Bicycle Use in National Parks

DRAFT 3

Bicycle Use in National Parks
January 15, 2009

The National Park Service has proposed relaxing the regulations for designating bicycle use on trails in national parks.  The change would allow Park Superintendents, at the level of individual parks, to discriminately designate existing trails for bicycle use.  Currently, approval by the Park Service is needed at the national level.  The proposed rule would circumvent the normal public process, in some cases, and limit the opportunity for full public discussion of the use of mountain bikes on existing trails. The proposed speeded-up process would likely result in a loss of transparency.
Also, the rule change could open up to bicycling millions of acres now designated as potential wilderness.  Changes in usage of potential wilderness areas, such as allowing bicycle use, could jeopardize whether those lands are eventually given permanent wilderness protections by Congress.  The current ban on bicycles in existing wilderness areas would not change.
The proposed CMC position statement incorporates elements from the positions of the American Hiking Society and the National Parks Conservation Association.

Proposed CMC Position
Bicycle Use in National Parks
 
The Carolina Mountain Club supports the current National Park Service policy for bicycle route designation [36 CFR 4.30] ensuring transparency and public participation in processes that affect trail use and designation.  We support the full involvement of the public, especially stakeholders who enjoy our national parks on foot, in policy development, funding, and planning and management decisions that potentially impact access to and the conservation of public lands and the hiking experience.

The Carolina Mountain Club believes that designation of any trails for mountain biking must take into consideration: 1) the capacity of park staffs to effectively manage mountain biking and ensure visitor safety; and 2) associated impacts on wildlife, vegetation, overall trail conditions, and the experience of other park visitors, especially hikers.
We oppose the use of mountain bicycles in designated wilderness areas and also in areas under consideration for wilderness designation. Any changes to the regulation should include explicit prohibition of bicycles from areas under study for potential designation as Wilderness.

As hikers, we have first-hand experience with safety issues related to multiple types of trail users.  The considerable safety, environmental and management issues involved in bicycle use in national parks deserves the careful study and stakeholder participation required in the current regulation.

Background
Bicycles are currently permitted on park roads, parking areas and routes designated for bicycle use.  Under current regulations, a “special regulation,” specific to the individual park, must be adopted to designate a trail for bicycle use.    Adoption of a “special regulation” allows for full public input and requires Park Service approval at the national level.  Analyses and a written report are required that show that bicycle use is consistent with the protection of the park area's natural, scenic and aesthetic values, safety considerations and management objectives and will not disturb wildlife or park resources.   Although the “special regulation” process averages more than two years, the process is transparent and the Park Superintendent has the benefit of public review and comment before making a decision.
The proposed regulation eliminates the requirement for a “special regulation” to designate an existing trail for bicycle use.  The level of public input and extent of environmental analyses under the proposed rule would be more limited.  The proposed rule does not change the requirement for a “special regulation” for new trails, trails not currently on the ground. 
The current regulation prohibits bicycles from wilderness areas established by Federal statute, such as Shining Rock Wilderness Area, but it does not prohibit bicycles from a large number of areas under study or proposed for wilderness designation.  Changes in the usage of wilderness areas, such as allowing bicycles, could jeopardize whether those lands are eventually given permanent wilderness protections by Congress.
Biking may be an appropriate use of some national forest trails, but the purpose of national parks differs from that of national forests.  National parks focus more on preservation and conservation than on multiple types of recreation.
The National Parks Conservation Association believes that “The current National Park Service mountain biking rules, which have been in effect since 1987, have been working well in offering all visitors to our majestic national parks a safe and enjoyable experience, and should not be changed by the Bush Administration… NPCA strongly believes national parks should offer full transparency on important park management decisions, including this one…”
The American Hiking Society’s website includes this statement:  “American Hiking Society opposes the use of mountain bicycles in designated wilderness areas and areas under consideration for wilderness designation. We support the current National Park Service policy for bicycle route designation [36 CFR 4.30]. “


The current regulation and the proposed amended regulation are copied below.

The link to the full Federal Register notice is
http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getpage.cgi?position=all&page=76987&dbname=2008_register.

The National Parks Conservation press statement is copied below, in addition to one section of the American Hiking Society’s Policy on Mountain Biking.

Current Regulation on Bicycles in National Parks [36 CFR 4.30]
TITLE 36 - PARKS, FORESTS, AND PUBLIC PROPERTY
CHAPTER I - NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
PART 4 - VEHICLES AND TRAFFIC SAFETY
4.30 - Bicycles.
  (a) The use of a bicycle is prohibited except on park roads, in parking areas and on routes designated for bicycle use; provided, however, the superintendent may close any park road or parking area to bicycle use pursuant to the criteria and procedures of 1.5 and 1.7 of this chapter.
Routes may only be designated for bicycle use based on a written determination that such use is consistent with the protection of a park area's natural, scenic and aesthetic values, safety considerations and management objectives and will not disturb wildlife or park resources.
  (b) Except for routes designated in developed areas and special use zones, routes designated for bicycle use shall be promulgated as special regulations.
  (c) A person operating a bicycle is subject to all sections of this part that apply to an operator of a motor vehicle, except 4.4, 4.10, 4.11 and 4.14.
  (d) The following are prohibited: (1) Possessing a bicycle in a wilderness area established by Federal statute.
  (2) Operating a bicycle during periods of low visibility, or while traveling through a tunnel, or between sunset and sunrise, without exhibiting on the operator or bicycle a white light or reflector that is visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front and with a red light or reflector visible from at least 200 feet to the rear.
  (3) Operating a bicycle abreast of another bicycle except where authorized by the superintendent.
  (4) Operating a bicycle while consuming an alcoholic beverage or carrying in hand an open container of an alcoholic beverage.

