‘No evidence’ shared use of trails would hurt forest area, says Forest Service

“There is no evidence that bike use of the area would degrade the trails at all and certainly to the point in which wilderness designation would be improbable.”

That’s part of the Allegheny National Forest’s environmental assessment on a mountain biking proposal for Tracy Ridge.

Responding to the comments raised during the scoping phase of the project is part of the EA the Forest Services released this week to those who commented on the project.

Officials acknowledge that commenters expressed concern about the suitability of Tracy Ridge for a wilderness designation if mountain bikes are permitted.

However, they write that “it is not clear how shared use trails in the Tracy Ridge area would disqualify the area for wilderness designation… Any impacts related to solitude and primitive recreation would immediately disappear upon designation of the area as wilderness by Congress. There is no evidence that shared use would degrade any of the ‘special features’ identified for the area – including mature forest, wildlife and historic sides.

“Furthermore, evidence suggests that Congress will designate Wilderness despite the presence of trails that allow bikes. For example, in 2015, the Boulder-White Cloud Wilderness was designated by Congress. Within the new Wilderness, more than 50 miles of trails previously open to bikes were closed to bikes. In this case, the presence of shared use trails did not limit the area’s designation as wilderness.

“Overall, no evidence was provided during public scoping that shared-use trails at Tracy Ridge will adversely impact any future wilderness considerations for the area.”

Officials also responded to a “number of comment(s)” that stated that Tracy Ridge should be designated wilderness.

“These comments are outside of the scope of the project,” officials wrote. “Only Congress can designate wilderness. While the Forest Service can designate an area as a wilderness study area (WSA), there is some discretion that comes with that designation.

“As stated in the Allegheny National Forest Management Plan, the decision was made by the Regional Forester to not include Tracy Ridge as a WSA.”

Other comments argued that a wilderness designation would be more difficult if bikes were permitted.

“This statement is conjectural,” officials wrote in the assessment. “Ultimately, only Congress can designate wilderness and it is conjectural to state that allowing bikes on Tracy Ridge trails will impact the area’s potential for wilderness designation.”

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