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Senate Bill Called Threat to PA Wilderness Areas

The bill would give forest rangers just two years to identify wilderness trails to be opened to people on bicycles. (Friends of Allegheny Wilderness)
The bill would give forest rangers just two years to identify wilderness trails to be opened to people on bicycles. (Friends of Allegheny Wilderness)
October 12, 2016

WARREN, Pa. - Pennsylvania has two federally designated wilderness areas, where human intrusion on nature is limited to hiking trails, but a bill in the U.S. Senate could change that.

Called the Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act, Senate Bill 3205 would direct forest rangers to designate trails to be opened for use by cyclists, who currently are not allowed. Kirk Johnson, executive director of Friends of Allegheny Wilderness, said he fears the introduction of mountain biking could ruin the wilderness experience for everyone else.

"Mountain biking is an adrenaline sport," he said. "The demographic is weighted heavily toward 20-something and 30-something males, who are interested in bombing down these trails as fast as they can go."

Proponents of the legislation say it represents the original intent of Congress when it passed the Wilderness Act, and would improve recreational opportunities and trail maintenance. However, Johnson said biking in wilderness areas actually would do considerable harm.

"It does cause problems with erosion, and damaging streams and riparian areas," he said, "and the safety concerns are just too much to make it a viable use of hiking trails."

Johnson said many trails in Pennsylvania already are open to mountain bikes, including the new Jake's Rocks Epic Mountain Bike Trail, a 46-mile network of trails in the Allegheny National Forest.

"Our group supports that trail complex," he said, "because it's a good place to go mountain biking and it's outside any of our designated or proposed wilderness areas."

SB 3205 was introduced in July and has been referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The bill text is online at congress.gov.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA