By Todd Romero
As a second home owner in Canaan Valley, it is with fresh eyes and the passion of a convert that I have embraced the outdoors of the West Virginia Highlands. I have come to have an even greater appreciation for the wonderful area as I become more in tune with it and discover and experience all the hidden gems.
I care deeply about this place and have volunteered many hours giving back to it, participating in such things as red spruce restoration projects and trail work in the Wildlife Refuge. I am also the secretary (and a major worker) for the Tucker County Trails organization. The four-season recreational opportunities coupled with some of the most exhilarating and breathtaking trails in the East are why I (and many others) have chosen to call the area “Home”.
As an avid cyclist, I appreciate the opportunity to be able to explore these great areas; using my pedal-power for the rigorous exercise, testing myself, being able to wander and reach the highest heights and taking in the breath-taking views along the way. Nobody understands more than I how precious the places are that I get to enjoy travelling by bicycle, and the need for them to be protected against exploitation from logging, gas drilling, wind farms and even ATV travel which can degrade the trails.
The “gold standard” in the United States for land conservation is Congressionallydesignated Wilderness and there is no denying that fact. This becomes a catch 22 for myself as an avid mountain biker who wants to preserve these places just as much, if not more, than most. If they are exploited by resource extraction, the damage cannot be reversed and both physical and philosophical qualities are degraded. But if they become Wilderness Areas, they can no longer be enjoyed on a bicycle either.
Wow, that’s a tough place to be!
But Wilderness is supposed to be a tough, hard, remote place, so it is fitting. I do think you will find that most folks in the cycling community are passionate about land conservation also. There will always be a few voices that come across as brash and tactless in any situation, but that’s just life. In this new political climate, the partnerships between environmental groups, recreationalists and community organizations need to be strengthened to protect the places we love. For this to happen, we need to work together in a new and open way, one of communication and building trust. New designations, such as National Conservation Areas or National Scenic Areas will need to be considered in conjunction with Wilderness to protect larger areas.
I think we will start to see that the voice and actions of the cycling community in the state of WV (WVMBA) is as sincere about land conservation as they are about cycling and have been extending hands to other groups such as WV Wilderness Coalition to begin working together to provide the need for protection of areas of the national forest all for the same reasons. As cyclists are beginning to carry an ever growing and more organized voice into the 21st Century, it is my hope that their support of land-conservation will be able to be harnessed by major landconservation groups by establishing a great working relationship together. Many of us cyclists think we all have a chance to do something great here and think everyone working together will be nothing but a positive for everyone involved! So stay tuned!
A LITTLE HISTORY
Here is some background on how bicycles became prohibited in Wilderness areas. The 1964 Wilderness act did not actually include bicycles. 36 CFR § 293.6 prohibits “use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment, motorboats, or other forms of mechanical transport.” It defined “mechanical transport” as transport that is powered by a non-living power source:
“(a) Mechanical transport, as herein used, shall include any contrivance which travels over ground, snow, or water on wheels, tracks, skids, or by floatation and is propelled by a nonliving power source contained or carried on or within the device” 36 CFR § 293,6(a).
It was not until 1984 that the Forest Service re-interpreted that to include bicycles as mechanical transport. There is no doubt they are, but at that time, the cycling community did not extend into mountainous areas as it is a relatively new sport. As a result, that ruling was made without the input of any cyclists because there were almost none at the time.
However, times have changed and mountain biking is a well-established recreational activity and often a preferred option for millions of people who want to explore the natural beauty of our country.
More important to this debate, and what is clear after 30+ years of the existence of our sport, mountain biking is consistent with the values for which Wilderness areas are established – it does not “dominate the landscape,” nor does it cause change to the natural condition of the land any more (and often less) than permitted forms of recreation, such as hiking and especially the use of pack animals. Not just setting aside land for preservation, the Wilderness Act was intended to provide places for people to recreate in an atmosphere of adventure, challenge, “tolerable discomfort,” solitude and “a difficult to achieve sensory experience.” Who can argue that mountain biking doesn’t perfectly embody and promote those recreational values?