Monday, November 22, 2010

Do Bikes Belong in Wilderness Areas?

The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) last week approved a management plan for the Moose River Plains that allows for mountain-bike use on a corridor between two Wilderness Areas.

As the Adirondack Explorer reported last week, the APA had been asked to vote on reclassifying as Wilderness about fifteen thousand acres of the Moose River Plains Wild Forest and add it to the adjoining West Canada Lake Wilderness, while leaving a Wild Forest corridor between the two tracts to allow mountain biking.

Neil Woodworth, the Adirondack Mountain Club’s executive director, objected to maintaining a Wild Forest corridor within a Wilderness Area.

In a letter to the APA, the club argued that leaving a corridor of Wild Forest would be tantamount to allowing a prohibited recreational use in a Wilderness Area. “To arbitrarily carve out a ‘Wild Forest’ corridor for mountain bike use in the middle of the proposed West Canada Lake Wilderness Area completely defeats the purpose of the Wilderness designation,” the letter said.

Partly as a result of this objection, the APA amended the proposal to make the bulk of the fifteen thousand acres a separate Wilderness Area. So instead of having the corridor run through a Wilderness Area, it will run between two Wilderness Areas.

Of course, the facts on the ground remain the same. We’ll just be giving a different name to the new Wilderness Area. Nevertheless, Woodworth said it’s an improvement.

“It doesn’t make a lot of difference on the ground, but it’s a principle that I feel strongly about,” Woodworth said. “We shouldn’t be putting non-conforming-use corridors through the middle of Wilderness Areas.”

I’ll throw out two questions for discussion:

First, is this a bad precedent, an example of “spot zoning” that undermines the principles of Wilderness management? Another recent example is the decision to allow the fire tower to remain on Hurricane Mountain by classifying the summit as a Historic Area even though the rest of the mountain is classified as Wilderness.

Second, should mountain bikes be allowed in Wilderness Areas where appropriate? The corridor in question follows the Otter Brook Road and Wilson Ridge Road, two old woods road now closed to vehicles. Advocates contend that there is no harm in allowing bikes on old roads in Wilderness Areas. Other possibilities include the logging roads in the Whitney Wilderness and the woods road to Whiteface Landing on Lake Placid.

Bonus question: what should we name this new Wilderness Area?

Photo by Phil Brown: Otter Brook Road.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.

Phil Brown

Phil Brown

Since 1999, Phil Brown has been Editor of the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack.

Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing.

He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.

Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.


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