Bush Hearts Mountain Biking, Lifts Restrictions in National Parks

  • Published on December 20th, 2008

george bush mountain biking on olympic course in Beijing, China

On Thursday, Assistant Interior Secretary Lyle Laverty ordered the National Park Service to ease existing mountain biking restrictions, possibly opening nearly eight million acres of recommended or proposed wilderness lands in approximately 30 parks to mountain biking.

[social_buttons]The Bush administration has released several controversial rule changes and “clarifications” over the last few months that have put even the most critical of Bush’s environmental record into a state of disbelief at the potential environmental consequences of those regulations. But this one is a little different.

The rule change issued Thursday pits the sometimes-allied (non-motorized) recreational environmentalists against the “preservationists,” who see the rule change as just another human incursion into pristine areas that would further degrade its ecological integrity. Opponents argue that mountain biking can lead to erosion thus threatening stream health and that mountain bikers are often at the root of on-trail conflicts with hikers and horseback riders.

The rule overturns a 1987 regulation that required park officials to issue a special regulation when designating or constructing mountain bike trails. In essence, individual parks would be allowed to decide on their own about opening trails to biking, thus speeding up what is otherwise a lengthy process. The rule would not affect the mountain bike exclusion in designated wilderness areas covered by The Wilderness Act of 1964 which limits use to hiking and horseback.

“The pending proposed bicycle rule is an example of special interest intrusion into national park management,” said Frank Buono, of the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and a former Park Service manager. In a statement, Buono called the change “mysterious” as many parks have designated bike trails under the current Reagan-era rule.

But George W. Bush isn’t the only mountain biking enthusiast pumped about the rule change. Mike Van Abel, executive director of the International Mountain Bicycling Association, praised the rule change, saying it provides the right mix of public comment and environmental protection. “It’s been a long time coming,” said Van Abel in the Jackson Hole Daily.  “The existing regulation treats bikes like they are motorized,” he said.

Van Abel said most of the ecological impacts of mountain biking could be mitigated with proper trail design. He said his group does not advocate for mountain biking in proposed wilderness in parks.

Bush, who is an avid mountain bike rider has yet to comment on the rule change. And whether he will actually spend any time mountain biking in the newly-availed National Park backcountry is another story. In a 2004 interview with Outside magazine, the President admitted, “I’m not one of these extreme bike-rider guys. I like the cardiovascular aspect. I like to be able to ride across the ranch.”

Soon he will have lots of time to do just that.

About the Author

is the founder of ecopolitology and the executive editor at LiveOAK Media, a media network about the politics of energy and the environment, green business, cleantech, and green living. When not reading, writing, thinking or talking about environmental politics with anyone who will listen, Tim spends his time skiing in Colorado's high country, hiking with his dog, and getting dirty in his vegetable garden.


  • Is it remotely surprising that Mike Vandeman is the first to comment on this? I will say nothing more except suggest you follow his own link. An fundamentalist environmentalist will be delighted. It will lead everyone else to scratching their head and wonder what this guys problem is.

    First some political perspective for the cyclists. President Bush did this on his way out. He did little to nothing for cyclists during his administration despite becoming an avid participant. The decision is a pen stroke away from being overturned.

    It is a dread that people who actually run environmental advocacy groups tend to be the “die hards” and will likely sympathize with Vandeman’s position. The science does not back up Vandeman. Bicycle tires have no greater impact on trail wear than boots since the human body isn’t really capable of providing the tire spinning, trail ripping torque of an internal combustion engine.

    Now some more tidbits.

    1) Cyclists tend to stay on the trail since the bicycle doesn’t work as well off of it. There are notable “bad player” free-ride types … these are a very small minority.

    2) Cyclists do not spook wildlife more than hikers. They spook them LESS. Bikes don’t have the same predator bobbing motion and as a result, deer will stand and allow you VERY, VERY close before they will run. It would make a hunter jealous. In big spaces it’s a null effect. The danger is that bicycles are TOO quiet and are likely to provoke an encounter with a horse or bear when they notice you there too close for comfort.

    3) The same people who advocate against cycling on public trails will stand strongly behind equestrian use. The effect of a 1000 pound animal with metal shoes is PROFOUND on trails. That and they leave behind smelly goop for everyone else to dodge. Further, equestrian also grants greatly increased range for riders into the park. Which kinda defeats MV PhD’s argument. Oh yeah that and … if you do manage to spook a horse, it go careening wildly down the trail. What would you rather be struck buy a 200# bike with cyclist or a 1200# horse with rider.

