Wilderness Act is clear on bikes

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On Tuesday, Aug. 28, 1928, Bob Marshall, a Forest Service employee and wilderness champion, started a walk at Echo Lake near Bigfork. By the end of the day, he arrived at the Elk Park Ranger Station up the South Fork of the Flathead. It was a 30 mile hike. He hiked 40 miles the next day to the Black Bear Ranger Station. The day after that, he did another hike, up and over Pagoda Pass, then off-trail through the woods to the top of the Chinese Wall and then back to Black Bear Ranger Station. That hike was 42 miles.

And so Bob walked.

Over the course of eight days, he went 288 miles, through what is now the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Mission Mountain Wilderness. He ended up at the Seeley Lake post office.

He averaged in the neighborhood of 36 miles a day. He did not use a bicycle.

But earlier this month Montana Congress-man Greg Gianforte, with the support of some mountain biking advocates no doubt, voted for an amendment to the Wilderness Act that would allow bicycles in the wilderness.

This amendment is contrary to the very core of the Wilderness Act itself, which states in its preamble, “In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition...”

The Act did not come about easily. Advocates worked on it for decades before it was passed into law in 1964, long after Bob Marshall’s death.

Marshall died on Nov. 10, 1939, just short of his 38th birthday. In 1940, the Forest Service created the Bob Marshall Wilderness in his honor — but it was an administrative action, and wasn’t codified into law until the wilderness act passed.

The wilderness act, contrary to some belief, does not make it easy to create designated wilderness. Each individual parcel has to be approved by Congress. Montana’s last wilderness addition came with the passage of the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act in 2014. Prior to that, Montana hadn’t designated wilderness for about 30 years.

I have hiked a lot in our local wilderness. It can be pleasant and can also be downright maddening. Trails disappear on whim. And once you’re out there, you’re really and truly out there. But that’s the whole point. It’s not supposed to be easy. It’s not supposed to be for everyone. And it’s definitely not supposed to be exploited by mechanical means, of any kind.

The law is clear on that. To wit:

“...there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area.”

It doesn’t get any clearer.

To suggest that bicycles were somehow allowed under the Act is simply folly.

Chris Peterson is the editor of the Hungry Horse News.

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