Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on November 7th, 2012 at 12:08 pm
The 2,663 mile Pacific Crest Trail is a hiking paradise that stretches from Canada to Mexico and winds through Washington, Oregon, and California. Up until 1988, people were allowed to ride bicycles on the trail; but then the U.S. Forest Service decided to ban bikes completely. Now, a new campaign dubbed Sharing the PCT has formed to re-assess that decision and mountain bike advocates in Oregon will likely play a role.
Bike advocates say the 1988 ban was done too abruptly, without public comment or opportunity to appeal. The Oregon-based group, Disciples of Dirt, who fully supports the mission of Sharing the PCT, wrote on their website that the ban was "just fear and misunderstanding, mixed with a lot of well funded ignorance."
In 2010, a group of citizen activists decided to probe further into the 1988 decision. They wrote a letter to the USFS on November 12, 2010 asking them to "put in place a process to examine the continuing usefulness of the 1988 closure order." Here's an excerpt from that letter:
"The closure order may have been intended to be only temporary. In 1988 mountain bicycles were newly popular and there was little understanding of how to manage them. Twenty-two years later the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Park Service know how to manage multiuse trails. It is time to reassess the usefulness of the closure order."
Sharing the PCT wants the USFS to use the Continental Divide Trail as a model for managing the PCT. That trail, which runs over 3,000 miles from Montana to New Mexico, is open to bicycles. "If the use is consistent with the applicable land and resource management plan and will not substantially interfere with the nature and purposes [of the trail]," reads the existing law.
The group also pointed out that the USFS's own policy dictates an annual review of the closure order, yet such a review has never been done. "We wish to be part of a public process to reevaluate the closure order comprehensively," they wrote in their 2010 request.
They followed up that request in May of 2011 and earlier this year they finally got a response. "We received word that the USFS could be initiating a formal review process as early as sometime in 2013."
Portland resident Daniel Greenstadt is one of about a "dozen or so" citizens who are behind the Sharing the PCT initiative. He's a former rep of the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), but made it clear in a phone call with me this morning that he is not acting on behalf of IMBA. (IMBA, he says, has no position on the issue yet.)
Greenstadt says at this point, Sharing the PCT just wants to raise awareness that the issue is "coming down the pike." The USFS has said they'll look into it, but what exactly their review will entail remains to be seen. "The outcome could be a re-affirmation of the closure of the trail to bicycles; but our goal is to simply get some process and some daylight on the issue."
It's likely, Greenstadt says, that the USFS will open up the issue to a formal public process. When it does, groups like his and mountain bike and trail organizations from all over the West Coast will weigh in. Imagine a process like the grueling one we had for Forest Park singletrack access, but for a trail that crosses three states. And the debate is sure to be heated. When ORBike wrote about this last week, they got a record number of comments.
It's important to note, that any consideration of bicycling on the PCT would only impact portions of the trail that are not designated as federal wilderness, since that designation is governed by a whole different set of rules.
UPDATE 2/8/13: We have just heard from Daniel Greenstadt that the US Forest Service has denied their request.
This letter is in response to your October 22, 2012, email. I appreciate your interest in finding solutions that minimize conflict and the offer to work collaboratively on resolving and improving trail stewardship. My staff and I have a keen interest in improving mountain bicycle recreation experiences and increasing opportunities in appropriate places where shared use with bicycles already exists or is not prohibited. Both here and nationally, the Forest Service has partnered through a Memorandum of Understanding with the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) and other organizations to collaborate on the development and maintenance of shared use trails that meet agency goals for resource protection while providing and improving high quality mountain biking experiences.
Nation-wide the Forest Service provides the largest trail system in the nation with over 157,000 miles within the system. Outside of designated wilderness there are 125,962 miles of trail, of which 123,739 miles are open to mountain bicycling (98%) and 12,389 miles of trail managed specifically for mountain bicycling. We agree that there is much to be gained by selecting focal areas to work with communities and non-profits to improve mountain bicycling opportunities.
National Scenic and Historic Trails are to be managed for the activities and uses for which they were established by Congress as set forth by law. The primary uses for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) were determined by the Comprehensive Management Plan and are also found in 36 C.F.R. § 212.21 as “primarily a footpath and horseback riding trail.” The Comprehensive Plan is explicit in its “Criteria for Location, Design, Signing and User Facilities” that the trail should “provide opportunities for hikers, horseman, and other non-mechanized travelers.” The bicycle closure for the PCT (1988) was developed with the unanimous support of the PCT Advisory Council after the Comprehensive Management Planning effort was completed. As you are likely aware, the Advisory Council, required by the National Trails System Act (NTSA) (Sec.5(d)), contained members from each state at the recommendation of the Governors, representatives from each federal or independent agency that the trail passes through, and members appointed to represent private organizations, including corporate and individual landowners and land users.
Legislative direction for considering additional uses beyond the primary uses of foot and horse travel is found in NTSA Sec. 7(c): “Other uses along the trail, which will not substantially interfere with the nature and purposes of the trail, may be permitted by the Secretary charged with the administration of the trails.” The requirement to determine an identified carrying capacity of the trail and a plan for its implementation (Section 5(e)) would also need to be met. At this time, the Forest Service will not be pursuing a Comprehensive Management Plan Amendment and the rulemaking that would be required solely to consider adding “other uses” to the PCT. We will not be pursing “termination” of the bicycle closure order either for similar concerns. Our focus for management of the PCT continues to be ecological restoration and the backlog of maintenance resulting from wildfires, the Sierra Wind Event of 2011, and the flood events of 2006 and 2009 in Washington State.
There are many places where shared use with bicycles already exists or is not prohibited, and we support working together to improve mountain bicycle access and opportunities to connect local communities to National Forest System lands. Our region is currently working with the IMBA to identify where these opportunities exist and we welcome your assistance to identify sites and work to leverage resources for planning and implementation.
More on reaction from activists at the Sharing the PCT Facebook page.