Tom Flynn tracks policy related to conservation and recreation for the Outdoor Alliance. Most Fridays, he summarizes the week’s top outdoor policy related headlines. With questions, news tips and angry hate mail, email him at tom [at] outdooralliance [dot] net.
Sierra Club Sues Over Mountain Bike Park
Late last week, the Sierra Club and three other environmental organizations sued the Forest Service to put the brakes on the Timberline mountain bike park on Mount Hood, Oregon. They argue that the construction of 17 miles of singletrack under the lifts would send erosion into creeks, disturb wildlife and affect hikers. A longer list of groups already appealed the Forest Service’s go ahead for the park, but when that was denied, many of those groups decided not to push things further by taking the agency to court. The Sierra Club in particular says they can support mountain biking, just not here. That rings a bit hollow. Sure, flow trails, features and even mountain bikes are not appropriate everywhere, but under ski lifts? Anyone that has visited a ski area in the summer knows that these places are far from pristine – access roads, snowmaking lines and the occasional dropped glove already litter the slopes. With climate change pinching the winter season, mountain bike parks are a great way for ski areas to stay open longer, make the most of facilities that would just sit there otherwise, and get more people outside. Trail building has come a long ways, and they can be built to protect the environment and multiple uses. The Sierra Club might take a moment to think, would John Muir have mountain biked had it been invented around the time he founded the Club? Heck yes. Probably a rigid steel singlespeed.
Another Challenge But Also Some Hope for Forest Service Fees
Over the last few weeks, there has been a lot of debate about Forest Service fees. Basically, it boils down to this. The Forest Service, under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, can charge for amenities but not for admission. Hikers are suing to eliminate fees in California, and in Oregon fee money is rather ridiculously spent getting fee money. Now, the spotty record continues, with fees facing another similar challenge in Montana. At the Lake Como recreation area, a local attorney wants the Forest Service to stop charging $5 just to park. But just as one more fee is challenged, fees in Colorado show hopeful signs of better implementation. At the Maroon Bells, the agency is actually asking drivers where they plan to park – and letting those headed to an undeveloped area get in for free. Small steps like this will go a long way towards making fees tolerable, without going to extreme measures like posting cops at the bathrooms to see if you paid to use the pit toilet. This whole debate will really come to a head next year, when the act allowing fees comes up for renewal before Congress. Hopefully everyone can get some clarity – land managers and recreating visitors alike.
Forest Service Doubles Down on Demands to States
A quick note on another issue in the news lately. Remember how the Forest Service is demanding back some of the money it already gave western states? Turns out they are also asking for “penalties, interest and administrative costs” on top of that. So not only do they want some Secure Rural School funds back, they also want the States to pay for part of the administrative costs – costs that probably resulted from demanding the money itself. Now that’s bold. Amongst all the spreading impacts of sequestration’s cuts, this issue is the hardest to justify. With the stakes raised, a real showdown is brewing between Western lawmakers and the Forest Service.