Sen. Lee proposes bill addressing mountain biking through wilderness areas

In this undated photo, mountain bikers ride near Zion National Park. Under a new bill proposed by U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, local wilderness managers will be able to determine whether to open wilderness areas like the Zion Wilderness for mountain bikers. | Photo by Jupiterimages/iStock/Getty Images, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Mountain bikers may soon be able to pedal through wilderness areas if a new bill proposed by U.S. Sen. Mike Lee passes.

This undated stock image shows areas of the Zion Wilderness within Zion National Park. Under a new bill proposed by Utah Sen. Mike Lee, local wilderness managers will be able to determine whether to open wilderness areas for mountain bikers. | Photo by tristanbnv/iStock/Getty Images Plus

The Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act would give local wilderness managers the power to decide whether to allow bikers to travel through wilderness areas. If wilderness managers do not make a decision on which routes to open within two years, all routes within their jurisdiction would automatically open for bikers.

“The National Wilderness Preservation System was created so that the American people could enjoy our country’s priceless natural areas,” said Lee, the Utah Republican. “This bill would enrich Americans’ enjoyment of the outdoors by expanding recreational opportunities in wilderness areas.”

Areas that would be affected by this bill include lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Forest Service or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

As a mountain bike guide in Southern Utah, Jake Weber said in a statement for the Sustainable Trails Coalition that he would be in favor of Lee’s proposal.

“Hooray for a common-sense bill being introduced in the Senate that will allow local land managers to manage their designated public lands as they understand them best,” Weber said. “Lee is listening to his constituents. While we may not agree on everything, we can agree that bikes belong. They always have.”

Not everyone is happy with Lee’s proposal. Freddy Dunn, an equestrian from St. George who is also the president of the Back Country Horsemen of America, said she would be against a bill allowing bikes in wilderness areas.

“Many bicyclists go at high speeds with earbuds in their ears and they wouldn’t necessarily hear or see a string of horses, particularly in the wilderness where people go and take pack strings,” Dunn said. “A pack string rack on a mountain trail that has a 300-foot drop on one side could potentially be very, very dangerous for both the bicyclist and the horses or mules.”

As the law stands now under the 1964 Wilderness Act, all forms of “mechanical transport” through designated wilderness areas is banned. While this mainly includes cars, vehicles like bikes and hang gliders were also banned. Lee’s bill would remove the blanket ban on bicycles.

“We’re against any amendment to the Wilderness Act of 1964,” Dunn said. “Once you allow an amendment for something as important as the Wilderness Act, it opens the door and sets precedents for other things.”

Mountain bike riders competed in the 6th Annual True Grit Epic mountain bike race in St. George and Santa Clara, Utah, Mar. 12, 2016 | File photo by Don Gilman, St. George News

Wilderness lands are defined as “area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain,” according to the 1964 Wilderness Act. In southwestern Utah, these wilderness lands include the Beaver Dam Mountains Wilderness, Zion Wilderness, Red Mountain Wilderness, LaVerkin Creek Wilderness and Pine Valley Mountain Wilderness.

Lee’s bill won’t create any additional routes or trails for bikers through wilderness lands. Mountain bikers will have to use the existing routes through the land.

Trails would open to nonmotorized, human-powered travel, letting agency staff observe the result. They would still be able to restrict or prohibit mountain biking, just as they can other recreational activities. After the two-year window for local wilderness managers to make a decision, they can still decide to open and close routes.

Under Lee’s bill, local wilderness managers can also determine rules like requiring a permit for mountain bikers, limiting group size, regulating the time of day or time of year routes will be open for bikers, or requiring speed limits.

Rachel Carnahan, a public affairs specialist for the Bureau of Land Management, said policy prevented BLM officials from commenting on drafted or proposed legislation. 

Lee’s bill is similar to one currently pending in the House of Representatives by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-California. McClintock’s bill would similarly allow local wilderness managers to determine if bikes should be allowed in designated wilderness lands.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter:  @STGnews | @SpencerRicks

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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  • statusquo May 23, 2018 at 5:38 pm

    It’s about time to open these areas to bikes. If you can bring a horse and all that follows it into wilderness, bikes are a no brainer. The wheels of government really do turn slowly.

  • comments May 23, 2018 at 6:17 pm

    I wonder if that anti-mountain bike lunatic will comment on this one. I’m a very casual bicycler, and recently encountered some hardcore mountain bikers. I’m not gonna go to the levels of that anti-mountain bike loon, but I can see why he doesn’t like a lot of these “mountain bike people”. They seem kind of dumb and kind of cultish, and they seem to believe mountain biking is some kind of religion. As a very casual bicycler I don’t understand it, and found them to be rather unpleasant. I hope they aren’t the norm of “mountain bike people”, but I honestly have no idea.

    • John May 23, 2018 at 7:43 pm

      you should share your illegal weed with them

    • dogmatic May 24, 2018 at 7:02 am

      How would ya feel if you where flying like a eagle and turkeys got in your way?

