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The Cactus Forest Trail debate at Saguaro National Park

Mountain bike group engages National Park Service over trail policy in National Parks.

From International Mountain Bicycling Association

Arizona Map

The Cactus Forest Trail in Saguaro National Park near Tucson closed to bicycle use in April 2002 after more than 10 years of successful shared use. It was the first National Park singletrack open to mountain biking. Now, after months of meetings, legal action and environmental review, the Park Service has initiated a public comment period on its plan to reopen the trail to mountain bicyclists.

The International Mountain Bicycling Association is asking mountain bikers to send comment letters to Saguaro National Park supporting the plan to reopen the Cactus Forest Trail to cyclists. The Cactus Forest Trail opened 11 years ago after a series of public hearings. The trail underwent a formal, one-year trial period revealing no resource damage or significant trail user conflict. The trail has continued to work well for all users, including bicyclists. Mountain bike groups have also provided regular volunteer maintenance on the trail.

IMBA views mountain biking as a National Park solution:

"Mountain bicycling is a sustainable, environmentally sound type of trail use. Trail erosion can be effectively reduced by proper trail construction and maintenance."

  • Bicycling gets people out of their cars, away from congested roads, parking lots and trailheads, and out into the fresh air.
  • Mountain biking improves the quality of park visitor experiences and counters the societal trend toward obesity.
  • Mountain biking on Park Service dirt roads, doubletrack and appropriate trails works well. It hasn't threatened park resources or created significant user conflict.
  • Mountain bicycling is a sustainable, environmentally sound type of trail use. Trail erosion can be effectively reduced by proper trail construction and maintenance.
  • People of all ages enjoy mountain biking.
  • Mountain biking is more than good exercise. It provides an opportunity for nature study and appreciation, and can be enjoyed for a lifetime.

Cactus Forest Trail Closure: Background Information

The Cactus Forest Trail closure was prompted by a letter from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a government watchdog organization that monitors federal agency decisions. PEER contended that the National Park Service didn't comply with its regulations when it opened the trail to bicycle use more than decade ago. PEER pressured the National Park Service to ban bicycle use on the trail until stringent environmental assessment decision-making procedures were completed and concluded that bicycle use is benign. The trail was closed to bicycle use in April 2002, but remained open to hiking and equestrian use.

IMBA took swift action on a variety of fronts. We filed an immediate letter of protest with NPS Director Fran Mainella. We met with deputy NPS Director Randy Jones and associate Intermountain Region Director Mike Snyder. Our Arizona leaders conferred with acting Saguaro National Park director Jim Bellamy and with their U.S. Congressional representatives. IMBA engaged the prominent Washington, DC, law firm Hogan & Hartson, LLC to help us push for immediate administrative relief and also evaluate legal remedies if quick action wasn't taken to reopen the Cactus Forest Trail.

Initially, Saguaro park officials said that the trail might be closed for three years while the issue was studied. However, because of IMBA's response and work by local advocates, an environmental study of the trail was expedited and completed earlier this year. IMBA is determined to maintain reasonable trail access for mountain bikers in National Park units. We are committed to shaping a revised, equitable regulation governing the process of creating National Park bicycling opportunities. We are continuing to work toward a long-term memorandum of understanding with the National Park Service that will support off-road bicycling projects and preserve public land for future generations. Please visit for the latest information.

March 25, 2003

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