Sen. Mike Lee Reintroduces Controversial Bill to Allow Mountain Bikes in Wilderness

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By Charles Pekow — Once again, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) is trying to let those in the neighborhood decide which currently designated wilderness areas people can ride their bikes. He reintroduced the Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act (S. 1686), which would amend the Wilderness Act of 1964 to allow local federal officials to determine the manner in which non-motorized uses may be permitted in wilderness areas. The bill was referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Bicycles are not allowed in Wilderness since they are classified as mechanized transport. Photo by Dave Iltis

The Interior Department has interpreted the law to ban mountain biking in federally designated wilderness. Lee's act would not affect the ban on motorized transport.

The bill picked up no initial cosponsors. Lee has introduced the bill in the previous three congresses, but it never got out of committee, though it became the topic of a subcommittee hearing last November.

“The National Wilderness Preservation System was created so that the American people could enjoy our country’s priceless natural areas,” Sen. Lee said in a prepared statement. “This bill would enrich Americans’ enjoyment of the outdoors by expanding recreational opportunities in wilderness areas.”

“Sen. Lee is using the mountain bike community to poke the environmental community in the eye and sew discord between us and the environmental groups,” charges Ashley Korenblat, owner of Western Spirit Cycling in Moab, UT, a mountain bike trip organizer. “Further, this bill will never open one inch of trail. It will be litigated instantly and if any land manager actually tried (to open land), the land manager will be sued.”

“We have something like 100,000 miles of ready to ride trials” in the country with more on the way and less than 1,200 miles would be affected by the law. “We don't need those miles.”

Korenblat notes that while mountain biking is increasing, “the environmental community right now is growing much faster than the mountain biking community is growing. At a time of climate change, do you really want to attack the founding legislation of the modern environmental movement? Is that where we want to put ourselves in the cycling community?”

 

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Charles Pekow is an award-winning Washington correspondent who has written about bicycling for years in publications such as the Washington Post, Bicycle Times, Dirt Rag, SPOKES, etc. as well as Cycling West/Cycling Utah. He also writes frequently on environmental issues and beer, among other topics. Weather permitting, you'll find him most weekends and some summer evenings astride a bicycle in a park. He is also a charter member of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

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