West Virginia advocates surprised by Wilderness Bill threatening access

West Virginia mountain bikers are facing the potential loss of over 50 miles of backcountry trails to bicycle access within the Monongahela National Forest. The West Virginia Wilderness Bill will be introduced to the US Congress next week, but according to the West Virginia Mountain Bike Association (WVMBA), it was written without their knowledge or cooperation.

Senate and the House versions of the bill have both been written with identical language to put them on the fast track to passage by Congress. Should the bill pass, special events like the Highland Sky 40 mile running race and the Odyssey Adrenaline Fix adventure race will also come to an end with a potential further impact on surrounding tourism-based economies like the counties of Tucker, Randolph and Pocahontas. Mountain biking, whether in or out of competition, is not permitted within officially designated Wilderness Areas.

"All of the offices of the West Virginia Congressional delegation, both Senators and the three House members, had assured WVMBA and IMBA representatives that we would be 'at the table' when the specifics of boundaries and designations were negotiated and this did not happen," said WVMBA vice-president Matt Marcus.

WVMBA and IMBA did not receive the Wilderness maps until January 11, 2008, while Wilderness advocates had knowledge of the designated areas as early as last fall. Many mountain bike advocates learned about the Wilderness Bill from a Charleston Gazette article on January 20, 2008.

"We have visited all of the West Virginian members of Congress every year for the last five years and have been willing to come to the table with Wilderness advocates to compromise but the West Virginia Wilderness Coalition formulated their position in February, 2004, and have not been willing to compromise one word since they introduced it," said Marcus.

As a positive example, Marcus pointed to a land preservation effort in the neighboring state of Virginia. "The Ridge and Valley Wilderness Act in Virginia was worked out in advance by mountain bike and Wilderness advocates and now enjoys a broad base of support by a variety of users. We have been using this as a model of what can happen when we have talked to the West Virginia delegation but they apparently haven't heard that message yet."

Marcus called on mountain bikers who enjoy riding and special events in the areas of Dolly Sods North, Roaring Plains West and the Cranberry Expansion to contact West Virginia members of Congress to request changes to the bill.

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