Recreation and Conservation Can Go Hand-In-Hand On The National Conservation Lands
As we near the end of May–National Bike Month if you didn’t know–it seems like a good time to talk about bikes and the National Conservation Lands. The National Conservation Lands are the premier protected lands and waterways managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Rules for bicycle access on these special lands vary, depending on the specific area, but in several units of the National Conservation Lands world-class mountain biking opportunities abound.
“Isn’t mountain biking illegal in Wilderness areas?”
Wilderness areas are off-limits to mountain bikes, but 21 of the units in the National Conservation Lands are designated as National Conservation Areas (NCA) or similar designations, and another 19 are National Monuments. One of the unique qualities of NCA’s and National Monuments is that, depending on the approved management plan, they may protect compatible existing uses. In many places that includes mountain biking.
Some of the best and most scenic mountain biking in the world can be found on National Conservation Lands, including portions of the Continental Divide Trail and Utah’s famed Kokopelli Trail, the Paradise Ridge trails in California’s King Range, Red Rock Canyon NCA in Nevada, McInnis Canyons NCA near Fruita, Colorado, California’s Fort Ord National Monument and many others. Even America’s newest monument, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, is known to harbor some great mountain biking trails within its 500,000 acres.
The Paradise Royal Trail, in California’s King Range NCA, is another great example.
In Northern California’s King Range NCA, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been working cooperatively with mountain biking advocates and clubs, such as the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), as well as local salmon restoration and conservation groups, to plan, develop, and construct an environmentally sustainable, challenging mountain bike trail system in the Paradise Ridge area of the King Range NCA in Northern California. The idea was to make up for trails lost when the North Coast Wilderness bill closed several miles of trails to cyclists, and the BLM and local groups worked painstakingly to deliver a new trail system that would be vastly superior to the trails that had been closed.
Because of the drainage’s spotted owl, salmon and steelhead habitat, the trail builders used innovative techniques, including building key sections of the trail by hand, and removing dirt in buckets–carried away from the slopes by hand–to keep sediment from impacting salmon and steelhead spawning habitat in the creek below. Unique stream crossings were put in place using large boulders, which provided a way to cross streams during higher water while protecting salmon spawning habitat. In nearby areas, heavy equipment was used to rehabilitate slopes and undo massive damage from excessive logging that took place up until the 1970’s.
The Paradise Royale loop opened in 2008 to rave reviews from bikers, even garnering a feature story in Mountain Bike Magazine. The proposed trail system will eventually cover 30 miles, according to the BLM, encompassing varying levels of difficulty and diverse scenic vistas, terrain features and riding experiences. The trail system has provided mountain biking opportunities in a region where legal, single-track mountain biking-specific trails did not exist on public lands. It has done so while protecting rare habitat for the Spotted Owl, and runs of salmon and steelhead that are severely threatened in California because of habitat degradation and loss. Visitors come from outside the region to experience these trails and all of the region’s unique natural attributes.
With science as their guide, the BLM worked with local stakeholders to achieve an outcome that benefits the region economically, while protecting its natural treasures and attracting people from outside the region to experience a very unique place. The National Conservation Lands are a diverse array of special places where–in many cases–conservation and recreational uses like mountain biking can go hand in hand.