Monday, March 28, 2016

The Effort To Mechanize Wilderness Is Local And National

bike in Essex Chain of Lakes Primitive areaThe fight to embrace wilderness and to keep designated wilderness areas free from mechanized uses is a national fight. APA weakened the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan this month by carving out two exceptions in its Primitive Area guidelines for bicycling and motorized maintenance in the Essex Chain and Pine Lake Primitive Areas.

This reflects a lack of appreciation of how sophisticated, gear-leveraged muscle-powered recreation impacts areas where the law states humans must not dominate the landscape (and where human uses are restrained to preserve, enhance and restore natural conditions).

The Primitive area classification in the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan was created for areas that should eventually be reclassified Wilderness when the non-conforming uses end (such as closure of a road). That was, and still is, the goal under the Master Plan for a majority of Primitive areas.

A smaller number of Primitive areas fall into another type, those lacking wilderness scale or character and containing non-conforming uses unlikely to end in the foreseeable future, but requiring wilderness-type management because of highly sensitive natural resources.

Even if one accepts that the Essex Chain of Lakes and Pine Lake Primitive areas fall into the second general category – which is debatable – both should be managed as wilderness under the Master Plan. The Wilderness, Primitive and Canoe area definitions in the Master Plan are derived from the National Wilderness Preservation Act.

A lack of appreciation of how bicycling impacts wilderness combined with a sense of entitlement to one’s favorite recreational technology apparently motivates the latest effort to amend the National Wilderness Preservation Act of 1964 to authorize bicycling. Some mountain bikers (by no means a majority) and a mountain biking organization – the Sustainable Trails Coalition – have announced the intention to have legislation introduced in Congress to amend and weaken the Wilderness Act to allow mountain bikes in units of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Therefore, 116 organizations, including Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, have signed a letter to Congress.   “For over a half century, the Wilderness Act has protected wilderness areas designated by Congress from mechanization and mechanical transport, even if no motors were involved with such activities. This has meant, as Congress intended, that Wildernesses have been kept free from bicycles and other types of mechanization and mechanical transport,” the letter reads.

“These mountain bikers erroneously claim that mountain bikes were allowed in Wilderness until 1984, but then banned administratively by the U.S. Forest Service. This claim is simply not true,” the letter said.

The press release announcing the letter includes several quotes from Wilderness Watch, who advocate for keeping the nation’s 110 million-acre National Wilderness Preservation System wild:

“At a time when wilderness and wildlife are under increasing pressures from increasing populations, growing mechanization, and a rapidly changing climate, the last thing Wilderness needs is to be invaded by mountain bikes and other machines,” said George Nickas, executive director of Wilderness Watch.

“Mountain bikes are exactly the kind of mechanical devices and mechanical transport that Congress intended to keep out of Wilderness in passing the Wilderness Act. Mountain bikes have their place, but that place is not inside Wilderness areas,” explained Kevin Proescholdt, Conservation Director of Wilderness Watch.

“We believe that this protection has served our nation well, and that the ‘benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness’ would be forever lost by allowing mechanized transport in these areas. Please oppose attempts to weaken the Wilderness Act and wilderness protections by allowing bicycles in Wilderness,” the 116 organizations wrote Congress.

A copy of the letter to Congress signed by 116 conservation groups is here.

Photo: A bike in Essex Chain of Lakes Primitive area.

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Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for over 30 years as executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks and currently as managing partner with Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest PreserveDuring Dave's tenure at the Association, the organization completed the Center for the Forest Preserve including the Adirondack Research Library at Paul Schaefer’s home. The library has the finest Adirondack collection outside the Blue Line, specializing in Adirondack conservation and recreation history. Currently, Dave is managing partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.

11 Responses

  1. Bruce says:


    Where did the comments go?

    • Boreas says:

      Site was down yesterday. I see some features have been added. They may have been trashed, or haven’t been replaced yet.

      • John Warren says:

        Yes, the site went down unexpectedly yesterday and the few comments from this post were lost.

        Sorry folks, into each life some rain must fall.

