Educate bikers, don’t ban them | AspenTimes.com

Educate bikers, don’t ban them

Dear Editor:

I have been watching, with much interest, the Hidden Gems Wilderness Proposal introduced and supported by Wilderness Workshop in Carbondale. I enjoy spending time in the local backcountry, and I do so in a variety of ways, including hiking, mountain biking, four-wheeling (Jeeping) and snowmobiling. Many of my lifelong friends in the Roaring Fork Valley enjoy some of the same (and other) activities, and are very passionate about their preferred mode of travel in and around the White River National Forest.

I believe Andre Schwegler’s recent letter (Sept. 9), proposing “certain areas within the Hidden Gems proposal [be considered] as National Conservation Areas or National Recreation Areas as a way to allow access to low-impact vehicles such as mountain bikes” is somewhat narrow-minded. There are many forms of backcountry travel that are “low impact,” but the key to low impact is education, not limiting who or what can or can’t be in a particular area. Mr. Schwegler compares his passion for mountain biking to “the summer equivalent of skiing,” but as a former world champion skier, I could not imagine being told that I could only ski on the equivalent of a singletrack trail, which is what will effectively happen in the forest if this proposal passes – travel will be extremely limited.

I have been educated to respect nature by leaving as little evidence of one’s being there as possible. The Hidden Gems proposal does not allow for educated travel, no matter how they present it. They would have the public believe that the White River National Forest (WRNF) is 2.4 percent wilderness (which is the amount of land nationally designated as wilderness), and that adding 400,000-plus acres of wilderness in our area will have little or no economic impact on our communities. Well, WRNF is currently comprised of 33 percent designated wilderness, and the proposal would bump it to 46 percent! Most of the areas in question are multiple-use areas, used by hikers, mountain bikers, jeepers, snowmobilers, hunters, and the list goes on! When asked how this proposal will affect our economy, no firm answer could be given. When asked what percentage of the population uses these areas, and how, no firm answer could be given!

Questions need to be asked (and answered):

1. Of the total number of current backcountry users (for the proposed wilderness), what is the percentage of users who only hike or ride horseback? And what percentage use mechanized or motorized transportation?

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2. If passed, how will this proposal affect the economy of the adjacent towns?

3. Is this proposal being used primarily to stop the possibility of oil/gas drilling, and if so, aren’t there other means to stop it?

One of the tag lines I’ve read is “we want to protect these areas for future generations to enjoy.” Wilderness Workshop would be better served spending their $2.4 million budget on educating future users on how to properly use and care for the backcountry; then all could enjoy our beautiful backcountry for generations to come!

John Hembel

Basalt