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Wednesday, 04 February 2009 16:27

How to decide?

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A new rule could make it easier to open up trails in national parks to mountain biking.

Mountain biking isn’t banned in national parks as a matter of course, although it is rare to find parks where it is allowed. Before allowing mountain bikes, a park must undergo an extensive environmental analysis heavily laden with opportunities for public comment.

The rule change would loosen the requirements, allowing what amounts to an “abbreviated analysis,” said Greg Kidd, a representative with the National Parks Conservation Association Asheville office. Needless to say, Kidd’s organization is against any truncation of the process.

“We feel strongly it is important to have the full analysis and that includes public participation and opportunity for the public to weigh in,” Kidd said.

But Kent Cranford, owner of Motion Makers bike shop in Sylva, thinks the current process is so arduous that it is essentially a barrier.

“This new rule change will make that process much easier. Right now it is an ugly process,” Cranford said.

Cranford said the rule change will streamline the process, not totally skirt it.

“My understanding is that it won’t remove any barriers of making sure mountain bikes aren’t going to damage anything. They are still going to have to go through the environmental process and the approval process,” Cranford said. But it wouldn’t be as burdensome, time consuming or costly to the park.

The rule change came at the suggestion of outgoing President Bush, a mountain biker himself, in his final days in office. The proposal could be dead in the water already, however.

“When Obama came in, they put a freeze on all rule changes that had been promulgated by the outgoing administration,” said Bob Miller, spokesperson for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. “At the end of any administration there is a lot of rule making, or changing, as they go out the door. The new administration wants to catch their breath and decide which are in play. There is no telling when this one will move forward.”

A public comment period has been underway for the rule change and will expire Feb. 17.

To read the rule change, go to edocket.access.gpo.gov/2008/E8-29892.htm. To comment, go to www.regulations.gov and use the code 1024-AD72.

— By Becky Johnson

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