Letter: Let’s talk about lifting the outright ban of mountain biking in wilderness

First, I would like to commend The Aspen Times and Summit Daily for the article “Area cyclists opposed to national group’s push for bikes in wilderness” (Summit Daily, Jan. 25). This is a complex issue with important ramifications, and I’d like to add a couple of points.

The article alludes to a theoretical lift on the wilderness biking ban around Aspen. I don’t think the Sustainable Trails Coalition would ever intend to lobby for biking in high-visitation wilderness areas. Its aim is more to push for considerations made for mountain bikers (as with other user groups) within wilderness areas, not an access free-for-all.

Several studies have shown that horses impact trails more than bikers or hikers, can eat sensitive plants and spread invasive plant species. Other wilderness-area recreational activities require a mechanical advantage (skiing, kayaking, snowshoes) and are allowed despite the “mechanized travel” ban. Yet it seems that some groups lobby extensively to restrict access to mountain biking on public lands simply on the basis that its presence detracts from the wilderness experience.

Case in point: more than 250,000 acres of newly designated wilderness within the Boulder-Whiteclouds National Forest in Idaho. Changes to the bill were made to accommodate hikers, equestrians and motorized users. Mountain biking, including riding on established, low-visitation alpine routes, was banned outright.

Enter the Sustainable Trails Coalition. It is not in conflict with the established International Mountain Biking Association, but its 501(c)4 status allows it to hire lobbyists. I say it is about time for a mountain-bike lobby — the likes of which the motorized groups, wilderness groups and resource extraction have already had for decades. The alternative is continuing to lose access to established trails in otherwise beneficial wilderness designations.

I care deeply about the preservation of our wonderful public lands and access to recreation. And I think a discussion about lifting an outright ban on mountain biking in all wilderness areas, beyond the scope of the article, is warranted.

Ari Giller-Leinwohl