Following a June internal memo differentiating mountain biking from motorized use, the US Forest Service issued fresh administrative directives including language clarifying bicycling as a non-motorized activity. The directives affect up to 130,000 miles of the agency's trails which are located all over the US.
"Mountain biking is incredibly popular in national forests, and we believe it's appropriate to clarify the distinction between mountain biking and motorized use. Better policies will foster improved partnerships and riding experiences," said IMBA Executive Director Mike Van Abel according to the IMBA website.
The actions come after several years of IMBA asking for further documentation on its mountain biking policies. While most national forests understand bicycling is a quiet, non-motorized activity, a few have implemented rules rendering bicycles akin to motorized travel. The new revisions to the Forest Service Handbook and Manual, which are the primary basis for control and management of agency programs, are a step toward standardizing mountain bike management at the field level.
"We're extremely pleased the Forest Service is taking these steps to formally recognize bicycling as low-impact and human-powered. Embedding this information in their employee handbooks will promote better understanding and practices in all 175 national forests and grasslands," said Van Abel.
The Forest service also updated its trail construction standards so that bicycling joins hiking as a potentially suitable use on all trail classes, from the most primitive of designated routes to more developed paths. Decision-making regarding bicycle access on specific trails will stay at a local level but the national-level change recognizes that the environmental impacts of bicycling are similar to hiking and less than other uses.
IMBA and the Forest Service have been formal partners since 1994 and on their third consecutive memorandum of understanding, which runs through 2010.