Mountain Biking on Public Lands During the Government Shutdown

photo: Department of Agriculture – USFS

As we continue into week three of the partial government shutdown, public lands including national parks, US forest service (USFS), and bureau of land management (BLM) areas remain open to the public. Government shutdowns occur when the President of the United States and Congress disagree with regards to funding of federal programs and employees. Nine federal departments have been financially impacted by the current shutdown, including the primary agencies managing public lands. Beyond the loss of income for employees working for federal land management, these departments lose an estimated several hundred thousand dollars a day due to uncollected visitor fees and spending (source), which could lead to decreased services in the future. Unlike in previous government shutdowns, access to public lands is currently permitted; however, visitor services and management are absent or severely reduced, prompting immediate and long-term consequences for the landscapes.

As a primary trail user group, mountain bikers have a responsibility to support conservation and the long-term health of landscapes in exchange for our rights to access. Considering our use of public lands during the government shutdown, it is essential that we understand the immediate concerns and lasting effects of the shutdown and act accordingly.

Every-day stressors such as litter, human waste, and road/trail damage are exacerbated due to the lack of visitor services. These issues are well documented in our national parks, resulting in countless news outlets rallying volunteer support to prevent extensive damage.

While not as glamorous as national parks, trail systems on USFS and BLM land deserve the same considerations by trail users. Picking up litter on the trail, leaving no trace, considering bathroom needs before getting to the trailhead, avoiding cutting trail or skidding corners, and repairing minor damage to trails will have a large impact on the longevity of the landscape while displaying that we as a community understand the value of the landscape and are capable of stewarding it without supervision.

photo: Department of Agriculture – USFS

Beyond damage to the landscape, public land users should be aware that emergency services such as search and rescue are limited to emergency situations during shutdowns. Preparation is imperative in these situations, with federal agencies suggesting groups carry navigation equipment and first aid, as well as extra food, water, and clothing.

Less tangible than the above issues, lasting impacts affecting our public lands are occurring in the form of canceled events involving the USFS and the ability of land managers to meet funding/planning deadlines. Cancelled events include trail work days in conjunction with cycling organizations, field work with non-profits addressing ecological impacts, and community meetings regarding trail access. Failure of government employees to submit grant proposals and plans by government deadlines will further compound the impact by delaying mitigation efforts directed at fire suppression, deadfall removal, and large-scale trail rehabilitation and creation.

photo: Department of Agriculture – USFS

Even Singletracks’ ability to deliver mountain bike news is being impacted as we await official response from federal land managers on stories we’re currently researching. Summer permitting for shuttle and tour operators and event organizers is potentially impacted as well.

I am far from suggesting anyone cancel their plans to visit and ride bicycles in public lands during the shutdown, but encourage consideration of the above factors affecting the places we love. Agency web pages for many public lands may not update information during the shutdown, so please respect and adapt to limited or restricted access to roads, trailheads, and other areas during this time. Consider donating to your local trail stewards and plan on a volunteer day this year to make up for limited trail services.

Your turn: Have you experienced any impact of the partial government shutdown related to mountain biking? Let us know in the comments.

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