Advocacy Alert: Wilderness or Bikes? The Debate Continues in Pennsylvania

For as long as there have been mountain bikers, there have been those who oppose their use of trails, claiming that they cause damage to wilderness and a disruptive environment for other trail users. In the 517,000-acre Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania, a usage debate is at hand. The proposed Tracy Ridge Wilderness would inherently prohibit cyclists on nearly 10,000 acres of land, limiting opportunities for exploration via human-powered transportation (aka bikes) in this scenic and remote area of PA.

Tracy Ridge Trails. Photo by Brittany Dawkins, via
Tracy Ridge Trails. Photo by Brittany Dawkins, via

Currently, the trails in Tracy Ridge are only open to hiking, but the new District Ranger has proposed opening the trails to mountain bike use as well. There are several groups opposing this idea, and trying to get the area designated as Wilderness, automatically banning bicycles from any and all trails.

Designating areas as protected from development, oil and gas drilling and fracking (which has been a hot topic and an ever-increasing problem in Pennsylvania in recent years), and motorized vehicles which would pollute the air and tear up the land, is most certainly a good thing, and it most certainly should be done. However, it is unnecessary to ban mountain bikes from all Wilderness Areas, including the Tracy Ridge Wilderness. Bikes, if ridden responsibly, do not do any more damage to trails than hikers or horses, both of which are allowed in Wilderness Areas throughout the country. Tracy Ridge is in much more danger from the proposed fracking sites nearby than from mountain bikers coming to enjoy the area and take a chill ride through the forest.

Ultimately, we need to rethink the blanket ban on bicycles in Wilderness Areas across the country. For now, you can write to the Allegheny National Forest District Ranger Rich Hatfield ([email protected]) and let him know that you support mountain biking, and that leaving Tracy Ridge open to riding non-motorized bicycles will not detrimentally affect the pristine landscape of the area.