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Mountain Biking: It's Fun But Trail User Conflicts on the Rise

Cartoon of Mountain Biker and Hiker Conflict

Mountain Biking:  It's Fun But Trail User Conflicts on the Rise

Most of us live in Northwest Montana because of the unparralled outdoor life available at our doorstep.  Access to National Forest public lands is a big part of our quality of life.  But what happens when we find our favorite Forest Service trails aren't quiet or safe any longer?  

Mountain biking is a fun, fast, and exciting way to travel and its has grown tremendously on the Flathead and Kootenai National Forests in recent years.  However, recent news articles - and first hand reports - have begun to show that conflicts between mountain bikers and foot and horse riders are on the rise.   

Worse, some mountain biking proponents - feeling entitled to do 'whatever they want' on 'public lands' -  are deliberately expanding trails on the national forest without proper authorization from the Forest Service.  In one word:  "illegally".  

Headwaters Montana thinks it's time for the Flathead and Kootenai National Forests to take a step back and address mountain biking at a programmatic scale before user conflicts get any further out of hand .  

What's the Conflict?  

The issue here amounts to conflicting expectations and public safety on forest service trails.  Most Forest Service trails were build in the 1930's as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) employment program during the Great Depression.  They were designed for hiking and horse use, and as a basic transportation network for national forest management.  Needless to say, mountain biking had yet to be invented.  

Today, mountain bikes are durable and capable of navigating most Forest Service trails.  But the public acceptance of mountain bikes on traditional horse and foot trails lags behind.  Why?  Because mountain bikes can startle hikers and spook horses and lead to accidents, thrown riders or gear.

Additionally, members of the mountain biking community are building trails without Forest Service authorization. Mountain biking has also been shown to disturb wildlife's use of habitat.  

Finding a Solution

One only has to look as far as Whitefish Mountain Resort to recognize that private business sees the liability of allowing mountain biking and hiking on shared trails.  They don't allow it.  

Perhaps the Forest Service could follow the commercial recreational industry's lead and allow mountain biking on designated trails only.  Dedicated and even shared use trails would be preferable to the random and sometime illegal trail use now seemingly sanctioned by the Forest Service. The public – both hiking and biking – would know what to expect when they chose a trail.  

Such a solution would clearly work.  But only as an outcome of a public  (NEPA) process that evaluates the trail system at the Flathead and Kootenai Forest level.  

National Forest Recreation an Economic Asset

Public recreation on our local national forests provides a huge economic and social benefit for residents and visitors.    The Flathead and Kootenai Forests should address this issue outside of the forest planning process. 

The Kootenai Forest is well into it's planning process, and the Flathead is several years away with its.   

Mountain bike conflicts on traditional foot and horse trails are fast coming to a head.  We can continue to make public recreation on our national forests better and safer - and all users would be better served - by addressing the mountain biking issue.  The need is now. 

What You Can Do:

Please write the Flathead and Kootenai Forest supervisorsand ask them to conduct an evaluation of mountain bike
use on national forest trails.

Write the Flathead Forest Supervisor here, and the
Kootenai Forest Supervisor here.

~ We Thought You'd Like to Know! ~