  • jaybird May 23, 2018 at 8:38 pm


  • isawtman May 24, 2018 at 6:52 am

    Wilderness Areas are set up for the preservation of the land and to be a wildlife sanctuary. Recreation is not the main purpose. There are other land designations such as National Recreation Areas that are specifically made for Recreation. Bottom Line is that mountain bikers have more than enough places to ride. Mountain bikers are less than 3% of the population and 78% of the Forest Service Trails are open to them. And the US Forest Service has the largest trail system on earth. Having mountain biking in Wilderness Areas is really not needed and mountain bikers have never brought forth any data that suggests they don’t have enough trails already.

    • Diana May 28, 2018 at 8:24 am

      No one is saying that the main purpose of the legislation is to make Wilderness Areas people’s playgrounds. But those areas were certainly created for multiple purposes, and “unconfined recreation” is most certainly one of them. Bicyclists far outnumber equestrians and its one of the fastest growing activities nationwide, favored by young and old, enabling people to get out and explore in a low impact way. The intent of the Act when Congress passed the law was to protect the lands from being paved over, logged through, and built on. But more importantly it was to encourage human-powered exploration. And that’s all that Senator Lee’s bill does. Those who explore, whether by bike or on foot, are equally conservationists.

  • Craig May 24, 2018 at 7:36 am

    Let’s see, a politician with a practical, common sense bill. This cannot be allowed; it could ruin everything.

    I’ve read studies showing that even hiking can cause more damage than mountain bikes. Horses certainly do.

    It would be wonderful if this expanded to National Parks, as well.

  • !!! May 24, 2018 at 11:45 am

    Hopefully they’ll open it up to ATV’s and transplant some of the desert mustangs there soon too. We all need our whiney rights, right? Especially the radical bicyclists.

  • mjvande May 24, 2018 at 6:20 pm

    It’s sad to see people so ignorant of basic biology. If you guys ran the world, the human race would soon go extinct!

    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 1996: . 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 ). 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.

    Mountain bikers also love to build new trails – legally or illegally. Of course, trail-building destroys wildlife habitat – not just in the trail bed, but in a wide swath to both sides of the trail! E.g. grizzlies can hear a human from one mile away, and smell us from 5 miles away. Thus, a 10-mile trail represents 100 square miles of destroyed or degraded habitat, that animals are inhibited from using. Mountain biking, trail building, and trail maintenance all increase the number of people in the park, thereby preventing the animals’ full use of their habitat. See for details.

    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?

    To see exactly what harm mountain biking does to the land, watch this 5-minute video:

    In addition to all of this, it is extremely dangerous: .

    For more information: .

    The common thread among those who want more recreation in our parks is total ignorance about and disinterest in the wildlife whose homes these parks are. Yes, if humans are the only beings that matter, it is simply a conflict among humans (but even then, allowing bikes on trails harms the MAJORITY of park users — hikers and equestrians — who can no longer safely and peacefully enjoy their parks).

    The parks aren’t gymnasiums or racetracks or even human playgrounds. They are WILDLIFE HABITAT, which is precisely why they are attractive to humans. Activities such as mountain biking, that destroy habitat, violate the charter of the parks.

    Even kayaking and rafting, which give humans access to the entirety of a water body, prevent the wildlife that live there from making full use of their habitat, and should not be allowed. Of course those who think that only humans matter won’t understand what I am talking about — an indication of the sad state of our culture and educational system.

    • comments May 24, 2018 at 6:52 pm

      There he is. Just like clockwork. Oh well, I’m not sure I like mountain bikers either.

    • Diana May 28, 2018 at 8:44 am

      Let’s set the research aside and apply common sense logic and real-life experience (as a trail runner, hiker and mountain biker). It is not a bike per se that disturbs wildlife, it’s people regardless of how they get there. Let’s talk about the campfires (some turning into raging wildfires), trash, people chasing after wildlife to snap a picture, and cutting trails. Who does that? A person, not a thing. A person on a bike is apt to do far less damage than a 2,000 lb animal (multiply that by 10 for a pack train). Those deep trenches and ruts you see are caused either by horses over time, or poorly designed trails after heavy rains. Bikes stay on existing trails because they need momentum to move and a clear path to follow. This idea that bicycling and nature are opposing ideas runs completely counter-intuitive to real life experiences. Cyclists have to put in a lot of strenuous effort and time into riding deep into the back country. There are bike parks for those who want to do their jumps and fast free-rides. They have Whistler BC and, in Utah, Park City ski resorts for that type of riding. We know from experience that cyclists and nature go together like peanut butter and jelly in other federal, state and local lands. Wildlife remains abundant, trees and lakes remain fully intact, and people share the trails without problem. As a mom of two kids, I try to take my kids in their bikes to do what all kids should be doing – exploring Mother Nature – building their appreciation for open, wild spaces while raising our next generation of stewards of our lands. Senator Lee’s bill will make that possible.

  • Nigel May 26, 2018 at 12:06 pm

    Horses are not native the the USA. Horse riding leaves horse poop everywhere, destroys plants they eat, accelerates erosion, creates ruts, kills small animals on and next to the trail, drives wildlife and other trail users out of the area, and, worst of all, teaches kids that the horse riders are more important then walkers and bike riders.

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