        John Warren

  2. Paul says:

    NYS has not changed any rules to allow bikes in Wilderness Areas of the Adirondacks.

    I would note that David has written here in the past with some nostalgia on use of mechanized modes of transportation in Wilderness Areas. Wagons. I am curious why he likes one but not the other?

  3. Dave Gibson says:

    Paul, thanks for your question. Horse drawn or human drawn wagons, double or single axle, pulled over rough, natural contours in wilderness, entirely used during big game season and only a few times each fall, do not qualify as mechanized transport. Horse and wagon is hardly analogous to today’s high tech bicycles and their continual use and trail maintenance requirements and resulting direct and indirect impacts on the wilderness character and experience.

    • M.P. Heller says:

      David, I most always enjoy what you have to say. In this particular case, I believe that you are splitting hairs and are bordering on the pedantic. Wagons, bikes, oh boy, talk about the proverbial slippery slope……

    • Bruce says:

      Again, I think the slippery slope in this case is being defined as MTB’s on dirt trails, not folks riding on what have been characterized by the state as “all weather roads” within the tract. I could be wrong, but I believe when the APA made the amendment, it was the latter type of riding they were referring to, NOT MTB use “off road.”

      It would be nice if someone who helped write and voted for the amendment would come on here and clarify exactly what was voted on.

      On a side note, as far as horse and wagon use goes, there are places along the old wagon routes out west where the ruts made by those wagons and horses are still visible, well over 100 years later, but then they weren’t traveling on good, heavy duty all weather roads.

      • Boreas says:

        Bruce, I find those old wagon trails fascinating. In my travels out west, I find they often parallel interstates – The path of least resistance never changes!

  4. Curt Austin says:

    [Got lucky and found my lost comment…]

    The reality of the situation is better represented by the photo than the words of this article.

    The state buys some private property that was trafficked by log skidders and log trucks, and decides that a good balance of wilderness and recreation includes bicycles on the logging roads. Somehow, the author wants us to believe this is going backwards, that wilderness protection is being fatally weakened.

    He is trying to advance a legitimate view, however, that the balance between wilderness and recreation should be very different – recreation should be minimized. It is a minority view, which often leads to certain tactics – hyperbole, religious fervor, absolutism, fostering the anxiety of the Slippery Slope.

    I pick on Mr. Gibson a lot here, but I’m glad we have people representing that point of view. But these tactics disturb my inner peace, my sense of how rational decisions should be made, the happiness I feel that things are pretty much OK here, as they have been since I was a kid in the 1950’s.

    I just caught myself thinking the biggest change since then is that families can no longer go to the dump to watch the bears.

  5. Curt Austin says:

    [I have 14 other lost comments, which I will copy and paste here, proper formatting be damned, probably challenging word count limits…]

    Gerald Scott says:
    March 28, 2016 at 7:22 pm
    How did mountain biking become evil? Have you seen the trails around here from the devastation from hikers boots-now that is evil.
    Think of all the cubic yards of sediment that has savagely ended up in our pristine streams and clogged the gills of our native fish, the poor trees that are slowly killed as hikers stomp their roots and loosen up the soil that gives them life and stability, or the alpine vegetation stomped to death on our summits by vibram love.
    If you want wilderness advocate for stopping all use in the wilderness areas.
    But really, in a more serious less sarcastic and reality based observation-mountain bikers, from what I have witnessed locally, are some of the most environmentally conscious folks I have met and are very sensitive to protecting the natural resource. You need to go out and meet one and give him or her a big hug because you are hating on a potential ally. Bikers don’t seem to be the enemy you want them to be.
    Seems like with little understanding, and well designed sustainable trails, hikers and bikers can work together to enjoy and protect the same places.

    Jim S. says:
    March 28, 2016 at 9:17 pm
    I love mountain biking and would never considered riding in a wilderness area. Mechanized travel does not fit in a wilderness area. It’s very simple.

    Richard Welch says:
    March 29, 2016 at 1:05 am
    Jim S. – What if where you loved riding your mountain bike became Wilderness? All good, right?

