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The Forbidden Trail

The Pacific Crest Trail is an official American National Scenic Trail that zigzags its way from Mexico to Canada. Located within easy driving distance of San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, Portland and Seattle, the PCT is both easily accessible and blissfully wild at the same time – making it a popular trail for hikers in the Pacific Northwest. Like the Appalachian Trail, people often hike major stretches for days or months. The PCT is widely regarded as scenic, serene and peaceful and hiking long stretches is said to transport one to another world. Because of the isolation, the adventure is known to be mentally grueling as much as it can be physically grueling.

Mt. bikers were allowed access to the trail until, in 1988, the US Forest Service restricted access without public involvement or an appeals process. Kraig “Brock” Brockelman with the Southern Willamette Valley mt. bike club Disciples of Dirt says the decision was made quickly without an opportunity for mt. bikers to explain their side of the situation. There has been no concerted effort to reverse the decision, until now.

The Pacific Crest Trail Reassessment Initiative is working to share information with the US Forest Services that could reverse that decision. Since 2010, a growing number people from the cycling and trails communities have been working with US Forest Service to potentially allow bicyclists access to portions of the PCT that are outside federally designated Wilderness areas (where separate rules disallow bicycles). As early as 2013, the USFS will begin taking comments from the public about this effort.

In Oregon, the effort is being led by Disciples of Dirt. The issue is particularly important to them not only because it is an area where they would like to ride, but also because mt. bikers are well known for being good trail stewards, maintaining the land where they ride. “As is well documented. we take care of where we play,” Brock says.

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25 Responses to “The Forbidden Trail”
  1. Downhill Dan says:

    I’m all for opening some areas but we must fear the slippery slope! Even though I am an avid mountain biker I know we cannot erode the protections placed on our wilderness areas. Wilderness is wild! Leave it at that, and keep the bikes in roaded areas.

    • Jon says:

      It makes no sense to me that hikers with their boots, poles and other miscellanueous equpiment and HORSES ARE ALLOWED, but NOT BIKES? Pretty much every person I know that mt. bikes are stewards for maintaining trails and preserving the natural landscapes that trails are already in. With such active and hardworking trail organizations out there maintaining trails including, NWTA (Northwest Trail Alliance), DOD (Disciples of Dirt), CAMBA (Columbia Area Mountain Bike Association), HRATS (Hood River Area Trail Stewards), CCMBC (Cold Creek Mountain Bike Club), WTF (Westside Trail Federation), ETA (Evergreen Trail Alliance) to name a few that the forest service could utilize more to offset costs in maintaining trails of the PCT and other wilderness trails as well for that matter.

    • AndresO says:

      Frustrating to hear someone who calls themselves an avid mountain biker say something as unhelpful as “keep the bikes in the roaded areas,” as this is in fact every mountain bikers worst nightmare! Wilderness IS wild, and the only way to know it is to get out there and explore (fat tires down).

    • Wild Woman says:

      I completely agree with Downhill Dan. I think bikers – especially mountain bikers — are often in denial about the impact bikes have on trails and in the wilderness. Multiple use is obviously a complicated issue — we all need to step outside of our own selfish recreational “wants” and put the “needs” of the land and and the wilderness first.

      • Jon says:

        If this is such the case of truly “putting the needs of the land and wilderness first” by excluding our “wants”, than nobody should be allowed into these “forbidden areas” at all. It’s hypocrisy to say hikers or other non-motorized user groups can be allowed, but not another. And FYI, in most cases bikes don’t cause anymore impact to the trails than hiking boots do, especially when bike riders adheres to proper trail etiquette as most do, whereas horse use often easily damages a trail to some degree everytime.

  2. Mtn Man Ron says:

    Hrrrmmmmm….. I am on the fence about this issue. We mountain bike riders are good stewards, but what about the people who are not?

    I am undecided about this, but I look forward to following the conversation. I had not heard about this, thanks for the article (saw it in the newsletter);

    • Bouncing Buck says:

      C’mon, fellow mt bikers, do we really need to have access to parts of the PCT? It’s not as if we don’t have more than enough trails. This is sounding like, “No fair. You hikers have a trail and we want it, too.” Let the PCT remain as it was intended to be: A challenging, beautiful, multi-state journey for HIKERS, who really don’t want to have to worry about hearing, “Behind you!” or “On your left!” as they travel.

      • Buck: really? I think you’re projecting your riding habits on others. I ride with hikers all the time on the Wilson River Trail. If we let the PCT as it was intended to be, it would be open to bikes, since that’s the way it started.

  3. Horse Hater says:

    The PCH is the exception, mtn. biking or any other non-motorized traffic is good for trails. A lack of water barring is the problem with any trail. The trails you see that are mixed use are always in better shape than a hiking only trail minus the horse shit and huge hoof prints. Stewardship should be an opportunity for everyone and trails are good for the masses.

  4. Peter Lines says:

    Not exactly the best idea… A few sections of the PCT make sense, but there’s a lot that just wasn’t constructed with bikes in mind. I’m definitely not in favor of opening the wilderness. I think I’m done supporting DoD if they press this issue.

  5. Stephen Day says:

    I am both a mtn. biker and a hiker and I am absolutely opposed to allowing a change in the Wilderness rules. The PCT needs to be kept as a peaceful setting for one to experience and enjoy nature.

