|If you've ever tried to enjoy a National Park by mountain bike, chances are you've been disappointed. With some notable exceptions, America's premier park system is closed to off-road riding.
That's going to change with a new five-year agreement just signed by the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) and the National Park Service. For the first time, National Park Service leaders in Washington, D.C., have formally recognized mountain biking as a positive activity, compatible with the values of our National Park system.
A benefit to millions of bicyclists is the potential opportunity for new access to hundreds of dirt roads in National Park units that have been closed to bicycling. While National Park Service rules require a lengthy process to open singletrack to bicycle use, appropriate dirt roads may be opened with a more straightforward administrative process.
"This agreement represents a true breakthrough for mountain biking," said IMBA Executive Director Mike Van Abel. "It opens the door for individual park units to partner with mountain bikers and investigate new riding opportunities on a case-by-case basis."
"The National Park Service is committed to increasing public awareness of outdoor recreational opportunities in the national park system that promote health and fitness," said Karen Taylor-Goodrich, the Associate Director for Visitor and Resource Protection."And mountain bicycling in authorized areas can be an excellent way to enjoy America's outdoor heritage in a manner that is compatible with resource protection."
As part of the agreement, IMBA and the Park Service will initially partner on two pilot projects to be selected later this year. The projects will bring mountain bikers and park officials together for on-the-ground teamwork and serve as models for future collaboration.
Additionally, IMBA will provide technical and volunteer assistance to National Park units that are interested in improving their off-road cycling opportunities. IMBA programs such as the National Mountain Bike Patrol, Subaru/IMBA Trail Care Crew and the IMBA club network can now apply their stewardship skills to our National Parks.
Mountain biking can be a solution to many challenges facing National Parks today. Bicycling gets people out of their cars; away from congested roads, parking lots and trailheads; and out into the fresh air. Mountain biking can also encourage more active exploration of parks and counter the societal trend toward obesity.
So what does the future hold? While mountain bikers shouldn't expect a revolution of new singletrack in National Parks, the partnership signals an encouraging direction for the future. With enhanced communication and cooperation between IMBA and the National Park Service, mountain bikers can anticipate that cycling opportunities in National Park units will continue to improve.
The National Park Service manages 384 parks, monuments, battlefields, buildings and recreation areas and more than 80 million acres of U.S. public land. In 2004, National Parks hosted more than 276 million visitors.
In 2002, IMBA formed a partnership with the Rivers, Trails & Conservation Assistance program of the National Park Service. Rivers & Trails helps communities build trail and greenway systems, restore rivers and wildlife habitat, and preserve open space. Their work largely focuses on urban and suburban locations, where demand for trail networks is the greatest.