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Bitterroot mountain bikers prepare to lose access to backcountry - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Bitterroot mountain bikers prepare to lose access to backcountry trails

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Bitterroot mountain bikers ride backcountry trails while they can Bitterroot mountain bikers ride backcountry trails while they can
HAMILTON -

Bikers who like to hit the backcountry in Ravalli County are preparing to lose access to around 180 miles of trails.

The Bitterroot National Forest is close to finalizing the Forest Travel Plan which will impose additional regulations on backcountry travel.

One of the groups voicing concern about what's in the works is the Bitterroot Backcountry Cyclists, a volunteer organization that works with the U.S. Forest Service to keep trails clear.

Members have maintained nearly 100 miles of trails over the past several years, performing work that benefits all backcountry enthusiasts. They are now concerned about the possible implications of the Forest Travel Plan.

"It was really frustrating, 'cause there was all these trails that we've been riding for almost two decades, trails that we've been clearing out for almost two decades," Red Barn Bicycles owner Chad Deuvall said.

"We've got a real intimate relationship with a lot of these trails. They're really exquisite as far as being able to travel upon them with a bicycle, It's a neat area. So, yeah, we're a little bummed out on that stuff," he added.

The mountain bikers MTN News talked with say they understand the need to preserve wilderness, but argue that their environmental impact is minimal. Backcountry cyclists are asking the USFS to do a more thorough mountain bike impact analysis.

"My mountain bike leaves pretty much no trace, and so I'm hoping that the Forest Service looks really hard at the impacts of mountain biking, and see the value of sustainable recreation for everyone," community volunteer Roger Dibrito said.

A huge concern for all outdoor enthusiasts is the fact that travel restrictions funnel everyone wanting to use trails into smaller and smaller areas, leading to user conflicts in designated travel areas.

"By pushing us out of the backcountry into the front country, it's only going to be causing user conflicts 'cause we're going to be on trails that before we pretty much tried to avoid on weekends because we could ride where, way back nowhere, where there's no one, but now those trails are all closed," Bitterroot Backcountry Cyclists President Lance Pysher said.

Professionals in the local biking industry say that their customers are trading their bikes in for horses, as horses are far less restricted in the backcountry. They worry that the Travel Plan will reduce their customer base.

"It's definitely not good for business when, you know, 25% of your inventory is chopped off from what it was the year before," Deuvall said.

Trails usually open to backcountry cyclists will most likely be closing within the next couple of months. The biking community has submitted its concerns to the Bitterroot National Forest management, and at this point is just waiting for the official closure of the trails.

Pysher says that they are looking to the 2017 Forest Plan to rally more backcountry recreation groups to voice their concerns over the ultimate management of the whole forest.

He says it's a possible opportunity to build on the Travel Plan, an alternative he says is better than a potential lawsuit against Bitterroot National Forest.

RELATED: Multiyear effort to develop Bitterroot NF Travel Plan nears end

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