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Frequently Asked Questions: Wilderness and IMBA

What is Wilderness?

The 1964 Wilderness Act protects more than 106 million acres from road construction, development, motorized travel and most forms of resource extraction and manmade structures. Unfortunately, many people do not realize that bicycles are not allowed in Wilderness. Federal land agencies in the 1980's interpreted the Wilderness Act to prohibit bicycles, though previously they had been allowed. Wilderness is often seen as the gold standard in land protection, but Congress can use similar prescriptions like National Protection Area, National Scenic Area and other designations that preserve the land, allow bicycles and may be more relevant to local cultures and needs.

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Does IMBA Support Wilderness?

Yes, IMBA has supported, or currently supports, bills that contain Wilderness provisions in California, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon and Virginia. Along with local cyclists, IMBA has worked with legislators and stakeholders to protect hundreds of thousands of acres and preserve our most important trails for bicycling. We believe new bills should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

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What is IMBA's Wilderness Strategy?

IMBA believes mountain biking, a low-impact, muscle-powered recreation, is an appropriate trail use on public lands and is consistent with the values of Wilderness land protection, which includes recreation in natural landscapes.

When proposed Wilderness Areas include significant mountain biking opportunities, IMBA pursues boundary adjustments and alternative land designations that protect natural areas while preserving bicycle access. IMBA can support new Wilderness designations where they don't close singletrack bicycling opportunities.

IMBA mobilizes and leads its grassroots network to participate in local negotiations over Wilderness lands expansion. It is essential that IMBA, cycling clubs and individuals speak strongly for mountain biking in the early stages of Wilderness discussions. Through education, outreach, community building, partnerships and media relations, mountain bikers can influence and support appropriate land protection bills, including Wilderness.

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Do Mountain Bicyclists Support Land Protection?

IMBA members highly value land conservation, clean water and clean air. The vast majority of mountain bicyclists enjoy riding in natural areas on narrow trails, away from roads, development and resource extraction. Our activity brings us closer to nature and fosters a desire for environmental protection. Backcountry travel by bicycle is demanding, yet highly rewarding, and cyclists wish to protect these experiences.

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Is IMBA Trying to Get Bicycles in Wilderness?

No, IMBA respects the federal land agencies' regulation that bicycles are not allowed in existing Wilderness. When proposed Wilderness legislation impacts significant mountain bicycling trails, IMBA suggests alternative designations, non-Wilderness corridors or cherry stems and boundary adjustments that will protect the land and allow our use to continue.

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Does IMBA Collaborate With Other Stakeholders?

Yes, collaboration is almost always the most productive approach to addressing today's natural resource protection issues. Most recently in Virginia, IMBA and local cyclists worked with the Wilderness Society, Forest Service and other groups to create the Virginia Ridge and Valley Act. This legislation, if passed by Congress, will protect 55,000 acres. Important mountain bicycling trails will be protected as a National Scenic Area, free of motorized travel, roads, resource extraction and structures.

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Are Bicycles Appropriate in Wild Places?

Yes, bicycling is a human-powered, low-impact, quiet form of travel compatible with wild places and the intent of the Wilderness Act. There are instances where bicycling may not be feasible or appropriate. Some trails in proposed Wilderness areas are too rugged or steep for our use. On some national trails, such as the Appalachian Trail, IMBA respects the prohibition of bicycles. In other cases, trails should be closed to all forms of recreation (hiking, bicycling, horse use, etc.) when sensitive plants, wildlife or weather-related seasonal conditions are present.

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