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Mountain bikes don’t belong in designated wilderness areas

Utah's U.S. Senators Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch must be scratching their heads over the criticism they have received regarding their bill to allow mountain biking in designated wilderness areas. When they introduced the legislation earlier this month they touted it as a way to help more Americans enjoy "this continent's priceless natural areas." But even representatives from the outdoor sports industry and avid cyclists are saying some places should remain off limits to all mechanized equipment, even their beloved bikes.

The proposed legislation, entitled the Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Act, would give local land managers the discretion to allow bike travel in their wilderness jurisdictions and would also allow U.S. Forest Service employees to use "minimal technology" to maintain forest trails.

If approved, the impact would be felt immediately in the High Uintas Wilderness Area. It would also affect the proposed new wilderness area along the Central Wasatch ridgeline.

Anyone who has driven over the Mirror Lake Highway this summer can see the increasing pressure on the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. Over Pioneer Day weekend, vehicles lined up to pay the fees to camp and fish along the scenic byway. It would not take long for mountain bikers to join the throng.

In the meantime, the crowds of weekend warriors along the Guardsman Pass Road above Park City have also swelled. A big part of the congestion is due to mountain bikers — especially those who use commercial shuttles. Given the opportunity, they will head straight for any new terrain that opens up.

We can only imagine it is the same all across the country. The National Parks and Forest systems are hard pressed to keep up with the demand for additional amenities.

At some point we must all draw the line.

When the original Wilderness Act was passed in 1964, the goal was to set aside natural spaces "untrammeled by man." It was not intended to serve as a placeholder for future recreation uses.

Perhaps Sens. Hatch and Lee simply want to allow more people to experience America's national treasures, and there is not, as some suspect, a hidden agenda to dismantle the Wilderness Act at the behest of commercial interests.

So far, 115 organizations from the Adirondacks to the Bitterroot have signed a letter opposing any amendment to the Wilderness Act that would allow mountain bikes. They understand that wilderness is finite, even though the appetite for new mountain bike terrain is not.