WASHINGTON - The Bush administration plans to make it easier for mountain bikers to gain access to national parks and other public lands before the president — an avid cyclist himself — leaves office.
The National Park Service confirmed Tuesday that it is preparing a rule that will allow decisions about some mountain bike trails to be made by park managers instead of federal regulators in Washington, a process that can take years.
A park service spokesman said the rule would be proposed no later than Nov. 15 so it could be final before Bush leaves office. If adopted, the proposal would likely result in more mountain biking opportunities on public lands.
Currently, the Park Service has to adopt a special regulation to open up trails to mountain bikes, which requires the public to be formally notified. The same process is required for all-terrain vehicles and other motorized recreation on park lands.
"We are trying to give superintendents a little bit of latitude especially for non-controversial proposals for bicycling in parks," said Jeffrey Olson, a spokesman for the service. "We are responding to public demand."
Environmental advocate Jeff Ruch called the rule a lame-duck gift for the mountain biking lobby from the "Mountain-Biker-in-Chief," referring to Bush.
Ruch, executive director of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said the proposal would open up backcountry trails to mountain bikers. Mountain bikers are blamed for erosion of trails and trampling native plants. They also disturb other park users, such as hikers, birders and horseback riders.
During his tenure as president, Bush has embraced mountain biking as a low-impact alternative to running, which is hard on his knees. The president — who has a blue and white Trek bicycle dubbed Mountain Bike One — often rides on his ranch in Crawford, Tex. and in the Washington, D.C. area. He also has received several mountain bikes from companies like Cannondale and Trek.
The International Mountain Biking Association, which is supported by some of the same companies that gave Bush bikes, said Tuesday it didn't believe the timing of the rule had anything to do with the president's penchant for pedaling.
"It is extraneous to this (rule) that the president has interest in mountain biking. I don't think that has been an influencer in this case," said Mark Eller, communications director for the group, which has been lobbying to change the rules since the early 1990s.
About 30 properties managed by the National Park Service include trails approved for mountain bikes now, he said.
A calendar for Lyle Laverty, the Interior Department's Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks also shows that the mountain bike rule is one the administration's remaining priorities.
In April 2006, after a 65-minute ride through Napa County wine country on Earth Day, the president told an AP reporter: "We're able to enjoy the beauty without really disrupting pristine nature of the place. It's a classic way for mankind to enjoy God's gift."