  6. AC says:

    There’s no ‘slippery slope’. No one has mentioned opening portions of the trail in Wilderness to bike (or any trails in Wilderness to bikes… but that’s a different issue), it’s simply removing an arbitrary restriction that applies to 100% of the trail currently, whether wilderness or not, appropriate for bikes or not, heavily used or not, and instead would let portions be managed appropriately for the legal restrictions (Wilderness) in place, level of use, and terrain. Not to mention, horses do way more damage than bikes. Any places horses are allowed (outside Wilderness) bikes should be allowed by default.

  7. Hiker/Biker Chuck says:

    The Pacific Crest Trail was created with hikers, horses and cross country skiers/snowshoers in mind, and that has helped keep it more wild. Bikes on the PCT will diminish the wilderness experience for humans, as well as harm plants and soil, and push away animals. Let’s ride other trails so that those on foot and horseback can enjoy that historic trail in more quietude.

  8. BikinHiker says:

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but mtn bikers are NOT well documented as good stewards of the land. Why do you think the Cooper mtn trails were shut down to bikers and huge amounts of money poured into making them a now sustainable nature trail open only to walkers? And check out the damage done to the sections of Forest Park trails since some of those were opened to bikers two years ago…its pretty bad in the wet months, which is 9 months of every year here in the northwest.
    Im a biker and a hiker, and I love the PCT as much as I love Burdoin Mtn (biking allowed). We have enough bike trails without greeding our eyes on the PCT which sees enough yearly damage from backpackers and climbers and hikers and horses as it is. Cant support you on this one.

    • Actually, it is well documented, if you care to look.

      One or two bad bikes do not make all of the bikers bad stewards. Check out the work done almost weekly by Northwest Trail Alliance around Portland, and the huge amount of work the DoD does every year around Eugene.

      Perhaps you should join some of them and pitch in?

  9. Outdoor Lover says:

    Hey Folks, first of all; this is not proposal to allow bikes in the Wilderness areas. There are sections of the PCT that are *not* in designated wilderness areas and do make sense for mt bikes in my opinion. So I support this effort! Note – there was a similar exercise where all single track trails in *all* National Parks were off limits to bikes. Fortunately, that was re-assessed and now there are some trails in National Parks that you can bike on. It was a prudent and logical land use decision.

    Regarding Wilderness, in the Bend area where I live, there has been a huge expansion of public land re-designated as Wilderness. The same is true for the Mt Hood area. Once these places get designated as Wilderness you permanently lose access to the land for biking, paragliding, and many other non-damaging forms of outdoor recreation. There are other ways to protect this land while maintaining recreational access. The politics around the recent Mt Hood wilderness designation have left me very much opposed to new wilderness designations.

  10. Irisa says:

    There are great arguments for all sides and we should all be thankful we live in a country where we have the opportunity to discuss and disagree on issues. I beg everyone to also remember that with freedom (to mountain bike where you wish in this case) come responsibility. This means staying on those allowed trails, not short-cutting, not extending the trail, etc. If folks were responsible, we would spend less time arguing and restricting access and more time riding.

  11. Steve says:

    What Outdoor Lover said – Listen up! There are many parts of the PCT that ARE NOT in Wilderness. As an avid hiker, I know that these parts are not even that well used. Where do you go hiking? You get out your Wilderness area map. But all kinds of PCT from Washington to California is not in any designated Wilderness area, and are less well used.

    I just do not see the objection to the actual proposal. … As opposed to the made-up reactionary one.

  12. Mary Helen says:

    I am a hiker and a biker and I oppose opening the PCT to mountain bikes. The article in ORBike portrayed the change to allowing mountain bikers on the PCT, not just on the non-wilderness portions. The article also only provided one side of the story, the mt. bikers side.

    It seems to me that hikers and mt. bikers go into the outdoors/parks, whatever you call the non-wilderness or wilderness areas, for slightly different reasons: mt. bikers tend to like the thrills of sharp corners, faster speeds and downhills. Hikers go more for a quiet, slowing things down experience. If mt. bikers would all promise to never go more than 5 mph, I might change my mind about my opposition. My guess is that even if those on this list promised to do so, they can’t speak for the majority of mt. bikers.

    Mary Helen

  13. Jeff M says:

    Seems relevant: TEDxBoulder – Brady Robinson – Recreation and the Future of the Conservation Movement…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8dT1w5sp74

  14. MoreBikes says:

    I haven’t heard about this. Not sure what I think, but glad to know about it now. I need to research before I make my decision, but thanks for putting it out there for us to read about. ORbike – you guys sure do come through for me! And you’ve been around forever, haven’t you?

  15. Allison. says:

    Yes, thank you for this post. I have re-read it several times and looked at the links. I am a backpacker with my husband and my friends and I’ve hiked sections of the PCT. I am also a mt. biker. I and my friends are trail stewards so I think WE would be respectful PCT mt. bikers but what about others? maybe so. could there be restrictions (days and times) or something? Not sure what would work best but I think we could all get along 🙂

    • Joe says:

      Opening the PCT bikes is not enough for some.

      The Wilderness Act may ban mountain bikes, but that has not stopped 4000+ people from organizing on Facebook: Wilderness B = Wilderness with Bikes http://www.facebook.com/WildernessB

      For the life of me I cannot imagine how bikes on the PCT will create more of the things I and my fellow hikers need in order to have a wonderful experience: peace, quiet, tranquility, an expectation of slow traffic, etc.

      I look forward to the day bikes are banned from the PCT forever. Can’t come soon enough. Please build your own trails and enjoy your own unique experiences. Some things just don’t mix well.

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