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BLM Wheels Out Mountain Bike Plan

Trails: Using California as a model, the bureau proposes new guidelines for use of public land, as interest in the sport increases across the U.S.


Drawing heavily on its experience in California, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has prepared a broad set of guidelines for mountain biking to help agency officials manage the burgeoning sport on the BLM's 263 million acres of public land.

The plan is the first of its kind since 1992 and acknowledges the national popularity of mountain biking on public land, where officials say more than 13 million enthusiasts ride every year.

"In 1992, mountain biking was not a big use of public lands, but that has changed and we needed to address it," said Tim Smith, the bureau's recreation program manager in Sacramento, who helped draw up the proposed plan. "The important thing was to say that mountain biking is an appropriate use of public lands."

As a growing number of outdoor activities compete for space on public land, the bureau is trying to segregate users where appropriate and mark trails for specific uses.

In California, where mountain biking was invented, bikers hail the development as affirmation that the sport has earned a place on public trails.

"In the past 10 years, it's been very clear that recreational cyclists have been a rapidly growing number of users on public trails," said Daniel Greenstadt, a director of the San Diego Mountain Bike Assn. "My fundamental view of what's happening is that the BLM is catching up with the state of the art with recreational trails management."

There are nearly 14 million acres of bureau land in the state. The plan sets out general guidelines--such as how and where to designate trails for mountain bike use--for regional land managers and will be followed later by specific rules and regulations.

Among the plan's strategies are to determine where trails may be shared by hikers, bikers and equestrians and where bike-only trails should be required. The issue of trail sharing is most important in areas where trailheads are close to communities and some narrow trails teem with a broad range of people and animals.

"Mixed trails work in general, but on a crowded trail where you have hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers, on a Saturday afternoon when the weather is nice ... I'm not sure it's a nice experience for anyone," said Tim Blumenthal, executive director of the International Mountain Bicycling Assn., which supports the bureau's plan. "At a certain point, you need to get resourceful and consider other options. But we have confidence in the BLM. It understands mountain biking."

The plan emphasizes the need for local groups to help maintain and monitor trails and to ensure that bikers and others stay on established trails and roads. Such partnering is common around the country, and needed, many say, given the BLM's limited staff for overseeing millions of acres.

"Realistically, self-policing is how this is going to happen," Blumenthal said. His group operates the National Mountain Bike Patrol, which sends volunteers out on public land to assist bikers and others.

"We have to have these groups working with us," said Smith, of the bureau. "Without the local input, the managers won't really be fully informed."

The mountain bike plan is the second of three major policy initiatives that address recreation and transportation on BLM land. The first dealt with off-road vehicles and was finalized in January 2001. The final recreational plan will deal with hikers and equestrians.

The public comment period for the plan ends Sept. 25.

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