In recent years, we've spent a lot of energy on projects close to town: Syringa Park Jumpline, Marshall Mountain Park, and the Wallman Trail re-route among others. While these have been great additions to Missoula's riding options, our current advocacy work on the Lolo Forest Plan Revision has been a timely reminder on the importance of preserving bike access to classic backcountry trails.
We hope you'll agree that few feelings can compare with the satisfaction that comes from a long day of pedaling (and usually pushing) above tree-line in the Northern Rockies. It's that wilderness experience on a bike, at once testing our resolve and affirming our love for getting way, way out there that has informed our official comment on the inventory of lands for possible Wilderness recommendation in the Lolo NF Plan Revision.
Over several months, MTB Missoula's Advocacy Committee honed our position on designated Wilderness and identified areas where we want to see bike access retained. In general, we believe that designated Wilderness is a good thing for conservation and see good options for additional Wilderness Areas on the Lolo NF. We also believe that in many cases, bikes can continue to pass through wild landscapes without causing harm to resources and other visitors.
Our primary areas of concern at this time include:
The Stateline Trail along the Idaho/Montana border and connected trails that form a loop route around Heart Lake in the Great Burn Proposed Wilderness;
The Cube Iron - Silcox Area north of Thompson Falls, and;
The Carlton Ridge and Mill Creek trails on the northern portions of Lolo Peak
At this time, we do not expect trails within the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area to be recommended for Wilderness designation. We're advocating for the use of a number of tools that can allow continued access to these destination-worthy backcountry rides:
Alternative designations to Recommended Wilderness (“RW”), namely "backcountry areas," that would support conservation goals while retaining bike access on approved routes, and;
Thoughtful consideration of RW boundary constructions so that trails located near RW boundaries are omitted from the RW overlay, and;
Establishment of corridors (i.e.“cherry stems”) compatible with additional RW that provide bike access and preserve route connectivity, and;
Cohesive land management policy implementation and enforcement across adjacent national forests to ensure long-distance bike routes remain intact.
We encourage all who value backcountry riding in the Lolo NF to get involved during the planning process. While we're currently in the early stages, a draft assessment will be published later in 2023. This will be a good time for people to supply independent comment. Until then, please take a look at our complete comment submission and enjoy those big days in the high-country!