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Ernie Rodriguez on the 2023 Washington D.C. Advocacy Fly-In

Ernie Rodriguez on the 2023 Washington D.C. Advocacy Fly-In

MTB Advocacy in Action, Part I

Posted: October 9, 2023
The IMBA Team in front of the Capitol in Washtington, D.C. in September of 2023.

Advocacy can be fun, experiential and hopefully effective.

A group of IMBA chapter leaders, organizational board members and partner organizations had the privilege of working with IMBA leadership to influence legislation.  IMBA organized a fly-in to influence upcoming legislation and continue building our mountain biking brand for sustainable, natural surface, multi-use, public trails.

Representatives of our mountain bike communities included chapter leaders, board members and advocacy partners from AZ, CA, CO, DC, IA, MD, NC, ND, NM, NV, OR, TN, UT and VA.  Todd Keller, IMBA Government Affairs Director, organized the fly-in to visit with legislators to discuss the Biking On Long Distance Trails Act (BOLT), Bureau of Land Management Public Lands Proposed Rule and funding Federal Land Agencies.  Todd made sure to plan fun activities including a bike ride on the only BLM property on the East Coast, pickleball, dinners and most importantly networking for future support.  It was so nice to connect with fellow mountain bike advocates to share what’s going on in our parts of the world.

Spoiler Alert – the quote from the 2023 Advocacy Fly-in was “we get to share FUN."

Todd Keller and Aaron Clark began our week with a Legislative Advocacy 101 session to help us identify the key issues we’d address during the week.

  • The BOLT act requires Federal Agencies to issue a report within two years including ten current long distance tails in excess of 80 miles and ten potential trails.
  • The BLM Public Lands Rule seeks to create healthy landscapes including opportunities for leasing Federal lands for mitigation, restoring damage or destruction to Federal lands including conservation offsets.
  • IMBA and our mountain biking community is very supportive of funding Federal Agencies, especially in budget trimming years when Federal Agencies are the first to feel funding cuts.

We bonded after learning who each of us is, where we are from, and our shared experiences.  One of the first commonalities was acknowledgement of mountain biking as a social and very shareable FUN experience.  Two teams visited legislators from Utah, Nevada, Nebraska, Oregon, New Mexico, North Dakota, Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, Colorado, Puerto Rico and South Dakota with the whole team visiting with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  Each team leveraged our mountain biking reputation as the “fun crowd” in discussions with Senators, Congressmen and Federal partners.  It was so nice to see legislators open up when we started talking about mountain biking in their state and their trails.

Todd and Aaron made sure to ask legislators for co-sponsorship of the BOLT act to increase awareness and support.  Todd pointed out the BOLT act was passed by both House and Senate late last year, however because the bill was stand alone in the House and part of a package of bills in the Senate the bill did not match nor was it sent to the President for enactment.  We’re hoping to plant seeds for quick action if the opportunity arises to vote on the bill in the 118th congress.  After all, this is why IMBA brought us to our nation’s capital – to influence legislation to further mountain biking into the future.

The level of engagement and energy from our elected officials was impressive. Personally, I think it was a toss-up between the Arizona and New Mexico contingents regarding energy and endorsement of sustainable, natural surface, multi-use, public trails.  Todd was absolutely right: we bring legislators topics they are happy to hear about on both sides of the aisle.  Most agreed to sign-on as co-sponsors for the BOLT Act.

The meeting and discussion with the Deputy Director of the BLM lead to additional questions about our submission of comments to the proposed public lands rule. While we understand BLM will publish the final rule, it was unclear whether our comments would be addressed or considered in the final public lands rule.

It was fun to watch some of our contingent ride scooters and bicycles instead of Ubers/Lifts as we moved between meeting locations. D.C. can be overwhelming and crowded, however there are ample bicycle/pedestrian traffic lanes to accommodate alternate transportation options and create fun experiences.

I do think everyone enjoyed spending time with like-minded advocates and speaking with elected officials regarding our passion and dedication to mountain biking infrastructure and programming. If you have opportunities to learn or join advocates in your community, please do so. You never know when a seed you help plant will pay-off for our mountain biking initiatives.

This was a great opportunity to meet and mingle with IMBA’s leadership, fellow chapter leaders, partner organizations, and board members. Time will tell if our projected influence will pay off with the BOLT act and other mountain biking legislation. I am so happy to have been part of this process and looking forward to additional advocacy events.

About the author
Ernie Rodriguez

Ernie has spent several years serving the Mid-Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts (MORE), an IMBA chapter serving the Washington D.C. metro area. He has volunteered as a ride leader, trail liaison, advocacy director and, since 2014, the group’s president. He was invited to join the IMBA board in 2017…

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