Boundary Adjustments and Corridors as a means of addressing the bicycling/wilderness conflict

Proposals for new Wilderness designations always face opposition from conflicting or competing interests for human uses of the land. In some cases, the competing use is near the edge of the proposed Wilderness, so Wilderness advocates accept a compromise that re-draws the Wilderness boundary inward, to exclude  the incompatible use. This boundary adjustment method has worked at times for wilderness and bicycling, when boundaries were drawn parallel to, but not including, a good biking trail.

The primary problem with boundary adjustments as a solution is that they inherently protect less land. Another problem is convoluted boundary shapes, which may be difficult to administer and enforce.  For Wilderness advocates and bicycling, this solution only works when the desirable trails do not cut through the middle  of the proposed Wilderness, but rather skirt an edge.

A potentially more flexible approach, which also protects more land, is the delineation of non-Wilderness trail corridors within a Wilderness. The law can read something like, "The land within 200 feet on either side of the Fabulous Beautiful Trail shall not be designated Wilderness to allow bicycling, as depicted on a map  named 'Great Wilderness' dated June 4, 2020."

However, the corridor approach raises a significant resource problem. Many trails on public land have segments with poor alignments that make them prone to erosion by water. We should re-route these trail segments to a sustainable design, while re-vegetating the original trail corridor. But if Congress has already drawn a map and fixed a Wilderness boundary, and the re-routed segments happen to cross the boundary, then bicycles on those re-routes would be illegal.

So a clause should be added, something like: "provided, that if the Secretary determines that the trail shall be changed to a different alignment, the boundary of the Fabulous Beautiful Trail Corridor shall follow the new alignment, running 200 feet on either side." ("Secretary," meaning the U.S. Secretary of Interior or Secretary of Agriculture, who have delegated management authority to the National Park Service, BLM, US Forest Service, and other land agencies.)

The corridors approach may never have been used on federal land. There are some situations where Wilderness boundaries are somewhat like a non-Wilderness trail corridor, as when two different Wilderness areas are separated by a non-Wilderness trail (more likely a road). But probably the U.S. Congress has never stipulated a fixed-width non-Wilderness corridor through a Wilderness unit.

For cyclists, designation of some non-Wilderness trail corridors would be a step in the right direction, but they do not address the primary problem: our second-class status. The ban on bicycling in Wilderness has poor legal, political, and legal and scientific foundations and should be eliminated.