Recent Attacks on Big Bend National Park Trail Project Contain Numerous Errors

45 0

For Immediate Release 5-1-2012
Contact Mark Eller
IMBA Communications Director
303-545-9011 ext.115

PHOTO: Trail assessment at Big Bend National Park.

Since 2005, IMBA and the National Parks Service (NPS) have maintained a partnership agreement designed to enhance and expand opportunities for mountain biking in national parks. Under that agreement, IMBA and local mountain bikes groups near Big Bend National Park (TX) have advocated for the addition of a shared-use trail near the park’s visitor center. Recently, the trail design was completed and construction began, with the goal of providing a great user experience on Lone Mountain.

In April, the group Our Texas Wild issued an alert speaking out against the trail at Big Bend. Unfortunately, that alert offered several inaccurate statements about the nature of the trail. Making matters worse, several media outlets and the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) have repeated much of the flawed analysis offered by the Our Texas Wild alert.

This IMBA release addresses several of the erroneous and misleading statements that are currently being circulated. However, one element of the criticism that IMBA does not dispute is that there was a procedural error related to the National Parks Service’s Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) ruling related to this trail. Because of the error, the public was not notified about a 30-day public commentary period on the FONSI finding. It’s worth pointing out, however, that there have been several other public commentary periods associated with this trail project and it has progressed through all of them.

Error 1) “This would be the first backcountry trail to allow mountain biking in a National Park, and it was the result of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Park Service (NPS) and the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) designed to explore new opportunities for mountain biking in National Parks.”

The trail at Big Bend is not the first of its kind in a National Park. Trails at Saguaro National Park and Mammoth Cave National Park are working through the regulatory process. Other National Park Service properties such as Golden Gate National Recreation Area and New River Gorge National River already feature trails that are open for mountain biking.

IMBA is proud of the partnership we have forged with the National Park Service. Mountain bicycles provide quiet, human-powered recreation that appeals to all ages. It’s unfortunate that a few organizations cannot embrace the idea that mountain biking is low in impact and brings a large, committed and new constituency to our nation’s conservation and public lands efforts.

Error 2) “Current regulations do not allow this type of trail, and a new rule would have to be passed and implemented before the trail could be open to bikers.”

IMBA is aware that mountain bicycles will not be allowed on the new trail until the necessary Special Regulation has been promulgated. Nonetheless, we are happy to help the park build a sustainable trail that will offer visitors an exceptional experience and access to a beautiful place. As leaders in building and designing sustainable trails, IMBA has worked with many national park units to build new trails and refurbish unsustainable trails.

Error 3) “The area in question is part of Citizen’s Proposed Wilderness, and it has been the subject of national conversations for inclusion in wilderness legislation.”

While it is true that a citizen’s group has suggested this area be considered for Wilderness status, that proposal has failed to elicit support from the National Park Service. Park management at Big Bend has not included this area as potential Wilderness in any of its plans. Big Bend staff excluded this area from the potential Wilderness recommendations in 1975 because of the numerous utility lines and potential development of water resources. The 1984 recommendations also did not include the area as potential Wilderness. Most recently, the 2004 General Management Plan did not propose the area for Wilderness. 

Error 4) “Big Bend Breaks Ground On Single-Track Bike Racing Trail — Precedent-Setting Embrace of Converting Park Backcountry to Thrill Sport Venues”

This inflammatory and misleading headline comes from PEER, and the language has been repeated elsewhere. In fact, the trail has been designed with excellent sightlines and moderate grades to encourage a friendly hiking and — if the special regulation is promulgated — bicycling experience.

Error 5) “The pay-for-play aspect where a user group, IMBA and its local affiliate, paid for the cursory Environmental Assessment.”

IMBA did not pay for the Environmental Assessment.  It was conducted by the NPS in accordance with their usual NEPA processes. IMBA and our local affiliate have contributed time and expertise to the design and construction of the trail to ensure that it is built to the highest standards of sustainable trail design. IMBA only undertakes trail projects in the NPS system when it is invited to do so by parks staff.

IMBA sincerely hopes that the NPS will not be deterred by Our Texas Wild, PEER and other vocal detractors. Big Bend Trails Alliance, American YouthWorks, IMBA, a large number of Texas cyclists, local residents and many other groups have been energized by this project. We believe that giving park visitors an opportunity to hike, and eventually to mountain bike, on this trail will enhance Big Bend National Park.