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Biking in the Wilderness

February 10, 2011 - John Stack
There was recently an article in the January/February edition of the Adirondack Explorer. It was a pro/con discussion about allowing bikes into Wilderness areas of the Adirondack Park. On the Pro side was Paul Capone (full disclosure – I work with Paul) and on the con side was John Davis is the outgoing conservation director for the Adirondack Council.

Paul makes some good points. He points out there are many dry, well graded trails such as former truck trails, logging roads and railroad beds. Much of the negative criticism seems to come from people who claim feel there are many negative hiker/biker confrontations. On the areas Paul is talking about, he isn’t talking about steep single track poor-sight line areas. I don’t think there is much of a concern of meeting up with a cyclist bombing down from up top of Algonquin. He points out some trails such as Whiteface landing trail (McKenzie Mountain) and Crane Pond Road (Pharaoh Mountain Wilderness). I’ve hiked each of these areas and I can’t even think of a spot where hikers might be startled or upset coming across a mountain biker. And remember, although maybe the majority of hikers may not mountain bike, I would claim the majority of mountain bikers are also hikers.

John Davis takes a different view. His straight up complaint is allowing wheeled vehicles (and by extension he is comparing mountain bikes to motorcycles and 4 wheelers in order to scare those on the fence) would ‘flout’ the principles of The Wilderness Act. He claims it would effectively ‘shrink ‘ wild lands , frighten wildlife and degrade our pristine surroundings.

I look at these points with a critical eye. Frighten wildlife? More so than a hiker? A group of 8 hikers is certainly going to frighten a heck of a lot more wildlife than a couple bikers. Or, is it that a typical biker rides thru the forest shouting and throwing rocks while hikers sneak thru the forest in camouflage? Even if bikers were allowed into these areas, the ratio of biker to hiker would still probably be less than 1 in 50. Therefore, I would assume that hikers ‘disturb’ wildlife to a significantly higher amount than bikers, even if the worst case scenarios played themselves out. Degrade our pristine surroundings? The area Paul has proposed all ready have the trails in place. As Paul is an expert mountain bike trail builder , it is in his and all bike enthusiasts to make sure the trails are designed in a way that promotes biking on the best trails possible. Bikers like muddy swampy rutted areas about as much as hikers. Check out the Flume Trails in Wilmington. They were carefully designed with mountain bike riders in mind. They aren’t destroyed. They aren’t rutted up and mangled. They look as good as a typical Adirondack trail. Its easy to guess that mountain bikers would just ‘obviously’ detroy the trail, go and look for yourself and see if its true. My biggest complaint is with the ‘shrinking of the Wilderness’. What does that exactly mean? That only people who walk/hike far enough are deemed worthy of attaining the deep wilderness? Or that hopefully beautiful serene part of the Wilderness will truly be forever wild and never be seen or visited by human feet?Or should only be reached by human feet? I think this is ridiculous. This isn’t like a throng from Times Square converging upon some pristine mountain lake. We’re talking a very few people – possible a handful – that may ever even attempt a deep woods trek on their bikes – and on all ready created truck/logging trails!

An egregious argument is Davis saying ‘We are not saying you can’t visit these areas. Just that you have to hike to get to these areas, not bike’ . I’d like him to tell Rosa parks that she is allowed to ride the bus, but that its just she has to ride in the back. Or that ‘yes, you can vote, but you have to own property and pay a poll tax’ . Or ‘I’m not saying you can’t get an education, I’m saying that you have to go to your poor unfunded school for blacks, and that only privileged whites get to go to this public school’ Its an absurd argument. I’m sure he would have made a great name for himself traveling with Martin Luther King in the 60’s…

I believe, with the proper safeguards in place of which Paul has so well delineated, the addition of mountain bikes into Wilderness areas will only not be detrimental, but be a positive step forward in management of satte Forests.


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