs to change its 1999 policy that designates areas as open, limited or closed for mountain biking. The policy no longer conforms to current federal law, which does away with such designations.
The current proposed RMP doesn’t get into a lot of specifics about where trails would go. But it calls for creating travel and recreation plans which “may contain” preparation of biking guides (note the conditional tense; it doesn’t require any. BLM has already developed some). But it does call for designing and building a non-motorized trail system including mountain biking. BLM would design a system that would promote sustainability and keep people from going off trail.
“The RMP (does) not include a lot of information regarding mountain biking because it is an umbrella document that recognizes the importance of all multiple uses of public land, including outdoor recreation and places reasonable restrictions on those activities in the NCAs. Mountain bikers have provided a lot of input in the travel management plan that the BLM is drafting,” says a statement from BLM spokesperson Christian Venhuizen.
“New trails could be constructed in the Primitive Zone if monitoring shows negative impacts to natural and/or cultural resource values from off-trail uses,” the RMP says. The RMP would also allow new trails in the Frontcountry or Backcountry Zones. The plan would also allow scheduled on-road bike races.
“We don’t have any issues (with it). The RMP is a pretty broad-based plan,” says Lukas Brinkerhoff, president of the Dixie Mountain Bike Trails Association (DMBTA). “We are anxious to see these plans signed as that will allow the next step which will be the public release of the travel management plan,” which will include hundreds of miles of mountain biking trails.
“And yes, it really has been seven years,” he says. The saga continues.