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Utah Senators Want Some Mountain Biking Allowed in Wilderness Areas

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Mount Timpanogos includes some designated wilderness where mountain biking is not permitted. A new bill by Utah's U.S. Sens. Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch would give land managers two years to open some trails to cycling.

Senator Mike Lee explained in a town hall meeting last month why he and Senator Orrin Hatch think federal land managers have it wrong when they forbid mountain biking in places where the Wilderness Act outlaws motorized vehicles.

“I don’t read it that way,” he told a caller. “Senator Hatch and I both believe that was a mistake in interpretation.”

Utah’s senators in Washington want to open some wilderness-area trails to mountain biking – an idea advocated by one cycling group and criticized by others.

Lee’s “Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act” would require federal land managers at the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service to decide in two years what wilderness trails should be open to mountain bikes. Mountain biking is allowed on public lands but prohibited in over 100 million acres of wilderness.

“There are going to be some areas where mountain bikes might be appropriate in certain wilderness areas,” he told the caller opposed to his bill. “There are gong to be others where the character of the wilderness territory wouldn’t necessarily be appropriate for mountain bikes to use.”

The idea has been promoted for decades by a group called, “The Sustainable Trails Coalition.” But Ashley Korenblat says the legislation puts the wishes of that small group ahead of bigger values. She a mountain bike hall of famer, former leader of the International Mountain Biking Association and Moab-based cycling outfitter.

“The idea that there are some places that are set aside where nature is more important than access is a pretty powerful idea,” she says, “and there are millions of members of environmental organizations that are committed to that idea.”

Korenblat contends the bill has divisive, partisan goals, and she doubts Congress will pass it.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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