The 2,663 mile Pacific Crest Trail is a hiking paradise that stretches from Canada to Mexico and winds through Washington, Oregon, and California. Up until 1988, people were allowed to ride bicycles on the trail; but then the U.S. Forest Service decided to ban bikes completely. Now, a new campaign dubbed Sharing the PCT has formed to re-assess that decision and mountain bike advocates in Oregon will likely play a role.
Bike advocates say the 1988 ban was done too abruptly, without public comment or opportunity to appeal. The Oregon-based group, Disciples of Dirt, who fully supports the mission of Sharing the PCT, wrote on their website that the ban was “just fear and misunderstanding, mixed with a lot of well funded ignorance.”
In 2010, a group of citizen activists decided to probe further into the 1988 decision. They wrote a letter to the USFS on November 12, 2010 asking them to “put in place a process to examine the continuing usefulness of the 1988 closure order.” Here’s an excerpt from that letter:
“The closure order may have been intended to be only temporary. In 1988 mountain bicycles were newly popular and there was little understanding of how to manage them. Twenty-two years later the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Park Service know how to manage multiuse trails. It is time to reassess the usefulness of the closure order.”
Sharing the PCT wants the USFS to use the Continental Divide Trail as a model for managing the PCT. That trail, which runs over 3,000 miles from Montana to New Mexico, is open to bicycles. “If the use is consistent with the applicable land and resource management plan and will not substantially interfere with the nature and purposes [of the trail],” reads the existing law.
The group also pointed out that the USFS’s own policy dictates an annual review of the closure order, yet such a review has never been done. “We wish to be part of a public process to reevaluate the closure order comprehensively,” they wrote in their 2010 request.
They followed up that request in May of 2011 and earlier this year they finally got a response. “We received word that the USFS could be initiating a formal review process as early as sometime in 2013.”
Portland resident Daniel Greenstadt is one of about a “dozen or so” citizens who are behind the Sharing the PCT initiative. He’s a former rep of the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), but made it clear in a phone call with me this morning that he is not acting on behalf of IMBA. (IMBA, he says, has no position on the issue yet.)
Greenstadt says at this point, Sharing the PCT just wants to raise awareness that the issue is “coming down the pike.” The USFS has said they’ll look into it, but what exactly their review will entail remains to be seen. “The outcome could be a re-affirmation of the closure of the trail to bicycles; but our goal is to simply get some process and some daylight on the issue.”
It’s likely, Greenstadt says, that the USFS will open up the issue to a formal public process. When it does, groups like his and mountain bike and trail organizations from all over the West Coast will weigh in. Imagine a process like the grueling one we had for Forest Park singletrack access, but for a trail that crosses three states. And the debate is sure to be heated. When ORBike wrote about this last week, they got a record number of comments.
It’s important to note, that any consideration of bicycling on the PCT would only impact portions of the trail that are not designated as federal wilderness, since that designation is governed by a whole different set of rules.