Skip to Navigation

IMBA and the Sustainable Trails Coalition

Photo by Leslie Kehmeier.

In the aftermath of the stinging loss of access that mountain bikers recently suffered in Idaho’s Boulder-White Clouds, there has been a flurry of media coverage related to bikes and Wilderness. Many of these stories have been well conceived and executed, including Grayson Schaffer's thoughtful editorial published on Outside magazine’s website, and an equally thoughtful video story by Bike magazine’s Vernon Felton.

Both of these journalistic accounts make reference to the Sustainable Trails Coalition (STC), a newly minted effort to overturn the blanket ban on riding bicycles on lands that have received a federal Wilderness designation, as well as addressing other aspects of how trail systems are managed by federal agencies. IMBA’s members and supporters have taken note of the discussion and some of you have contacted IMBA to learn what our stance might be on this new group.

Even before the Boulder-White Clouds legislation passed, IMBA and leaders of the STC were engaged in a robust discussion of their stance and proposed tactics. These discussions are ongoing and have already led to some interesting and potentially important changes to IMBA’s policy work.

At the same time, it is important to point out that IMBA has a great responsibility to its members to make sure that any collaborations with the STC are likely to result in increased access for mountain bikers, and that the funds we are entrusted with are used wisely. Leaders of both groups realize that there is no approach to political strategy or public lands policy that is guaranteed to produce favorable results—there are risks associated with every approach.

Yes, that includes acknowledging that there are risks associated with maintaining IMBA’s current framework for dealing with Wilderness and bike access. While we did not obtain the result we wanted in Idaho, in many other locations around the nation IMBA has advanced bike access through the adjustment of proposed Wilderness bounderies, the use of national monument designations and other tools.

Make no mistake, the people who work here were deeply saddened and disappointed with what happened in the Boulder-White Clouds, especially because we are certain that a national monument, the land protection tool we had pushed for, could have kept cherished trail open to bikes while protecting far more land in Idaho than the Wilderness plan that succeeded.

One thing that IMBA and the leaders of the STC agree on is that these issues go beyond the Boulder-White Clouds. As I recently wrote in an essay for IMBA’s Trail News magazine, I am convinced that there is growing public support for a reconsidered view of land protection that is more inclusive of mountain biking. Like the STC, IMBA believes that changes need to happen, and that they are most likely to be carried out by the legislative branch of government—namely in the U.S. Congress. IMBA and the STC will continue to explore how we can bring about this kind of change and what our respective roles might be in this effort. 

Stay tuned—these are important times for mountain bikers!

+ Comment On This Post



The photo is AMAZING!!! Congratulations!


Mike - this is a great start but I think it stops short of what you really want to know, which is, what actions should IMBA be taking as an organization in relationship to the STC. With only 3 responses its difficult to tell what people are thinking.

Should IMBA endorse the STC? I believe they should until they become a player with lawyers and lobbyists of their own.

Should IMBA fund the STC? I believe they should, even if its a token amount.

IMBA should determine what the members are thinking through survey monkey.

Me: 63 year old Sierra Club member who grew up thinking you can't have enough wilderness. Complicating that is the fact that I live in a city of 3 million next to a wilderness area. There are certain trails I don't want to see bikes on and I don't want fat bikes messing up the xc ski tracks in the winter. Favorite sport: mountain biking.

But I'm just one person, you should get a more data.

Thank you Mike for the transparency

Mike, transparency is the only way we grow. We are in an ever changing environment requiring tactical directional shifts. STC is the result of that changing environment and requires our attention. Far too long the 'keep everyone out' environmentalists have been fighting, suing and lobbying our government/agencies. As MTB enthusiasts we've historically taken a collaborative approach focusing on relationships while not offering consequences. Here in San Diego, that approach limited the amount of trail our riders enjoy as more and more land was developed - without trail. This resulted in conflict due to an increase in social trails.

Two years ago San Diego Mountain Biking Association went on the offensive pushing back on officials/agencies along with testing relationships. We have a high profile environmental attorney to further our cause should the need arise. The result has been surprising. We now have respect and a equal partnership with agencies/landowners. We're being included in numerous trail plans and are pursued for our help and support. Environmentalists are reaching out and joining our meetings. We've become the group people start with to learn about trails in San Diego.

As a business owner, I learned many years ago you "need to be able to lose in order to win". STC is an offshoot what IMBA needs to embrace. I am encouraged to read your blog and transparency on choices IMBA has made. I also look forward to furthering this discussion at next week's' regional summit.

False statement

Please, IMBA may have had success at limiting losses of access by working with Wilderness proponents, but IMBA has not that I'm aware of ADVANCED bike access. Please elaborate on situations where working with Wilderness proponents has INCREASED the amount of high quality, backcountry, and/or alpine singletrack open to mountain bikes.

In actuality ...

When Wilderness proposals advance toward law it's usually not an opportunity to gain new trails—so, yes, in this sense IMBA's work in this realm does not usually create a net increase in trail miles. Even so, if you look at the Colorado land protection proposal (linked in the story above) there is actually a very significant component whereby lands originally slated for Wilderness status have been reconsidered as more appropriate for a National Recreation Area parcel. The remarkable thing is that there are no current MTB trails in this area—the change was made to accomodate potential new trails that would include bike access. Recently in New Mexico, an existing Wilderness boundary was moved so mountain bikers could legally acccess a loop ride. There are other examples where mountain bikers have gained meaningful concessions from Wilderness proponents, but IMBA agrees the pace and scope has not really met our needs. Thus this conversation, and this blog. 


I'm not sure if I'd call what happened with the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Bill and the Wheeler Peak Wilderness in New Mexico a "win." From what I understand 45,000 acres were given up to wilderness, but a less than 1-mile section of trail inside the adjacent wilderness was allowed to remain open to mtn bikers. It's debatable if we really came out ahead in that deal. A lot of us see the 45,000 acres we are no longer allowed to ride as a major loss. IMBA would have us believe we won because of that tiny section of trail on the edge of the wilderness area that we are still allowed to ride bikes on.

Also, IMBA was going to help get a 20-mile backcountry trail built. What about that new trail? I haven't heard anything....

For a summary:

For riders' opinions:

So you say...

There's so much confusion surrounding the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Bill in New Mexico that no one really knows if the mtn bikers won or lost. From what I understand, 45,000 acres were given up to Wilderness, but mtn bikers are still allowed to ride a less than 1-mile section of trail that cuts through an adjacent wilderness. Some parties are claiming this as a win because bikers are allowed on this small stretch of wilderness.

So, it's debatable whether the mtn bikers actually came out ahead on that deal.

Another part of the deal was that there was supposed to be a 20 mile high-alpine trail built. Still waiting to hear any more about that one...

Further reading:

How bikes can be permissible.

There is a misperception that the mtb society/advocates want to create a blanket permission to ride all wilderness trails. My suggestion would be to create a corridor through certain wilderness lands where assessments conclude riding to be appropriate. Individuals could then ride through on a designated path or paths from one end to the other of a wilderness area and consequently help maintain the trails. This has been a major problem for wilderness areas, having a well-maintained trail for use by the nature-loving public. Mt bike approved trails would become more usable by both hikers and riders, as a result of the investment of time that so many IMBA members have put into keeping the trails usable.