Rebecca Powell: Slow the roll of bikes in the wilderness

Mountain Biker by Mick Lissone
Mountain Biker by Mick Lissone

Rebecca Powell of Columbia Falls has an excellent op-ed making the rounds regarding bicycling in wilderness areas. It has appeared in the Hungry Horse News and in the Flathead Beacon so far . . .

By now you have probably heard from both sides of the debate on allowing mountain bikes into federally designated Wilderness. They are too fast, they will scare my horse, bikers play loud rap music. On the other side, bikers argue that they are low impact, human powered and can bring much needed funding for trail maintenance in these areas. Both arguments have valid points. But let’s just push pause here and think about it.

In the 1800s as the industrial revolution was sweeping the nation it seemed as though no person or no area was safe from impact and modification of man. In seeking to “improve” the standard of living we went from producing things by hand, to everything produced by machine. Fast forward a few decades and enter the conservation movement and forward thinking of people like John Muir, Aldo Leopold and Bob Marshall to name a few. These visionaries could see the benefits of designating large swaths of lands, ecosystems where industry was not dominate and had very little influence. From here came the Wilderness act of 1964 that states, “In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions … it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.”

Bikes have been around much longer than the Wilderness Act, but in the 1950s and ‘60s, just as the Wilderness Act was taking hold, bicycles were being modified to operate better off road and on trails. Tires getting bigger, frames lighter and people were able to access areas on bike that were not possible just years before. Visit any bike shop in the world and you will see that bikes are still evolving. Lighter, faster, tougher than ever before. The bike industry does not have nor should they have a pause button on the technology. There is no doubt that bikes are fun. Really fun. It’s a great way to exercise, spend time outdoors and challenge yourself. I love riding my bike on roads and on mountain trails and I am grateful for the advancements that are made each year.

Today in America we have just about 110 million acres of federally designated wilderness. Traveling in these areas is like stepping back in time. Wilderness is a haven from the pressures of our fast-paced technology dependent society. Each year as we evolve, we become more dependent on technology and less connected to wild places. When we are more comfortable connected to urban and technological landscapes, we are less likely to let it go and seek refuge in the wilderness. Just ask a teenager to put down their phone for a few hours and you will see.

Wilderness is a place where the pause button of industry has been pushed and modern conveniences are not allowed. The tools and equipment used to travel and work in the wilderness have not changed in the last 50 years. Trail crews are still using crosscut saws operated by hand instead of the quickness and convenience of chainsaws. Horses and mules are used to transport heavy loads and posting an update to your Instagram, Twitter, etc. is nearly impossible. Let’s keep some areas in this world free of the burdens of technological evolution. Let’s protect the place where you can engulf all of your senses in in the natural world just as it was 100 years, 10 years even two years ago and will remain 100 years from now. Mountain bikes have their place on trails, but let’s keep them out of these special places. Please keep mechanised transportation out of your wilderness areas.