The 2.5 mile Cactus Forest Trail in Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Arizona was closed to bicycle use in April. It was the first US National Park singletrack open to mountain biking.
Other trails in National Parks around the US could soon suffer a similar fate, warns the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA). Popular trails - the lifeblood of the upper end of the bike trade - could remain closed for months, even years.
The trail closure was prompted by the threat of a lawsuit from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), an organization that monitors federal agency decisions. PEER contends that the National Park Service (NPS) didn't comply with its regulations when it opened the trail to bicycles. Er, ten years ago.
PEER is pressuring the National Park Service (NPS) to ban bicycle use on the route until stringent decision-making procedures are completed.
Saguaro National Park Acting Superintendent Jim Bellamy said:
"In reviewing the actions leading to the opening of this trail to mountain bike use over a decade ago, the Park discovered that a regulation was overlooked and the Park did not have the proper authorization to allow such use on the trail.
"We would have preferred to keep the trail open to bicycles while we take the proper steps to authorize this recreational opportunity, but we must comply with the regulations."
The special regulation process must be accompanied by full environmental compliance..Because of the complexities of this process, we anticipate addressing bicycle use in the park in a comprehensive way through the general management planning process. This is scheduled to begin late this summer and will take approximately three years."
PEER asked the National Park Service to investigate alleged mountain bike regulation violations at other popular trails.
In response, IMBA has held meetings with local, regional and national NPS leaders as well as members of the Arizona congressional delegation. IMBA has also engaged Washington, D.C. law firm Hogan & Hartson to push for immediate administrative relief and evaluate legal remedies if quick action isn't taken to reopen the trail and keep other NPS trails open to mountain biking.
Pete Webber, IMBA communications director, said:
"IMBA views mountain biking as a National Park solution. Bicycling gets people out of their cars, away from congested roads, parking lots and trailheads, and into the fresh air. Mountain biking improves the quality of park visitor experience and counters the societal trend toward obesity.
"We are working hard to quickly reopen the Cactus Forest Trail and maintain access to other existing NPS bicycling paths. We believe these NPS trails cannot legally be closed now without a thorough review process that includes public comment and proper rulemaking."
Saguaro cactus flower, which flowers in May and June. The Saguaro cactus is the quintisenntial cactus shape, being the cactus depicted in all those sunset photos of the 'Wild West'. Shot by BikeBiz editor/publisher Carlton Reid, who has cycle toured in the Sonoran desert in Arizona and Mexico, where the cactus is prolific.