Proposed Regulation on Bicycles in National Parks [36 CFR 4.30]
PART 4--VEHICLES AND TRAFFIC SAFETY

    1. The authority for part 4 continues to read as follows:

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1, 3, 9a, 460(q), 462(k); Sec. 7.96 also issued under D.C. Code 8-137 (1981) and D.C. Code 40-721 (1981).

    2. Section 4.30 is revised to read as follows:

Sec.  4.30  Bicycles

    (a) Park roads. The use of a bicycle is permitted on park roads and in parking areas that are otherwise open for motor vehicle use by the general public.
    (b) Existing trails. Except when rulemaking publication in the Federal Register is required by Sec.  1.5(b) of this Chapter, a hiking or horse trail that currently exists on the ground and does not require any construction or significant modification to accommodate bicycles
may be designated for bicycle use only if:
    (1) The park has or will complete a park planning document addressing bicycle use on existing trails in the park; and
    (2) The park has completed either an environmental assessment (EA) or an environmental impact statement (EIS) evaluating bicycle use. In addition to the requirements otherwise applicable to the preparation of an EA or EIS, the park will publish a notice in the Federal Register providing the public at least thirty (30) days for review and comment
on an EA issued under this section; and
    (3) A written determination is signed by the superintendent stating that the addition of bicycle use on existing hiking or horse trails is consistent with the protection of the park area's natural, scenic and aesthetic values, safety considerations and management objectives and
will not disturb wildlife or park resources. The park will publish in the Federal Register a notice of the determination and provide at least thirty (30) days for public review and comment before implementing that decision for bicycle use.
    (c) New Trails. Trails that do not exist on the ground, and therefore would require trail construction activities (such as clearing brush, cutting trees, excavation, or surface treatment), may be developed and designated for bicycle use only after:
    (1) The park has completed the requirements set forth in paragraphs (b)(1) and (2) of this section; and
    (2)(i) For new trails located outside of a park's developed areas, as identified in the relevant park plan, the park has promulgated a special regulation authorizing bicycle use; or
    (ii) For new trails located within a park's developed areas, as identified in the relevant park plan, the park has completed the requirements set forth in paragraph (b)(3) of this section.
    (d) Administrative roads. Administrative roads closed to motor vehicle use by the public, but open to motor vehicles use for administrative purposes, may be designated for bicycle use by the superintendent pursuant to the criteria and procedures of Sec. 1.5 and 1.7 of this chapter.
    (e) Closures. A superintendent may close any park roads, parking areas, administrative roads, existing trails, or new trails to bicycle use pursuant to the criteria and procedures of Sec. 1.5 and 1.7 of this chapter.

One Section from American Hiking Society Policy on Mountain Biking
American Hiking Society opposes the use of mountain bicycles in designated wilderness areas and areas under consideration for wilderness designation. AHS supports the current National Park Service policy for bicycle route designation [36 CFR 4.30], requiring a written determination and/or special regulation stating that bicycle use is consistent with the protection of a park area’s natural, scenic, and aesthetic values, safety considerations and management objectives, and will not disturb wildlife or park resources.
National Parks Conservation Association Press Statement
About the National Park Service Proposed Rule for Mountain Bikes in Our National Parks

The current National Park Service mountain biking rules, which have been in effect since 1987, have been working well in offering all visitors to our majestic national parks a safe and enjoyable experience, and should not be changed by the Bush Administration.
The National Parks Conservation Association supports the use of mountain bikes in national parks under appropriate circumstances. However, the proposed new rule would, in certain cases, circumvent the normal public process and limit the opportunity for full public discussion of the use of mountain bikes on existing trails now used by hikers and equestrians. NPCA strongly believes national parks should offer full transparency on important park management decisions, including this one.
NPCA also feels that the proposed rules should explicitly state that Park Service-recommended Wilderness areas or areas that are now under study for potential designation as Wilderness, are off-limits to mountain bike use. 
Of the approximately 25 national parks where mountain biking is currently taking place on dirt trails, only Golden Gate National Recreation Area in California and Saguaro National Park in Arizona have completed the necessary public process and designated specific trails for mountain bikes. NPCA believes that all parks should come into compliance. 
NPCA will be analyzing the proposal and will be providing comments to the Park Service. We encourage our members and other national park advocates to do the same.