One of my favorite things about life in Fort Collins is riding my bike. Compared to the town I used to live in, the city outdoes itself by putting in wide bike lanes on most major roads, as well as miles of fine city trails where bikers can commute to class or simply enjoy a pleasant day outside. For the slightly more adventurous, there is the nearby network of trails that traverses the foothills west of town. It’s no surprise that this city harbors a passionate biking community with so many places to go without even needing a car.
Now why am I bringing up biking at such an incongruous time of year as this, when only the foolhardy and the desperate will venture outside on two wheels? Last week our state’s Rocky Mountain National Park announced a change in its policy regarding biking. Previously, Rocky Mountain as well as most national parks throughout the nation allowed bikes on park roads but not on backcountry hiking trails. The park is considering allowing mountain bikes on a segment of the East Shore Trail, a wilderness hiking trail along Shadow Mountain Lake. Granted, it’s not a very big segment of trail, just a measly two miles that a fast biker could cover in a flash. This is not an isolated incident, as in 2012 the National Park Service began to loosen rules on bike use in parks. These actions represent an attitude that is the opposite of what I think wilderness is all about, and as small as this may seem, I believe it is the wrong move.
I am not against mountain biking. In fact, I am an avid cyclist, and on any weekend when the weather is not downright hostile, I am usually out and about on nearby trails. Mountain biking is an activity that I love, but that I feel is best kept out of our national parks. To explain why I’ll tell a quick story.
A few summers ago I worked on a trail crew in Yosemite National Park in California. It was a challenging, blistering and thoroughly worthwhile experience — the best kind of summer job an outdoors-loving high school student could imagine. There was one thing, though that felt somewhat unsettling about the place. After a few dusty weeks spent repairing trails in the backcountry with little contact with the outside world, my crew and I would drive into Yosemite Valley and encounter a small city. Hotels, shopping and parking lots seemed to suggest that a little piece of suburbia, minivans and all, somehow got lost and wandered into a national park. There at the base of El Capitan and Half Dome lay just the sort of thing I had sought to escape.
Now there is a world of difference between Yosemite Village and mountain bikes in Rocky Mountain, but they both are instances of people meddling in what is best left alone. Although the national parks are lovely places to visit, as I myself have done so many times, to me their true purpose should lie in protecting the nation’s wild lands against become industrialized ruins like so much of the rest of the United States. We should be able to enjoy their sights but not to the extent that human presence becomes the focus. Our species have come up with some neat ideas like written language and bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches, but we often act as though everything in the world is there only to satisfy our desires.
Obviously putting a few bikes on a few miles of trail is not really going to damage anything. But to me it is the principle that counts. Allowing bikes in the nation’s wilderness areas is only another step in the disturbing trend of treating our nation’s wild lands like they exist only for our benefit, instead of being valuable treasures even without our presence.
The famous writer and radical environmentalist Edward Abbey once proposed that all vehicles be banned from national parks and anyone who wanted in had to go as their forbearers once went: by foot. That idea flies in the face of our accustomed way of life and is completely unrealistic, but it does have a certain appeal to me. I would like the national park system to be more focused on preservation with human presence being limited to restore the land to its most natural state. Putting mountain bikes is a step in the wrong direction, making wilderness no more than humanity’s playground.
Aaron Kolb is a freshman engineering major. Letters and feedback can be sent to email@example.com
Rocky Mountain National Park is considering allowing mountain bikes on backcountry trails.
People need to stop meddling in what is best left alone.
The wilderness is not humanity’s playground and needs to be preserved.