Hiking in the Sierra Nevada is a California birthright. It’s also the birthright of every American. When you walk along the crest of these majestic mountains, you likely are traveling on the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650-mile path for hikers and horseback riders that provides access to acres of public land in California, Oregon and Washington.
In 1968, a bipartisan Congress passed the National Trails System Act, creating the National Trails System and designating the Pacific Crest and Appalachian trails as the first two national scenic trails. Four years earlier, the Wilderness Act sought to preserve the country’s best landscapes from mechanization and development. Today there are 11 national scenic trails, 19 national historic trails and 109 million acres of protected wilderness.
There is pressure on public lands from development, energy extraction and climate change. H.R 1349 is simply another attack, a Trojan horse couched in false claims of denied access for bicycles.
This is our American legacy.
There is a looming threat to these protections. A fringe group of mountain bikers selfishly hopes to renegotiate the high standard enshrined in the Wilderness Act. HR 1349, a bill by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, that would open wilderness trails to mechanized travel under the guise of fair access to public lands.
The so-called “Wheels over Wilderness” bill would undermine the character of wilderness as it is clearly defined by Congress. The act states: “there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport ...”
This is part of a larger scheme. Some in Congress are doing all they can to undermine protections for public lands and the agencies charged with managing them. The Trump administration has curtailed the boundaries of two national monuments and proposed massive cuts to budgets for maintaining trails.
There is pressure on public lands from development, energy extraction and climate change. HR 1349 is a Trojan horse couched in false claims of denied access for bicyclists. But the U.S. Forest Service says 98 percent of its non-wilderness trails are open to bicycles already.
The Pacific Crest Trail Association and others, Including the International Mountain Bicycling Association, oppose this bill because we value the wilderness as it is. Half of the trail is wilderness, so there is much at stake for the trail and the 48 wilderness areas it crosses. Only 3 percent of federal land in the lower 48 states is protected wilderness. The rest is open to all forms of recreation.
The PCT was built by and for hikers and people on horseback. A fast, silent bike can easily spook a horse that might see it as a predator. What would happen on a narrow trail with steep drop-offs?
We’re not against mountain biking. We think the PCT and wilderness should remain free of bikes because that’s exactly what Congress intended.
HR 1349 drives a wedge between groups that should be partnering to protect public lands.
It is becoming more difficult to escape technology and crowded cities. Wilderness, which provides clean air and water and allows wildlife to thrive, must be saved for future generations. Any erosion of these protections is a mistake. Opening the door to debate these protections may be opening a Pandora’s box on the idea of wilderness itself.
Liz Bergeron is executive director of the Pacific Crest Trail Association. Email email@example.com.