    I can understand the desire for hikers to be away from “bad players” in the cycling world. I don’t want to be around those guys either. But “those guys” come from every group. Everyone should be well mannered when they meet and go into “polite passing mode”. Cyclists and equestrians should give ample warning before passing a hiker (or each other).

    When it comes to PUBLIC TAX SUPPORTED ACCESS, the policy that allows the most access without threat of environmental harm is the one that should be considered first. This means human powered transport is the preferred modality. Most trails SHOULD be cycling and pedestrian BY DEFAULT. Restrictions should be in place to allow MV PhD and his cohorts pedestrian segregated access. Horse and moto should be segregated on designated trail by default unless the trail tread will support them. Then maybe we can get some of those die hard advocates to show up and get their hands dirty and do some trail work!!!

  • Quote by Mike Vandemann, PhD

    "Need I say more?"

    It's never been needed, and I doubt you'll ever shut up. A deep tragedy here is that you act like an insane bobble head devoid of compromise or pragmatism. A consequence is the entire progressive movement gets broad brushed as being like you or someone like you.

    There are a few mountain bikers out there who really don't care about the environment and do tear it up. And I was being literal when I meant a few. Generally when folks are out in nature (like when they aren't clearcutting) it engenders a respectful attitude for the place. Its this type of access that ensures preservation. By denying access and being a fundamentalist prick, you cut off mindshare and your would be allies both liberal and conservative.

    Conservancy and public recreation are not party issues. They are human issues. And your extremism deflects from that. MV PhD, you're like a one man PETA (yes that org is run by well educated lunatics just like the Bush administration).

  • Mike V you forgot your PhD.
    Hikers leave “footprints”, Bikes do not.
    Hiking boots and clothing are also “inanimate objects”. Should they also be banned?

    The Parks will be able to decide. I don’t think they will open up the Appalachian Trail to mountain biking.

  • What a load of BS! I have been asking for 14 years, but I have yet to hear even ONE good reason to allow bikes in natural areas. If there's no reason to allow them, they should be banned. Banning bikes automatically reduces the human footprint (damage, distance travelled, etc.). There is absolutely no reason that trails have to be used all the time. After all, they are in the wildlife's home. They have the most right to use the area. I wonder why mountain bikers claim to be incapable of enjoying the national parks without being on top of a bike. That sounds like a disease, to me! What's wrong with WALKING???????

  • Octopetalia writes: "Mountain biking, like skiing, etc. belongs to a contained and well enforced recreational resort, not sprawled all over our natural parkland and wilderness trails."

    There are more than a few skiers (not to mention bikers, "etc.") who would take serious issue with the notion that their activity needs to be contained to (expensive) and "well enforced recreational resorts." I have news for you, your "natural parkland" is anything but. As soon as we removed native dwellers from the Yellowstone area to make our first National Park, it was no longer "natural." When you set your titanium hiking stick on the ground of a well-traveled trail, how is that any more "natural" than someone biking over it? The question is not which activity does more damage to your socially-constructed pristine landscape, but rather how to manage diverse uses.

    As someone who enjoys (gasp) both mountain biking and hiking I suggest you get over yourself and your narrow definition of mixed use recreation and public lands.

    Lastly, I would strongly suggest you keep your hiking stick to yourself.

  • Leave the wheels at home, or ride on paved roads or fire roads. Thrillsports, whether motorized or mechanized, do not belong inside our natural parkland and forested trails. These do more damaged than any on foot recreation would do over any period of time. It only takes common sense to know that.

    Mountain biking, like skiing, etc. belongs to a contained and well enforced recreational resort, not sprawled all over our natural parkland and wilderness trails. What kind of yahoo mentality thinks otherwise?

    For one thing, I am tired of having to jump out of the way of speeding mountain bikes on our trails. The whole "hikers don't mind mountain bikers on their trails" is the biggest myth of all. A few bikers with bent spokes from my hiking stick can vouch for that.

    If I wished to "share the trails" with vehicles, I could just as easily walk down the middle of Main Street USA, dodging vehicles. Stay off the hiking trails, and your bike will not meet up with my titanium hiking stick. That is plain common sense, folks.

  • @ Mike Vandeman, Ph.D.

    Walkers and motorised vehicles do more environmental damage than mountain bikers…. hell…. war, famine, farming…. blah blah blah. Get some perspective dude FFS 😉

    You sir are a hater and need to get your head out of your academic arse.


  • It's the one thing Bush did right. The more people enjoying nature, the better. Mountain biking is a great way to enjoy it. And Mountain Biker's, don't get offended by posts to the contrary, most hikers are happy the share the trail. There are a few very vocal OLD hikers, like Mike Vandeman, but just google that old dude to see what I mean.

