Friday, October 29, 2010

Thoughts on North Fork and Wilderness

Photo Credit: Nate Shearer
As with many previous Wilderness discussions, the mountain bike community wants to see public lands protected. In light of the recent threats of natural gas mining and pressure for wind development, we understand and appreciate the desire of the West Virginia Wilderness Coalitionto permanently protect the North Fork from such present threats. We disagree only over the details in how it should be protected.

Since the North Fork already falls within the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, mountain bikers would like to see further protection by enhancing the Congressionally designated National Recreation Area legislation. Enacted in 1965, this was the first National Recreation Area to be designated within a U.S. department of Agriculture managed National Forest. If protection could be strengthened to very closely mimic the protections provided by the Wilderness Act (while allowing bikes and mechanized trail work), then North Fork could be a model for other popular mountain bike areas around the country.

Mountain bikers believe in protection based around recreation. We think that the most effective way to protect public land is for user groups to take ownership of the area. Considering the state of the rural West Virginia economy, it only makes sense to continue promoting a National Recreation area compatible with many uses including human powered recreation. Furthermore, mountain bikers are trail lovers who value sustainable, well maintained trails with good alignments. The prohibition against gas powered equipment in Wilderness would have a severe impact upon the trail quality of the North Fork mountain trail. Currently, gas powered brushers are used to cut back vegetation along the trail and thus play a vital role in keeping the trail open for all users.

As the discussion always goes, Wilderness folks and mountain bikers share much in common we both oppose the destruction of our federal lands and want them to remain mostly in their natural undisturbed state. Some areas are indeed good candidates for Wilderness, Dolly Sods south comes immediately to mind amongst many others. However, this is not the case for the North Fork Mountain. The southern end of the ridge is cut off from route 33 by private property. This means that the nearest legal access is coming up from Smokehole. This greatly limits the access for bicycles and forces most of the recreation to the northern end of the ridge.

While we are grateful that the architects of the currently proposed Wilderness took time to consider the desires of mountain bikers and the very real need to keep loop options open (Redman trail remaining open to bikes under the current Wilderness proposal), we maintain our opposition over designating the area Wilderness. The Northern end of the trail is the most popular area for mountain bikers since it allows them to climb up singletrack (Redman Run trail) and then follow the North Fork Mountain trail all the way back to Smoke Hole road.

Our hope is for a Coalition of groups to come together and promote enhancing the National Recreation designation for the area. We welcome future discussion between wilderness proponents and mountain bikers while recognizing that such a discussion cannot effectively take place until the current Wilderness proposal is off the table.

1 comment:

  1. I believe most West Virginians agree with your analysis Kyle. Unfortunately the Wilderness lobbyists do not support this cooperative approach. Strenghtening the protections of NRA's, NSA's and the other protective designations would effectively reduce the perceived necessity for Wilderness Areas, and thus thier existence.

    On a national level, this is the kind of proactive task IMBA needs to become involved with. In discussions concerning this particular area, and in dealing with the WV Wilderness Coalition/ The Wilderness Society, it is unrealistic to think any agreement or action to bring about any change like this will occur. I hope I am wrong, but I know who you are dealing with.

    Of course the West Virginians addressed this issue during the Wild Monongahela Wilderness Act debacle (they had a list of supporting businesses, support from the WV Division of Tourism, WVMBA, and IMBA), and were proposing the exact same resolution to the conflict between conservation minded individuals, and the no-compromise Wilderness lobbyists.

    The Wilderness lobby could not fight this type of constructive argument, and resorted instead to ad hominem attacks which aimed at demonizing certain individuals, and resulted in a thoroughly deceitful, but successful campaign of divide and conquer.

    Fortunately, in relation to the politics of Wilderness, the North Fork Mtn. bill's sponsor Mollohan, and his carbon copy Democratic candidate were defeated in the recent elections. Unfortunately, Manchin is now a Senator, and Rahall was re-elected, but will no longer be the Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee. Where does this put Jim Zoia in the picture? Hopefully his presence and importance will be diminished. As long as we can prevent any lame duck legislation between now and January, North Fork Mountain will remain a bicycle legal destination.

    Thanks for the continued interest.