    Conversely, what if places where you love to hike were made off limits to hiking? All good, right?

    Bob Rainville says:
    March 28, 2016 at 7:33 pm
    Heapin’ helpin’ of hyperbole in this post.
    “Invaded by mountain bikes” “sophisticated gear-leveraged muscle powered”…WOW!
    And twice we spoke of a “lack of appreciation” of how the user of a mountain bike affects wilderness (please include soil erosion, invasives, animal/plant/insect disturbance and/or migration/mating patterns…global warming too, I suppose. compare this with other users’ please). And (this is a new one) mountain bikes need to be more suspect now that global warming is in play (make darn sure you drive your vehicle hours to get to your favorite hiking trailhead though!).
    I appreciate the appreciation that I will inevitably acquire here.

    Boreas says:
    March 28, 2016 at 11:09 pm
    My question in this discussion is why off-road cyclists would even want to cycle on ADK wilderness trails. I honestly do not understand why wilderness would be so attractive for this activity. I would think so much concentration would be needed to keep from crashing into trees and rocks that there would be little attention left to view and enjoy the surroundings. I would think noise from the rattling bike would tend to minimize any wildlife seen and if you are focused on the trail, what could you really see? Wouldn’t less severe, engineered trails be more enjoyable?

    Or is the attraction simply for bragging rights or competition? Biking the gnarliest, nastiest trail in record time? I’m sorry, but I just don’t see it being for love of nature. Now if it is simply to ride 8-10 miles down an access road to a trailhead, then leaving the bike to hike for a while, I can see it. Someone help me out here. What am I missing?

    Richard Welch says:
    March 29, 2016 at 1:12 am
    Some people love to explore the woods in hiking boots.
    Some people love to explore the woods on a horse.
    Some people love to explore the woods in running shoes.
    Some people love to explore the woods in snowshoes.
    Some people love to explore the woods in skis.
    Some people love to explore the woods on a bicycle.

    All for the same reasons. “Because its there” is one of those reasons.

    And quite frankly, exploring rough terrain on a bicycle can be harder than all the others. This will always ensure the woods won’t be overcrowded by bicycles.

    Bob Rainville says:
    March 29, 2016 at 6:42 am
    Boreas and Jim S: why do you or anyone else hike,canoe,ski, etc.? Strictly for the “love of nature”? Are either of you “46ers” or brandish any other “records” associated with the OSAP (Officially Sanctioned Adirondack Pursuits)? Why do you not cry foul on those involved with any of the Adirondack canoe races? These folks surely can not be “enjoying” nature as they focus on perfect strokes and lines! How about a whitewater run? How many backpackers end up on the Ranger rescue report because they “lost focus” whilst ascending/descending the approach to a peak? XC skiers in the backcountry? They never push it and are always at a leisurely pace so as to maximize their intake of the scenery. The rock climber, if focused enough, can forget he or she is even 3 pitches off the ground, let alone part of a beautiful vista.
    Mechanized. That word is getting stretched a bit insofar as this conversation goes. Suits the users’ agenda though, so it works.
    Then there is the ADK/human definition of “wilderness”, with all its connotations and emotional fervor associated with it. Over here, one should tremble with religious submission and over there, well, not so much. We are a truly messed up species.
    Funny, but some of my best interactions with wildlife and some of my best photos come when I’m out riding. Doesn’t make sense…guess I’m just the exception.

    Boreas says:
    March 29, 2016 at 8:28 am

    Well, I climbed all 46 and then some, but it took me years to do it because I did it at my own pace – often solo – because I wanted to take my time and enjoy the hike. It wasn’t until I had climbed about 20 peaks that I decided to try to get them all. Same with my skiing and snowshoeing. Eventually I became an official 46er.

    However, the increasing competitive and peak-bagging aspects of the pursuit, coupled with lack of wilderness sensitivity by the 46er officials by not capping membership led me away from the club itself, so I am no longer a 46er member. I am guilty of my own share of trail erosion, so I participated in trail rebuilding projects while I was still healthy. But I must say most of my High Peaks and other hiking outings was to enjoy nature and wilderness. I suppose I am just an odd-ball.

