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 alltrails.com.

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

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 (rhatfield@fs.fed.us) 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.

# Comments

  • Greg Heil

    The Sustainable Trails Coalition posted a comment on our Facebook Page, with an update:

    “Those that wrote an email to Ranger Hatfield should have received this reply today. Things are looking good.

    Thank you for your interest in the Tracy Ridge Trail System. Yesterday, I received a proposal from two local mountain bike groups that propose to once again allow shared use on Tracy Ridge trails. The North Country Trail is not included in the proposal. The current bike prohibition on the NCT is not proposed to change. The Forest Service now needs to decide whether to move forward with the proposal. If the proposal moves forward, there will be a formal public review and comment period. Our workload is quite heavy right now and I don’t expect any movement on this proposal (one way or another) for at least the next six months. I will include you on any future mailings related to this project.

    Here is some basic background information on the area – these points relate to some of the comments that I have received recently.

    The Tracy Ridge Trail System is included in the Allegheny National Recreation Area. This area was designated by Congress in 1984. The Congressional legislation does not include a prohibition on bikes. The legislation is available here: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/16/460qq

    In the 1990s, the Tracy Ridge Trail System was expanded. At that time, too, mountain bike use was prohibited on trails in the area. Specific analysis and rationale to support this closure is limited – the rationale utilized in the 1990s was that allowing bikes on the trails would result in user conflicts and would exacerbate erosion issues.

    In 2007, the Allegheny National Forest revised the Forest’s Management Plan. The Tracy Ridge area was assigned a Management Allocation of National Recreation Area. This designation does not prohibit mountain bike use (although the Tracy Ridge bike prohibition was carried into the new plan). Furthermore, in 2007, the Forest choose not to put the Tracy Ridge area into a Wilderness Study Area status. The rationale provided in 2007 was that the Tracy Ridge area is adequately protected as a National Recreation Area and that wilderness designation would limit future recreational opportunities (and other management options). Currently, then, the Tracy Ridge area is managed as a National Recreation Area. The area has not been designated as Wilderness – only Congress has that authority. Again, under our current management plan, the area is also not recommended for wilderness study.

    Twenty years after the trail system was expanded in the 1990s, much has changed at Tracy Ridge. Use of the campground has dropped to less than 10% occupancy. Use of the trail system is thought to be fairly low. Maintenance of the trail system is minimal, at best. (Indeed, before a local cross-country skier cut out many of the trees across the trails, there were literally dozens strewn across the system.) While the trail tread is still mostly visible, it is quite clear that most of the system sees little use. (I suspect the “new” loops off of the Tracy Ridge Trail are rarely used – the tread for those trails is disappearing.)

    Again, thank you for your interest in the Tracy Ridge Trail System. I’ll keep you updated as we examine the proposal.


    Rich Hatfield”

  • isawtman

    I think it’s interesting that the Forest Ranger immediately mentions that the North Country Trail would not be affected. That’s exactly how PCTRI and the Sharing the PCT facebook page has changed mountain biking for the worse. Now, Land Managers and Forest Officials have to make sure National Scenic Trails that do not allow mountain biking are protected from mountain biking intrusions. I appreciate that Ranger Hatfield is looking out for the NCT.

    Also, it appears that Mountain Bikers are starting to use the “Wilderness Alarm” not areas it doesn’t even apply to.

  • Sr Chadwell Heath

    Being a Pennsylvania boy, born and raised I do take pride in my state and love the great degree of wilderness we have. That said, if human hiking and horse traffic are allowed on trails, than I see no reason that mountain bikes shouldn’t be allowed. This whole “tread lightly” concept is over blown out of proportion. The reality is all the alleged trail damage is purely superficial. If we banned all trail use for 2 years, the earth would recover and reclaim all those areas to the point we would barely notice. We aren’t talking about deforestation or strip mining, its simple human use trails. Either you allow all non motorized human use of the trails or completely ban the use of the forest all together. The tree hugger hippies of the world are getting far too carried away and expect nothing to change, but the earth changes everyday, whether we like it or not.

  • isawtman

    Chadwell, Mountain bikes travel at a higher rate of speed than Hikers. It’s perfectly okay to have separate trails for each use. That’s what they are proposing here and it has been extremely popular in other places.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.