Coronado National Forest officials are preparing a land evaluation report that, if approved, would designate thousands of acres of land around the Santa Catalina mountains as wilderness land. That designation would prohibit mountain bikers from riding on trails in the area.
Heidi Schewel the Coronado National Forest spokesperson said they try to balance the way national forest land is used.
“There are members of the public who like to do a lot of different things on national forest land that are all acceptable,” Schewel said. “Biking, mountain biking, hiking, shooting, fishing, bird watching — be it what it may, there are a lot of diverse interests that can often compete for use of the national forest.”
Sonoran Desert Mountain Bicyclists president Zach MacDonald said his group isn’t against wilderness designations, but wants to ensure the existing mountain bike trails would remain open.
According to MacDonald, concessions have been made in other states to keep trails open for mountain bikers.
“There have been some really good successes in Washington where they put in a wilderness,” MacDonald said. “Basically they had planned to make one big wilderness and what they ended up doing was creating two wildernesses with a corridor through the middle that followed the route of an existing mountain bike trail.”
Josh Zollinger, who emailed me about the designation, said it was particularly concerning because based on the draft proposals available online, it would eliminate most of the single-track trails from the base of Mt. Lemmon to the summit.
“The East Catalina wilderness proposal looks like it would place one of the most popular Lemmon routes out of bounds,” Zollinger wrote. “Really it is a collection of trails: Crystal Spring Trail, Butterfly Trail, Bigelow, Green Mountain Trail and Bug Spring Trail. This collection is the only single-track route down the south-east side, vaguely shadowing Catalina Highway.”
Schewel said the land-use planners in the Forest Service are looking for feedback about the proposed wilderness areas. She said it was important to explain why or why not you wanted the land to be designated as wilderness.
MacDonald said the SDMB is writing letters to Congress to make sure they know mountain bikers are primary users of the area and ensure the trails remain open to them.
“The thing that is interesting to me on these draft proposals as far as primary users, they list hikers and sporadic camping or something like that,” MacDonald said. “They don’t list mountain bikers as a primary user and they are wrong. They are missing the boat because, especially in the summer time on any weekend we are definitely a primary user.”
MacDonald said he is concerned about the proposals, but thinks they will be able to work it out.
We’ve had some good discussion with the forest service and they are very receptive and very open,” MacDonald said. “The local land managers are very supportive of mountain bike issues. I’ll expect we’ll work though it, but part of it is probably on a bigger scale on a national level where we have got to let them know we are a primary user group.”
The Forest Service is requesting you send your comments here:
Phone: Erin Boyle, Assistant Forest Planner, (520) 388-8300
Fax: (520) 388-8305
Mail: Coronado National Forest
Plan Revision Team
300 W Congress
Tucson, AZ 85701
The mountain-bike community is hoping other cyclists will lend their support and let the Forest Service know that it is critical to keep the trails open to mountain bikes.
Thanks to “E” for the clarification in the comment section.
More about wilderness designations here