    I can certainly see the attraction of biking on logging roads and hardened trails. I just don’t see the attraction of biking without trails or on hiking trails in wilderness areas in NYS. This is the “slippery slope” I am concerned about. I am just honestly interested in why bikers would pursue this type of activity. Perhaps it is as simple as Type A and B personality differences.

    Richard Welch says:
    March 29, 2016 at 1:16 am
    Here is one of the counter arguments for this oddly emotional issue.

    I ask all those in favor of keeping conservationists out of Wilderness to look inside yourself as to why you have that bias and if your Wilderness experience 10+ miles from a trailhead would truly be destroyed if a couple people bikepacking crossed paths with you, long enough to enjoy some small talk and share some trail/camping beta with each other.

    Byron says:
    March 29, 2016 at 6:33 am
    None of the wilderness trails in the Adirondacks are anything I would want to ride a mountain bike on. However, the road system in the Essex Chain, developed and improved over time to support the weight of tractor trailers loaded with logs, are far from a wilderness trail. This road system was also approved for horse back riding, which hasn’t drawn a peep. The environmental impact of a half ton horse with rider on any unpaved surface is substantially more than a bicycle. This is what DEC gets for trying to please everyone; it should’ve been a Canoe Area.

    Bruce says:
    March 29, 2016 at 7:47 am
    I think we’re comparing apples and oranges. Are we talking about off-road mountain biking, or pleasure riding on existing well-built and hard roads through the forest so we don’t have to ride on paved roads with cars? The two pursuits have different intentions and goals.

    One group (off-roaders) like trails which offer some degree of challenge to their rough-riding skills and specially built machines, while the others just want a pleasant ride through the wilderness on a not very challenging surface. The APA recognizes the difference in their amendment, which is geared to the latter.

    The damage done to trails by off-roaders (through skidding and other techniques) is well documented. I don’t believe damage to well-built, all weather gravel roads by pleasure cyclists can be documented in any meaningful way. As to the affect on the forest itself, the road is the problem, not who uses it. In the area named, the wildlife are already accustomed to the roads being there, and bicycles will certainly be no challenge for them, any more than hikers will.

    Bruce says:
    March 29, 2016 at 7:51 am
    And as I believe Curt pointed out, the “slippery slope” is leaning heavily towards more wilderness, not less, as alluded to by Mr. Nelson.

    Bob Rainville says:
    March 29, 2016 at 8:08 am
    Please provide the documentation. You say this with much authority as if you have the final word and no further discussion is warranted. And your implication is that trails must be built to a motor vehicle standard. My research (and experience as a hiker and biker) contradicts your assertion.$FILE/FCRP020.pdf

    I have more articles on my hard drive…

    ADKerDon says:
    March 29, 2016 at 8:59 am
    Gibson’s article shows why all forest preserve lands must be restricted to those lands above 3,000 feet elevation. The reopening of the 250 plus roads closed by DEC and those of Chain of Lakes, etc. will not affect the forest. They have existed for eons without harming the forest. Gibson just wants to lock everyone out, ban people from recreating and enjoying the forest. His comments about the Wilderness Act, etc. is just bull. It, like the APA and forest preserve, are totally outdated and irrational. Time to update, rewrite, or eliminate all these. Allow everyone to recreate and enjoy the forest.

  6. Bruce says:

    Curt Austin,

    Your comments tend to make a lot of sense. So many folks are quick to take sides, saying something is “bad for the environment”, without presenting any sort of reasonable argument why they think it is so.

    I think some of it is the fact that no matter what the SLMP classification is, people are allowed to hike on state lands, so they might believe that hiking or other foot traffic is considered by the state to cause little or no measurable environmental damage. Then we have the issue of building new trails, bridges, boardwalks and campsites for hikers. I wonder how some would feel if say Boreas Ponds (a choice tract in my estimation) were closed to all but state approved, long term scientific study? That would be real wilderness preservation.

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