  • Science doesn't support claims about all the damage of mountain bikes. No sir… this is nothing more than a generational battle: old versus young.

    Mountain bikes have a lower impact on trails than horseback riders. Hikers easily go off trail and create damaging splinter trails- mountain bikes not so often. Try it – it is too HARD!!!

    Mountain bikes are not noisy – no motors, duh! And if the noise associated with peddling a bike is too loud of you— consider joining Cranky Anonymous.

    Mountain biking is an incredibly healthy and safe sport – unlike road biking (1 pedestrian dies every 90 minutes in USA). Kids that spend time in wilderness areas are stronger, kinder, smarter and healthier.

    Face it- a minority of hikers have synthesized this 'conflict'. (probably retired with plenty of time to make trouble) They have forgotten what it is like to be young – or maybe they never were?? – and clearly these folks don't practice the lifeskill of 'sharing'.

    The majority hikers and mountain bikers enjoy meeting on the trails and sharing experiences or just saying 'hello'.

    Besides – America would never have been "Land of the Brave" if our forefathers had to tiptoe through the forests so as not to startle old people.

    So stand up for mountain bikes and the next generation: if you spot a kid testing his grit down steep rocky slope, step aside and cheer that kid on! Go Kid! Go America!

    About me: I'm a hiker, mtn biker, director of an environmental group, Obama supporter, and even old! Just not cranky.

  • Elitist Mike Vandeman, Ph.D. said on December 20th, 2008 at 8:44 pm

    Bicycles should not be allowed in any natural area. They are inanimate objects and have no rights. There is also no right to mountain bike. That was settled in federal court in 1994: http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/mtb10 . It’s dishonest of mountain bikers to say that they don’t have access to trails closed to bikes. They have EXACTLY the same access as everyone else — ON FOOT! Why isn’t that good enough for mountain bikers? They are all capable of walking….

    Enviro Wacko Dale said on December 21st, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    To Enduro:

    There’s no such thing as “sharing the nature reserves” when it comes to disruptive activities like mountain biking. Mountain biking destroys the peacefulness most people seek when they go to natural areas, a peacefulness that cannot be found anywhere else.

    Need I say more?

  • Not on your side:

    Who is the "you" you speak of? I think if this article did anything, it showed that there are real cleavages amongst environmentalists.

    I am fully aware of the fact that I put gasoline in my car and that my house is made from wood. But that in no way precludes me from wanting to find a way to change things.

    So who are the "Wackos" you are referring to? And who's side are you not on? Your take on environmentalists and the issues we delve into is sadly uninformed and apparently misguided.

    P.S. I encourage you and everyone who ever leaves a comment on this blog to take advantage of the spell-check function built into our commenting program.

  • Bikes are bad, they are made by man.

    You enviro Wackos roll me. You all live in man made homes thus you support logging, You all drive cars or ride buses so you must support the oil industry and unless you grew all of your possessions then you also support mining.

    You are all a pack of hypocrites and liers.

  • I'm a mountain biker but years ago I was a hiker. I see no difference between the two user groups we are both out there to enjoy the trails that were made to be used. We have so many trails here in this area that are off limits to bikes but no one ever uses them, but we would if they'd allow us. We have numerous trail work days and very few other user groups ever show up. Just ask the rangers.

  • Vandeman's Ph.D is in psychology and his undergrad degree is in mathematics. Two fields that don't exactly qualify him as an expert on environmental impact issues. I'm sure the psychology degree is useful for propagating misinformation though.

  • From the sound of it, Mike has never laid one hand on a shovel to help pack a worn trail. From the sound of it, Mike (the guy who probably has never used a hoe to grade a trail)is an amazingly closed-minded religious zealot-environmentalist. From the sound of it, Mike (who has most likely never used a pair of trimming sheers to clear over-grown brush from a trail)really doesn't care about the amount of global-warming carbon his mouth spews while arguing that mountain bikers should be banned from everywhere except paved roads. However, I can bet you money, Mike has happily donned his Birkenstocks and cluelessly (albeit blissfully) trod upon on many a trail maintained and groomed by the very mountain bikers he detests. I'm thinking Mike's Ph.D is in Oral Excrement (Berkley?)

  • I think it's selfish for hikers to want the trails all to themselves. The cars driven to trailheads (by most bikers and hikers) do far more environmental damage than mountain bikes ever could.

  • I would like to see more insane arguments from the insane hypocrites who are blinded to reason by their ideology, like the PhD. It brings out the real lies the anti mountain bike laws have been based on for almost 20 years. These arguments are fueled by a religion of environmentalism that hates MANkind and worships nature, not the creator of it. These are lefties that close out all people and ideas from their circle that are opposed to their totalitarian concepts and want to keep their little forest world sanctioned off for only them and their likeminded comrades. This is why they want to keep out mountain bikers, even if they aren’t using the trails themselves.

