MISSOULA — Bicyclists will have a seat at the table when the National Park Service does its transportation planning in the future.
A five-year agreement reached between the Park Service and Missoula-based Adventure Cycling Association should help park supervisors plan for bike tours, consider better road designs and include other features that appeal to tourists on bikes, according to NPS spokesman Alan Turnbull.
While it doesn’t provide any funding or construction action yet, it should ensure that future park travel plans don’t omit biking opportunities.
“There’ve been a lot of studies showing the economic impact of bike tourism in national parks,” Turnbull said. “If the Park Service was a business operator, which it’s not, it would still look at bicyclists as: ‘They come in, spend money and exert very little wear-and-tear on the park.’ It’s a win-win.”
Adventure Cycling will share details of its extensive bike-route development activity and best-use practices with the National Park Service, according to spokeswoman Winona Bateman. The 46,000-member association organizes more than 70 bike tours a year and provides maps and route information to bike adventurers.
“You can draw a line on the map, but you must also make sure roads are suitable for bicyclists, look at the traffic volume, what the shoulders are like. We’ve developed a community process with volunteers and state departments of transportation that vet different roads. We’re developing a national corridor plan for the United States that shows where routes should go. Then we work to get buy-in from the people who want the routes to traverse their community.”
The National Park Service manages 400 parks, monuments, landmarks and other properties. Some, such as Canyonlands National Park in Utah, have extensive trail networks that attract tourists specifically for biking opportunities. Glacier National Park, by contrast, is popular with bikers in its spring and fall shoulder seasons but is difficult to cycle when the mid-summer car traffic dominates Going-to-the-Sun Road.
The agreement will promote user etiquette and safety while providing well-managed recreation and tourism opportunities, according to Bateman. It also preserves the National Park Service’s authority to determine where and when bicycling is appropriate on park lands.
Turnbull said similar agreements have helped mountain bikers, backcountry horse riders and other recreation interest groups get their needs and suggestions heard in the national park system. He called it a “tool of diplomacy” that improved the Park Service’s understanding of its visitors’ interests.
“It’s not a work plan – it doesn’t add bike lanes,” Turnbull said of the agreement. “It says here’s an opportunity for the Park Service to benefit from the knowledge of a highly competent national organization. And it says to the cycling world: We appreciate your willingness to work through the many issues the National Park Service has to balance.”
“This agreement could not come at a better time,” said Adventure Cycling Association executive director Jim Sayer. “Bicycle tourism is surging in America and around the planet. Bike networks are being developed at a rapid pace. It’s important that the National Park Service is a key player in this effort to make biking safer and more enjoyable, especially in our national parks.”