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Frequently Asked Questions: National Park Service New Rules For Mountain Biking

National Park Service New Rules for Mountain Biking: Frequently Asked Questions

The National Park Service recently announced a new set of regulations that revise the procedure for permitting bicycles on trails. While the rules may seem complex they are a monumental improvement on the previous version as they give local superintendents more discretion about how bicycles can be integrated into their trail systems and provide a clear path toward compliance.

Why is this rule change important for mountain bikers?

The new rules provide a better process by allowing more local control from NPS superintendents and their staff who know the conditions on the ground. See the Flow Chart (PDF download) put together by the National Park Service to understand the process.

The decision to revise the rule indicates of a shift away from earlier skepticism about the appropriateness of mountain biking in national parks. The new rule indicates that progress is being made toward an inclusive view of mountain biking. The rule is also significant because many land management agencies at state, local levels use the policies of the National Park Service as a model in shaping their own policies.

IMBA has been asking the NPS to change their regulations for the past seven years and is pleased with the new rule.

Will things change at my local national park?

Not necessarily — only if the Park Service identifies opportunities and chooses to pursue them. However, there is nothing that would prohibit you from putting together a professional plan and requesting that the park consider it.

How does the rule apply to roads?

The rule expressly allows bicycles on “park roads and in parking areas that are otherwise open for motor vehicle use by the general public.” (36 C.F.R. 4.30(a))

The rule also establishes a procedure for allowing bicycles on Administrative Roads, where vehicle traffic by the general public is not allowed. First the National Park Service must conduct environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) followed by a written determination that bicycle use is consistent with park values and notice to the public. (36 C.F.R. 4.30(b))

How does the new rule apply to efforts to designate existing trails as appropriate for mountain bike use?

The new rule allows bicycles on existing trails following the development of a trails plan and a NEPA analysis that results in a finding of no significant impacts (FONSI).

How does this effect building new trails?

If the new trail is in a developed area, bicycles my be permitted following NEPA analysis, a written determination of suitability from the Superintendent, a 30-day notice and public comment in the Federal Register, and final approval by the National Park Service Regional Director.

New trails outside of developed areas must follow the same procedure but are also required to promulgate a special regulation for bicycle use.

My park is currently going through special regulations, how can my mountain bike group, and IMBA, offer assistance?

If your park is currently going through the old process or needs to go through the Special Regulations process you will first need to be prepared to be patient. The most beneficial things IMBA or your local Chapter can do is to get organized and develop a plan for the trail(s), collaborate with other stakeholders to minimize the controversy surrounding the plan, and form partnerships with other user groups and the park’s “friends of” group, and most importantly the local National Park Service staff. IMBA will help with the public comment phases by broadcasting the project to our membership a generating widespread support for mountain biking on National Park Service lands. IMBA will also work at the national level to garner support for from other recreation and conservation organizations as well as decision makers within the National Park Service.

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