    They were able to do this in the 90s, when there was massive numbers of boomers who suddenly ‘got into’ outdoor recreation and REI went from a small co-op to a mega warehouse retailer. But where are they all now? Just the hardcore voices remain, and most of the babyboomers who joined the Adult Boy Scouts (Mountaineers) in the 90s are sitting over their granite countertops worrying about their 401k plans.

    There are hundreds of trails where I live, in NW Washington, that are impassable due to lack of use and maintenance. Children all over this outdoor recreation state are fat, lazy, and have criminal minds. And all the mountain bike haters can do is hold on to their old claptrap that never was productive.

    The rise of mountain biking in the last 20 years is one bright spot. Mountain bikers are fit. Mountain bikers organize and maintain, even build trails. Mountain bikers utilize the wilderness and have respect for it. This sport is growing all over the world. In the Vancouver BC area it is huge. There are hundreds of miles of trails around Vancouver that have been built and maintained by mountain bikers. I see all kinds of people out there enjoying these trails, not just on bikes. And lots of young kids are into it, many young girls. This is an encouraging sign for our youth. We should support this movement.

    There is a network of trails in NW Washington that are multi use. These trails are not damaged by mountain bikes; they are built and maintained by mountain bikers. Now more hikers enjoy them.

    I ride my bike in the Anacortes City Forest Lands weekly. These are beautiful pristine NW costal forest like you see in the movies. This is where I get my solitude and time alone in nature, ON MY BIKE.

    There is no good reason that the hundreds of miles of abandoned trails in the North Cascades National Park couldn’t be opened to mountain biking. If these areas were opened to mountain biking trails would get built. Many people, and kids, would be enjoying the National Park lands again, and no endangered species would be threatened.

    That is what mountain bike hatters are afraid of. That people would be enjoying the wilderness in healthy and sustainable ways, and the elitist wouldn’t have it all to themselves.

  • I don't like Bush, but I don't perscribe to the irrational thinking that just because it was something he was involved with it is automatically bad. No doubt the people who think this way will also think Obama will be able to do no wrong. Trust me, he will (and already has).

    I'm all for encouraging people to enjoy our national parks. Better to do it on a bike than from a car, which is how most people use them.

    Realism and pragmatism sometimes are good things.

  • Mike Vandeman is an know virulent mountain bike hater whose views, as is evident on his web site, border on the extreme of the environmental movement.

    As hiker, trail runner and mountain biker who has performed 1,000 of hours of trail maintenance over the last 12 years I can tell you that ALL recreationist have some effect on the trails. I’ve had hikers cut the trail to avoid decending or climbing up switchbacks causing the trail to fail. It wasn’t mountian bikers who cut the trail because they would not fit in the “tunnels” the cut through the brush. I’ve worked on trails in the wilderness areas that had become virtual “v-ditches” from the horse traffic.

    I spoke with one of the lead docents for the Nature Conservancy and she told me that bird watchers are the most disruptive because they tend to go off trail to get better views of the birds, which become accustomed to traffic on trails but alarmed when their is deviation from the trail.

    The key is that ALL recreationists need to be responsible and not just scream about access. With the economic problems we are currently experiencing parks, both county, state and federal, will loose even more funds to other budgetary commitments such as social services, police, fire and prisons. That is why we ALL need to give back by helping to maintain the trails we love.

    It is important that the 90 percent of the responsible recreationists due their part to address the 10 percent who aren’t.

    That is a better solution than the hate that Mike Vandeman, “Ph.D.” spreads.

  • I think Dr. Mike needs to get a mountain bike. Allowing mountain bikes into the National Parks will keep open more trails that were being lost from disuse. The trails will also be better maintained since mountain bikers actually take care of the trails they use unlike hikers and equestrian riders. A good example of this is the City of Edmonton in Alberta, Canada which has open up all it park trails to mountain bikers and the trails are better then ever. In fact it is not uncommon to see moms and tots exploring the trails with off road strollers. That is something that was unthinkable before because the trailer were poorly maintained and overgrown from disuse. So Dr. Mike don’t hit the panic button just yet.

  • PhD: Trails were created specifically to be IMPACTED. That's why they are there. They exist so that the rest of the wilderness does NOT get impacted. That's also why horses are allowed in designated wilderness areas. They do far more damage to trails than bikes, so your argument doesn't hold up, no matter how many studies you point to. You just don't like mountain bikers. And that's not reason enough to exclude them from wilderness. It's called due process. It's in the Constitution. Look it up Mr. PhD.

