Over a Beer: Make a Difference – Write Your Congressmen

Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.
Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.

Editor’s Note: “Over a Beer” is a regular column written by Greg Heil. While Greg is the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com, any opinions expressed in this column are his alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.

As a patently apolitical 20-something, I’m already largely jaded by our national political system, despite having not nearly as much exposure to the endless partisan back-and-forth power struggle and political corruption as many older readers no doubt do. Nevertheless, if we want to effect change in the system, sitting on our hands will do nothing: we must take action.

So today, I wrote my first letter to my Congressmen.

If you’re a regular reader, you no doubt know what issue I’ve taken up my pen to write about: mountain bike access in Wilderness areas. And you know what I found?

Writing your Congressmen isn’t actually all that difficult, after all.

I began by using the boilerplate text found on the STC’s website. This verbiage includes the key talking points that are important to communicate to your Congressmen. However, I didn’t want to simply copy and paste, so I took the boilerplate text and modified it for my own means, tweaking certain sentences, omitting others (and an entire paragraph), and adding an entire original paragraph of my own (paragraph 4).

Here’s my letter in its entirety:

Dear [U.S. Senator or Member of Congress],

I live in Salida, Colorado and am writing to request that you co-sponsor the Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act, S.3205, which was introduced on July 13, 2016. See https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/3205

I love to recreate in the outdoors, including mountain biking, hiking, trail running, backpacking, downhill skiing, rock climbing, and much more, and as such, our public lands are extremely important to me. I am excited, as this Act will correct a land management mistake. Three decades ago and with minimal public input, the Forest Service discarded a good regulation that allowed locally-based federal employees to decide where bicycles could be ridden in Wilderness areas. It replaced local discretion with a nationwide blanket ban. The Forest Service has also mistakenly prohibited its field staff from using many small-scale, hand-held maintenance tools in Wilderness.

The result of these mistakes (which other federal agencies have unfortunately copied, at least to some extent) is an American public increasingly disconnected from wild places, the opposite of Congress’s intent in passing the Wilderness Act of 1964. Many Wilderness trails have disappeared or have deteriorated to the point that few try to use them.

In my opinion, the biggest travesty caused by the exclusion of bicycles from Wilderness areas is the division that it has caused in the outdoor recreation community. As a Colorado legislator, you know the importance that our wild places have on local tourism economies, and the inherent value of raw, untouched, wild places. That said, having millions of mountain bike advocates and other advocates of wild lands at each others’ throats is not beneficial. If we were able to unite all of these factions instead of being divided against each other, together we could accomplish so much more to preserve these beautiful mountains that we all enjoy!

Please co-sponsor the Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act, S.3205. Thank you.

Greg Heil

Once I had finished my letter, I used Senate.gov and House.gov to locate contact info for the legislators representing my local area, and sent them my thoughts.

Will my words or your words ultimately sway the minds of these powerful suits in DC? Can we make a difference? Some may claim that the Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act will pass when pigs fly, but you know what? If we don’t write our Congressmen, and if we don’t get involved, we are guaranteed to fail.

But if we do try to make a change, if we do put in the effort, who knows? Maybe someone will build a bacon-powered jet pack.

Response to a letter that Jeff sent his Senator regarding the issue of mountain bikes in Wilderness.
Response to a letter that Jeff sent his Senator regarding the issue of mountain bikes in Wilderness.

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