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Bill Allowing Bikes In Wilderness Draws Mixed Reactions In Montana

David Nickelson on a handcycle in Glacier Park.
Jacob Frank, National Parks Service
David Nickelson on a handcycle in Glacier Park.

Montana's Representative Greg Gianforte Wednesday voted for a bill that would allow bicycles in wilderness areas. The bill is drawing mixed reactions.

U.S. House Resolution 1349 would allow non-motorized bicycles, strollers, wheelbarrows, game carts and motorized and non-motorized wheelchairs in federally designated wilderness areas. Congressman Greg Gianforte sits on the House Committee on Natural Resources, which narrowly approved it for a full House vote.

But Big Sky Country wilderness advocates say the bill undermines local efforts to find compromise between backcountry users.

John Todd is the conservation director for the Montana Wilderness Association.

"There are very few places in Montana, places like the Bob, or the Selway-Bitterroot, where for 50 years we've made it a habit to leave our technology and our machines at the trailhead and experience these places as if we were the first people to ever set foot there. And that's what our wilderness areas are," Todd says.

Todd adds even national mountain biking groups have come out against the bill.

But some wilderness users, like David Nickelson, say the Wilderness Act would benefit from some clarification about what is considered permissible travel.

"I would like to see that passed in its current form or at least some variant that does make it clear that handcycles or off-road wheelchairs are allowed."

Nickelson, a part-time Whitefish resident, is paralyzed from the waist down and uses a three-wheeled off-road handcycle to access the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Glacier National Park. Wheelchairs are allowed in wilderness areas, but Nickelson says managers often don’t know how to handle some of the newer forms of adaptive recreational transport.

"When it comes to an off-road handcycle, you’re kind of straddling the line because it is sort of half wheelchair, half handcycle."

The bill now moves to the House floor for a vote, no date has been set yet for that. The Senate is also considering legislation that would allow local officials to determine all permitted uses for non-motorized travel.

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