In August 2009, the Montana Mountain Bike Alliance hosted its second annual backcountry festival in the tiny town of Lima, population 250. Roughly 150 cyclists from across the region showed up to trek along singletrack in the Lima Peaks by day and party by night. The MMBA brought in a band. Bikers sponsored a spaghetti dinner, even rented local buses for shuttles. All told, the event raised nearly $1,000 for Lima’s assisted living center. Locals thanked the MMBA for the biggest economic boost in Lima in a decade.
Bob Allen, MMBA’s co-president, told the story to members of the Blackfoot Challenge during a recent meeting at the Lubrecht forestry center. It’s a prime example, he said, of the kind of contribution mountain bikers bring to small communities in Montana. It’s also a prime example of why the MMBA wants to see a portion of the Scapegoat wilderness addition boundary contained in Sen. Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act altered. Mountain bikers have lost access to hundreds of miles of trails across Montana and Idaho in recent years, partly due to a new Forest Service philosophy banning bicycles in certain areas that could theoretically be designated wilderness. Allen is drawing the line in the Scapegoat.
“Cyclists support over 600,000 acres [of wilderness] in Tester’s bill,” Allen said. “The remaining 2 percent are places that we still want to talk about subtle adjustments, different ways to protect it. The Blackfoot landscape is one of those 2 percent.”
Allen went on to highlight a series of loop trails in the Monture Creek area of the Blackfoot watershed accessed via the Lake Creek trailhead. If the current FJRA wilderness boundaries pass, the Lake Creek trail will be cut in half, blocking bikers from trails they’ve ridden and maintained for 20 years. MMBA’s solution appears simple on paper: Expand the existing Otatsy Recreation Management Area to include those trails, and insert language into the FJRA allowing local Forest Service officials to explore replacement trail opportunities. The group had some success getting Sen. Max Baucus to include similar language in his Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act. Allen feels bikers just didn't have a strong voice in the FJRA discussion.
“If this bill passes,” Allen said, “it prevents bikes from going any farther up that [Lake Creek] drainage. So as it stands now, we have a motorized snowmobile play area...up the drainage that bicyclists will not be able to access because of the boundary in this bill.”
Allen added that he raised these concerns with Tester directly during a meeting in Washington, D.C., but the senator suggested that such a wilderness boundary adjustment should come from the broader community. He then shifted the discussion back around to Lima. In 2010, the town begged MMBA to host another festival. Allen had to decline. The 2009 Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest Plan had closed the Lima Peaks trails to mountain bikers.
Note: This story was updated Monday afternoon.