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Mountain bikers may be shut out of local rides

Scott Hess

Some of the Tahoe area’s most popular trails could soon be shut down to bicyclists.

Sen. Barbara Boxer’s bill, dubbed the Wild Heritage Act of 2003, aims to “protect approximately 2.5 million acres of public lands in 81 different areas across California, as well as the free-flowing portions of 22 rivers,” said Boxer, according to transcripts from an introductory hearing on the bill.

The bill includes such popular Tahoe-area mountain biking areas as Castle Peak, Meiss Country in South Lake Tahoe and more of Granite Chief, which is already partially protected as a wilderness area.

The bill would designate these areas as wilderness, which has limited use. What the bill does not state plainly, however, is bicycles would be on the list of forbidden vehicles, along with anything with a motor.

The areas would still be open to horseback riding, hiking, backpacking, fishing, rock climbing, cross-country skiing and canoeing, but many avid and amateur bicyclists are crying foul.

“Creating a wilderness doesn’t necessarily protect lands from [damage],” said Greg Forsyth, president of the North Shore chapter of Tahoe Area Mountain Bikers Association. There are wilderness areas where people have drilled for oil and mined, he said. “There’s a lot of things that cause environmental damage.”

Although some cyclists do admit bikes cause damage, they ask, “where does it stop?” Forsyth said, “If there’s a lot of foot traffic it does damage.”

He also mentioned if more trails get shut down to bike traffic, the trails that are left will be subject to even more damage. If all the trails were left open, he said, there is less of an impact to individual trails.

Advocates for the Wild Heritage Act, however, contend the restrictions keep the areas natural and save animals and habitat.

“The beauty of California is an integral part of our state identity,” Boxer said at the hearing. “This wilderness bill preserves, prevents and it protects. It preserves our most important lands, it prevents pollution and it protects our most endangered wildlife.”

Barbara Boxer could not be reached for comment.

Plus, it comes with some hefty funds to help the preservation. If the bill is passed, an annual appropriation of $28 million would be divided evenly between the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior.

The funds, according to the bill, would be used for “Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Economic Development” grants, trail and facility developments, fire fighting and law enforcement.

While many support the idea of protecting the natural environment, Forsyth says the way they are marketing the bill is misleading.

“People are not being told what the restrictions of a wilderness area are,” he said. “When the question is asked, ‘would you like to have this area protected as wilderness?’ people say ‘sure, that sounds like a good idea.'” Then, they sign the petition, not knowing what uses are restricted on the trails, according to Forsyth.

Others have a different perspective.

“The second installment of this so-called Heritage Act shares a key component with the first bill: they’re both terrible,” California State Senator Thomas “Rico” Oller said in an e-mail to the Sierra Sun.

“If you want to keep the public from accessing public lands, then Congress should vote for this bill, because that’s exactly what it will do. Some people just don’t get it when it comes to land use and Senator Boxer is on that list,” Oller added.

Jon Svahn, manager of Truckee Backcountry, a local outdoor gear shop, mentioned he likes the idea of saving the environment, but also does not want to see mountain bikers turned away from trails.

One of the most popular rides in the Tahoe area – the Mount Lola trail in Castle Peak – would be included in the Wild Heritage Act.

“I absolutely do not want any part of the Mount Lola Trail in there (in the Wild Heritage Act).” Svahn said.

In fact, many mountain bikers are also concerned with the environment. Perry Norris, executive director of the Truckee Donner Land Trust, agreed. Mountain bikers make up a large group of the volunteers who came out to build the Donner Lake Rim Trail.

Currently, advocates for the bill are trying to push it through the senate, and advocates for bicycling are searching for alternatives. It has been read aloud at an introductory hearing and has been referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

ON THE WEB:

Sen. Barbara Boxer

Boxer.senate.gov

California Wilderness Coalition

http://www.calwild.org

Library of Congress bill information and status

Thomas.loc.gov

Tahoe Area Mountain Bikers Association

http://www.tambaonline.org

International Mountain Bikers Association

http://www.imba.com


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