imba logoMountain bikers may find some of the nation’s best singletrack off-limits if the Forest Service pushes through with a new directive. The agency wants to limit or prohibit bike access on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), which runs the length of the country, from Montana to New Mexico.

The CDT includes the famous Monarch Crest, many sections of the Colorado Trail, well-known Steamboat Springs singletrack, important trails around Butte and Helena and much, much more.

Take Action

Your strong voice is essential to saving epic rides along the CDT. The Forest Service’s proposal to restrict and prohibit mountain biking has been warmly embraced by some anti-bike groups, who are giving it their full support. All mountain bikers are urged to take action:

  • File Comments
    Formally file your comments with the Forest Service. IMBA’s simple form takes seconds and will submit your official comments. The deadline is October 12.
  • Spread the Word
    Rally your friends and ask them to echo your support for bike access on this outstanding trail. We need thousands of comments to hold out hope for continued access, so please forward this to your riding friends across the country.
  • Help Maintain the CDT
    If you live or play near the CDT, consider organizing or attending trailwork days to help build and maintain this magnificent trail. Learn about volunteer opportunities near you.
  • Donate
    Can you imagine losing our longest shared-use trail? The IMBA Legal Fund needs your financial support.

Additional Information

Why is the Forest Service revising its management directive? The CDT is currently managed under guidelines from an outdated 1985 Comprehensive Plan and the agency believes it’s time to update that document by clearing up any ambiguity regarding the purpose of the trail and its allowed uses. As part of this effort, the Forest Service is focusing on a hiking and horse-centric vision.

The CDT is a 3,100-mile shared-use route from Canada to Mexico, traversing some of the most scenic high-elevation terrain in the country. Mountain biking is permitted in most non-Wilderness areas and has occurred on some sections for 25 years. According to the Continental Divide Trail Alliance (CDTA), the trail is only 70 percent completed, with many existing miles in desperate need of repair and maintenance. CDTA estimates the cost to complete the CDT at $27 million.

IMBA believes a shared-use philosophy that includes bicycling is compatible with the intent and purpose of the CDT, and that mountain bikers can help overcome these significant hurdles impeding the trail’s completion. With 40 million participants, mountain biking is the second most popular trail activity in the country (Outdoor Industry Foundation, 2007). This large constituency helps lobby for public lands funding and donates nearly one million volunteer hours each year to trail construction and maintenance. Mountain bikers can be valuable partners for the CDT.

Among long-distance trails, the CDT is unique in that has generally allowed mountain biking. Unlike the Pacific Crest Trail or Appalachian Trail, mountain bikes are largely welcome on non-Wilderness sections of the CDT. IMBA isn’t asking for access to all 3,100 miles, but there are many non-Wilderness sections where non-motorized users can get along and mountain biking should continue.

The Forest Service has said it believes Congress intended the CDT to be for hiking and horse use only. Unfortunately, the agency is basing its proposed directive on a 1976 Study Report—written before modern mountain biking was established–and a similarly out-dated Comprehensive Plan of 1985. Not surprisingly, both documents focus primarily on providing experiences for the “hiker and horseman.” But neither suggests the trail should be limited to these two uses, and in many instances encourages non-motorized activities.

In fact, the 1976 CDT Study Report states, “The primary purpose of this trail (CDT) is to provide a continuous, appealing trail route, designed for the hiker and horseman, but compatible with other land uses” (italics added).

In 1983, Congress amended the National Trails Act to clarify potentially acceptable uses on the CDT and other National Scenic Trails. Bicycling is listed alongside various forms of hiking, backpacking and horse use (16 USC 1246(j)).

This congressional statute is clear and should supercede internal agency documents. IMBA does not believe bicycling should be discouraged or prohibited on the CDT. More than two decades of bicycling on the CDT has shown that this activity does not substantially interfere with the nature and purposes of the trail and that all users can get along.

Today, the environmental and social science of trail recreation is better developed and many backcountry trails are shared by hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers. A growing scientific consensus has shown that impacts of mountain biking are similar to hiking and less than horse or OHV use (Marion and Wimpey, 2007).

The IMBA / Forest Service Memorandum of Understanding states mountain bicycling should be managed distinctly from motorized travel. It also says mountain bicycling is appropriate in areas listed as “primitive” on the Recreation Opportunity Spectrum. These areas comprise a significant percentage of the CDNST.

Proposed Forest Service Directive Language on Mountain Biking

The proposed directive contains the following sections that discourage our quiet, low-impact, human-powered activity:

7. Bicycle (mountain bike) use may only be allowed on a trail segment of the CDNST where the following conditions are met (16 U.S.C. 1246(c)):
a. An affirmative determination has been made that bicycle use would not substantially interfere with the nature and purposes of the CDNST, and
b. Bicycles must also be allowed by the overall management direction for the land management plan area.

8. Where bicycle (mountain bike) use is allowed on the CDNST, consider establishing bicycle use prohibitions and restrictions (36 CFR part 261) to mitigate the effects of such use on the nature and purposes of the CDNST. Management practices and actions that would promote or result in increased bicycle use on the CDNST should not occur. (72 FR 32276)

Read the proposed directive in its entirety.

Visit the Forest Service’s CDT website with additional policy resources.

If you have any additional questions regarding the directive, please email IMBA’s Advocacy Team.

Mailing Your Comments

If you would rather write your own letter of support for continued shared-use management on the CDT, please use the following address:

Greg Warren, CDNST Administrator
P.O. Box 25127
Lakewood, CO 80225-0127

Or via email:

[email protected]

About Author

A native of the Pacific Northwest, Jason quickly developed a love for the outdoors and a thing for mountains. That infatuation continues as he founded this site in 1999 -- sharing his love of road biking, mountain biking, trail running and skiing. That passion is channeled into every article or gear review he writes. Utah's Wasatch Mountains are his playground.

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