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Go Take a Hike

A kerfuffle broke out this week when the American Hiking Society posted an online petition urging the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service to "protect the hiking experience on National Scenic Trails and sections of these trails that were built to be used only by hikers."

The petiton is titled, "Ask the NPS & USFS to Tell Mountain Bikers to Take a Hike." So I decided to do exactly that — hike a favorite trail close to IMBA's office. Better yet (at least to some folks) the Anemone Trail is signed for foot travel only.

Josh Lawton, another IMBA employee, tagged along and shot some photos. We had a good time scrambling up the steep, rocky path; it was surprising to see how many pines were still badly charred from a fire last summer. I've been riding my bikes a lot this year, to the exclusion of trail running, hiking and other outdoor fun. Honestly, it was great to be away from my bike saddle for another day — my bottom is still chaffed to bits from last week's (super fun) Laramie Enduro race.

I'm not posting this in hopes of settling disputes about shared-use trails once and for all. That's probably not going to emerge from a story about me going for a walk and having a sore rear end. I do, however, want to point out that IMBA and many mountain bikers are fine with the concept of keeping some trails managed exclusively for hiking, or for hiking and equestrian use but not biking.

The Anemone Trail would be a horrible biking route. It's too steep, and the trail surface is comprised mainly of decomposed granite. I was slipping about badly in my worn-out running shoes. I have no desire to ride a bike there, but it's a great option for a lunchtime hike or run.

The Anemone Trail is fairly short but in the bigger picture there are many, many miles of hike-only trails. Every trail in the entire U.S. National Wilderness Preservation System — that's 109,511,966 acres, and counting — is 100 percent free from bike traffic. The National Park Service oversees more than 12,250 miles of trail, and though mountain biking is gaining a few toeholds in that system it's still overwhelmingly reserved for hiking.

Compare those figures to trails dedicated exclusively for mountain biking. Since this is typically only the case in purpose-built riding areas like resorts and bike parks, I'd guess that the total mileage of bike-only trails on the entire planet is under 1,000.

As far as the National Trails System goes, it's true that IMBA hopes to see some segments considered for shared use, including more opportunities for bike access. We have good reason to ask for this — the National Trails System Act statement of policy explicitly says that those trails should "provide for the ever-increasing outdoor recreation needs of an expanding population." Bicycling is specifically mentioned as an acceptable use for many of the trails.

But that's not to say that IMBA will call for all of these trails to be fully opened to biking. The Appalachian Trail is specifically designated as a foot-travel route, and as someone who spent many years leading backpacking trips on the AT in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania I can tell you that it (like the Anemone Trail) would not make an appealing venue for mountain biking. Other trails traverse Wilderness parcels where biking isn't an option.

IMBA is not being absolutist in our approach. We are more than willing to discuss how to advance more opportunities for long-distance trails, and where bikes will, and will not, be a welcome addition. It's a discussion we hope to have with many groups, and land managers, in upcoming weeks. Ideally, we could all talk while enjoying a nice hike, or bike ride, together.

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Hiking only

Ok, yes, some trails work better for hiking only - granted and unarguable - but to me the AHS' policy comes off as a thinly-veiled manifesto against all things MTB. There are one or two sentences in their policy as a sop to 'multi-use where appropriate' but it's pretty clear any time AHS see a bike it busts their nature bubble, and they will do all they can to keep MTB riders off. I interpret their position as trails are divinely ordained as hiker property and MTB is a group that needs to be 'put back in our place'. No group in any context responds well to that. Kudos for being big enough to interpret "Take a Hike" literally, but I don't think that's now how they intended it (the HTML page header is "mtbikeencroachment"). More and more I feel like unwanted house guests having to eat s*%t on trails as we pass a benevolent overlord hiker. In the late 80s I thought hikers and MTB had a bond around loving to be out in nature, breathing the air and moving down the trail. Now we get the stink eye from hikers while riding on trails that MTBers built for land trust and land management entities. I got a few bucks and a signature I'll throw into my side of the issue, and I guess it's come to that. Get out there and open up the trails for MTB through legislation and lobbying and both sides can waste a bunch of money they could have used to build trails on trying to keep other folks off.