Sunday, December 5, 2010

West Virginia Gazette Article about Mountain Bikers and North Fork

The West Virginia Gazette did a piece on the North Fork Mountain Wilderness Proposal. Below is a short section of the larger article. While not necessarily showing our concerns in the most favorable light the article at least publicly acknowledges the fact that many MOUNTAIN BIKERS DO NOT SUPPORT the current version of the wilderness proposal. If you feel especially moved then please weigh in on the comment section of the article but please do keep it civil.

Some points to keep in mind as you read the West Virginia Wilderness Coalition's arguments presented by Mike Costello:

-"Some pretty drastic changes were made to address mountain biker concerns," said Costello. "Nearly one-third of the land in the original wilderness proposal was taken out. Bikers still have access to the vast majority of North Fork Mountain Trail."

While we appreciate that we would still have access to many miles of trail, it is not all about miles. The remaining 17 miles of trail are far less popular for cyclists, the northern end of the North Fork Mountain trail happens to be the most popular section for bikers. Not only is it the D.C. metro area's closest access point to the Spruce Knob Seneca Rocks IMBA Epic trail system, but it is also contains the highest concentration of pristine single-track trail versus the old roadbeds that compose many other parts of the trail. Furthermore, IMBA and WVMBA are both confused as to which mountain bikers were able to establish their concerns with the West Virginia Wilderness Coalition. Again, we appreciate that they are making attempts to address our concerns but mountain bikers instead hope to be at the negotiating table for similar land protection initiatives in the future.

"We don't know why the wilderness designation is needed," said Coram. "The area is already protected as part of the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area."
While the area does fall under the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, Mr. Costello is correct when he points out that "Forest Service management prescriptions other than wilderness could be changed under updated management plans or through new agency policies."

As the first National Recreation Area to ever be created on National Forest land, the National Recreation language does not prohibit extracting resources from land that falls under the designation. Nevertheless, the existing Congressional designation provides a perfect opportunity to increase the level of land protection within the confines of the National Recreation Area designation. This would continue bicycle use and could easily be billed as a means to further promote remote West Virginia outdoor adventure tourism. Currently, the North Fork falls under a Forest Service management prescription that prohibits extraction of resources, but management prescriptions are reviewed roughly every 15 years when a forest undergoes a revision of the master forest plan. Which makes it even more important that mountain bikers rally behind the idea of further protection for the North Fork if the current Wilderness bill does not pass through Congress.

Costello said the North Fork Mountain Wilderness proposal made an effort to "address some of the major concerns of mountain bikers. Some of them are very supportive of it. They will be able to ride two-thirds of the North Fork Mountain trail, and the land at the northern end of the mountain will be preserved forever."

We desperately need to move past the perception that mountain bikers as a whole are somehow on board with this proposal. While many mountain bikers are only familiar with the North Fork as a result of the Gnarly North Fork Race in the 1990s and since that historic course will not be impacted by the proposed wilderness I can understand the confusion. Once more, the area where mountain bikers want to ride is the northern portion.

Hopefully, mountain bikers can get involved in the beginning for the next piece of West Virginia land protection. If the North Fork Wilderness bill fails to secure Congressional approval in the next month than Mountain bikers and other advocates of America's public lands should rally this momentum behind increasing the protection within the existing National Recreation Area.

December 4, 2010
Wilderness proposal draws fire from mountain bikers
Kenny Kemp
Cliffs line the western slope of North Fork Mountain, site of a proposed 6,042-acre wilderness area in Grant County.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A plan to create a 6,042-acre wilderness area on North Fork Mountain in Grant County is drawing fire from mountain bikers who would lose access to a segment of the scenic North Fork Mountain Trail under a wilderness designation.

The proposed North Fork Mountain Wilderness would be created through passage of the Monongahela Conservation Legacy Act of 2010, introduced earlier this year in the House by Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., later introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

The proposed wilderness area is a downsized version of a 2004 proposal that failed to win congressional approval. The earlier wilderness plan called for a 9,171-acre wilderness area on the Monongahela National Forest ridge.

Under the current wilderness proposal, the northernmost seven miles of the 24-mile North Fork Mountain Trail would lie within the wilderness boundary, making that segment off-limits to bicycling -- not allowed in federally designated wilderness zones.

"It's a very popular trail for bike riders," said Kimberly Jo Coram of the West Virginia Mountain Bike Association, who added that the International Mountain Bike Association includes the trail on its national "Epic Rides" list as part of the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks trail system.

Both the WVMBA and the IMBA are opposing the wilderness proposal, and have launched online petition drives to let the state's congressional delegation know their feelings on the matter.

The two organizations hosted two well-attended rides along the North Fork Mountain Trail in the proposed wilderness area last fall.

"The trail has always been open to us, but with the wilderness designation, we would be the only user group eliminated from using it," Coram said. "You can have a horse-drawn sled in a wilderness area, but bikes aren't allowed."

The seven-mile segment of North Fork Mountain Trail included in the proposed wilderness extends northward from the Pendleton County line to the trail's northern terminus on Smoke Hole Road (State Secondary 28/ 11) near its junction with W.Va. 28/ 55. The 1.5-mile-long Landis Trail would also be closed to mountain bikers if wilderness status were approved.

Mike Costello of the West Virginia Wilderness Coalition said more than 3,000 acres were removed from proposed wilderness boundaries to accommodate mountain bikers. Redman Run Trail, which connects Smoke Hole Road to North Fork Mountain Trail near the Pendleton County line, was excluded from the wilderness area, giving bikers trail access to 17 miles of North Fork Mountain Trail, and making loop rides possible.

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