Paul Andersen: Fair Game |

Paul Andersen: Fair Game

Paul Andersen
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Wilderness advocates and mountain bikers may never hold hands and sing rounds of “Cum-Bay-Ah,” but there ought to be unity in supporting the best protection we can give our public lands. Here’s what’s got to happen:

A reasonable compromise should be hammered out that allows mountain bikers to support the Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign. This mutuality of interests should support protective measures to stave off development from our vanishing wild places.

The only way to effectively move large-scale land conservation legislation through Congress is by a unified approach. That has to happen if Hidden Gems hopes to win the endorsement of local governments whose support is necessary to protect wilderness proposal areas.

The first thing to do is to hold a meeting between the Wilderness Workshop and the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association (RFMBA), with both sides pledging to end the divisiveness over the Hidden Gems Campaign.

The current turf battle over wilderness and bike trails is fruitlessly stalemated. Both parties must find common ground in a mix of wilderness and other potential land-use designations that have been implemented successfully elsewhere.

There are good examples of wilderness additions and expansions where diverse interest groups came together at the bargaining table and hammered out proposals that were later instituted by Congress. Wilderness should be expanded by Hidden Gems, but it must be realistically tempered with creative, ad hoc legislative designations that make the Gems more inclusive.

The success of Hidden Gems must come from coalitions of private citizens and citizen groups, like Wilderness Workshop and RFMBA, in order to show Congress that collaboration can produce real benefits. It is in this collaborative spirit that a meeting should occur between the two groups and foster a civil, constructive dialogue.

The first point of agreement must be that wild lands require strong preservation and that current land-use regulations are insufficient to guarantee long-term protection. With only 2 percent of the lower 48 states designated as Wilderness Areas (about the same area that’s paved), Wilderness is a geographic rarity. We need more Wilderness before pristine lands are overly compromised.

Equally important is meeting the needs of recreation, with non-motorized as the highest, least damaging, use. Since Wilderness Areas are closed to all mechanical contrivances, certain ad hoc protective overlays should be designed to accommodate mountain bikes while keeping high-impact ORVs, energy development, road building, and even cattle grazing at bay.

As both a mountain biker and wilderness purist, I see the Hidden Gems as an opportunity to designate invaluable Wilderness while supporting bicycle access as low-impact recreation. The wilderness purist in me cherishes pristine lands, while the mountain biker in me enjoys appropriate trail use.

The Hidden Gems Campaign has already acquiesced to mountain biking interests by withdrawing wilderness proposals from upper Thompson Creek/Coal Basin and Sloan Peak. These withdrawals represent a compromise that RFMBA should honor with good-faith negotiations leading to eventual support for Hidden Gems.

Wild nature needs support from wilderness purists and mountain bikers alike, both of whom share appreciation for wild places. These interests ought to come together in the spirit of celebrating our public lands. To do so requires a shift in perception.

Mountain bikers need to look beyond their handlebars toward the future, realizing that higher protection is critical. Wilderness purists need to meet mountain bikers halfway in order to broaden consensus for an ambitious and worthy wilderness agenda. Meanwhile, it wouldn’t hurt to learn the words to “Cum-Bay-Ah” – in harmony, please.

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