    But since hikers and equestrians have all the lobby power, they've won. Until now. It's amazing. You (hikers and equestrians) rail on Big Oil for all of their lobbying power and manipulation, but when it comes to "protecting" the wilderness from cyclists, it's OK. Because your discrimination is justified by your own prejudices.

    And Eric poked a nice big hole in your technological argument, lest you enter the wilderness naked and w/o boots, a GPS, water bottle, or any type of synthetic garment. Why don't you just admit that you don't like mountain bikers and that's the only consistent, non-hypocritical argument you have?

  • If my mountain bike does not have the right to be on the trail, please remove your shoes. If you get to bring your tools, I get to bring mine. I dont think your arbitrary damage tallying should mean I cant bring a bike. Do you exclude fat people hiking? They do more damage than a skinny person.

  • An issue not mentioned here is the bottom line. Many parks are seeing declining visits and revenues. Mountain bikers are a more affluent bunch and are willing to pay for it. Lets face it, most backpackers (I am one) only get out a few nights a year. Research supports that among the outdoor recreations virtually nobody actually goes backpacking. Many areas open to long distance hiking never get used hardly. Mountain bikes, with their increased range can visit them much more easily, therefore justifying keeping them open to begin with.

    I'm not saying that all trails should be open to bikes. Far from it. But there are trails in parks where it would make sense from all sides to do so. For example, there are many fire roads and old double tracks in national parks that could be great for biking, and are not prime hiking territory anyway.

    As for Mike Vandeman, he obviously have something personal against bikes. Do bikes cause problems more than hikers? Yes, in some situations definitely and should be restricted accordingly, but not all. Conservation should be balanced with openness for all user groups. And Mike, telling people how they should experience nature is extremely arrogant.

  • To Enduro:

    There's no such thing as "sharing the nature reserves" when it comes to disruptive activities like mountain biking. Mountain biking destroys the peacefulness most people seek when they go to natural areas, a peacefulness that cannot be found anywhere else.

  • This is just one more reason why George W. Bush is the worst president of all time — ESPECIALLY for the environment. Promoting something because it is your personal hobby, and not for any rational reason, is the essence of corruption. Unfortunately, Bush isn’t the only one doing that.

    Bicycles should not be allowed in any natural area. They are inanimate objects and have no rights. There is also no right to mountain bike. That was settled in federal court in 1994: http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/mtb10 . It’s dishonest of mountain bikers to say that they don’t have access to trails closed to bikes. They have EXACTLY the same access as everyone else — ON FOOT! Why isn’t that good enough for mountain bikers? They are all capable of walking….

    A favorite myth of mountain bikers is that mountain biking is no more harmful to wildlife, people, and the environment than hiking, and that science supports that view. Of course, it’s not true. To settle the matter once and for all, I read all of the research they cited, and wrote a review of the research on mountain biking impacts (see http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/scb7 ). I found that of the seven studies they cited, (1) all were written by mountain bikers, and (2) in every case, the authors misinterpreted their own data, in order to come to the conclusion that they favored. They also studiously avoided mentioning another scientific study (Wisdom et al) which did not favor mountain biking, and came to the opposite conclusions.

    Those were all experimental studies. Two other studies (by White et al and by Jeff Marion) used a survey design, which is inherently incapable of answering that question (comparing hiking with mountain biking). I only mention them because mountain bikers often cite them, but scientifically, they are worthless.

    Mountain biking accelerates erosion, creates V-shaped ruts, kills small animals and plants on and next to the trail, drives wildlife and other trail users out of the
    area, and (worst of all) teaches kids that the rough treatment of nature is okay (it’s NOT!). What’s good about THAT?

    For more information: http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/mtbfaq .

  • I agree that Bush's motivations for changing this rule are purely selfish.

    I like to hike, mountain bike, and enjoy many other outdoor activities. I cannot stand the hypocrisy of people who think it's ok to hike but not to mountain bike. I have to ride for 5 miles from my home to find an area larger than 4 acres that is completely unpaved. When I get there, to the one place that's left unspoiled, people like you tell me that they don't want me to ride there. "It's bad for the environment", they say. As if cars, houses, stores, and industry haven't already dispatched the environment entirely. It's ok to put a highway right through the middle of the nature reserve, drain the lake for a city water supply, but mountain bikes are going to wreck the place.

    Most areas that allow hiking should also allow biking on at least some of their trails. There should also be places where nobody is allowed.

    You have no valid environmental reason for wanting mountain bikers off of hiking trails. Your reasons for this are no more virtuous than Bush's reasons for allowing them. You simply do not want to share the nature reserves.

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