A grant has been submitted to the Paul S. Sarbanes Transit in Park Program to create an alternate entrance for cyclists and pedestrians into Arches National Park. [Courtesy Arches National Park]

A National Park Service rule was passed in August 2012 to increase cycling within national parks.

Ashley Korenblat, owner of Western Spirit Cycling, worked on the proposal that pushed for the national park rule. The International Mountain Bicycling Association, of which she served as president for a period of time, began proposing increasing bicycle use within national parks twenty years ago.

“The average amount of time spent in the parks is less and less. And the amount of time spent out of their cars is even smaller,” Korenblat said. “There’s an opportunity for bicycles to be a key part of the mission of the park service. By providing appropriate bicycle opportunities we can get more people out of their cars and enjoying the park.”

The new rule authorizes park superintendents to open existing trails to bicycle use within parks without having to go through park service bureaucracy.

However, that does not mean you will see bikes on hiking trails, said Paul Henderson, the assistant superintendent of Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

“With Arches exceeding a million visitors a year, having hikers and bikes share those trails would be disastrous,” Henderson said. “We have not undertaken any plans to open foot trails to bicycles.”

The new ruling specifies allowing cyclists to use service roads that may now be closed to the public.

“The idea is to get the benefits of bicycling, without hurting the resources and getting more people out their cars,” Korenblat said.

Korenblat said that Canyonlands National Park is already a good example of incorporating bicycling into the park experience.

Her company, Western Spirit Cycling, regularly takes mountain bikers to the White Rim Trail in the Island in the Sky District twice a week, each week during the spring and fall months. And, she said, there are four other bicycling tour companies that are doing the same.

“People come from all over the world to ride their bike in Canyonlands,” she said.

While she doesn’t foresee many changes in Arches or Canyonlands, she does believe the rule would affect other park units that don’t currently have off-pavement bicycling trails.

She cited Bryce National Park as an example. Western Spirit Cycling provides cycling tours on the periphery of the park, but once they get to the national park’s boundary, everyone needs to load into the van.

“Instead we could be using an old service road thereby eliminating some of the traffic going into the park,” Korenblat said. “That’s the kind of example where we can use this rule change. We could use existing dirt roads and not have to build a massive amount of new infrastructure.”

The new national park rule doesn’t specify only mountain biking. There may be opportunities to increase road bikes within national parks as well.

With the completion of the transit hub and pedestrian tunnel now being built at the junction of Highway 191 and State Route 128, bicyclists will be able to ride from Moab to Highway 313 ten miles north of town without ever having to cross a road.

This provides safe access for cyclists from Moab to two national parks and one state park.

Kim Schappert of Moab Trails Alliance wrote the grants that are funding the construction of the transit hub and pedestrian bridge, as well as the ten miles of paved bicycle trails now in place that extend from the Colorado River Pedestrian Bridge past Arches National Park through Moab Canyon to State Route 313. Bicycle lanes are now in place on State Route 313, which leads to Dead Horse State Park and the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park.

The grants for the transit hub, pedestrian tunnel and paved bicycle trails were funded through the Paul S. Sarbanes Transit in Parks Program. Congress set money aside through this program specifically for alternative transportation projects. It does not take money away from federal or state highway or road projects. It is intended to provide money for alternative transportation projects that connect communities to public lands.

Henderson said that cyclists now ride on the pavement within Arches National Park.

“In Arches we see road biking, but going up the switchbacks is arduous,” Henderson said of the steep incline immediately past the park’s entrance.

However, he said, it can be dangerous for cyclists to share the road with cars and tour busses when the tourist season is in full bore, as there are no bicycles and not much of a shoulder.

Schappert said the transit hub now being built may relieve some of the congestion within the park, making it safer cyclists who may want to ride in Arches. One of the hopes of the transit hub now under construction is to increase the use of shuttles to the national parks, to trail heads and to various recreational opportunities north of Moab.

Todd Johnson, a transportation scholar now working at Arches, recently submitted a $150,000 grant to the Paul S. Sarbanes Transit in Park Program to create an alternate entrance to Arches for cyclists and pedestrians.

Cyclists and pedestrians now have to share the same entrance as cars and tour buses. As there is no shoulder or bike lane now in place, it can be dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians trying to enter the park when traffic is high.

While Johnson doesn’t necessarily foresee a high number of cyclists and pedestrians making full use of the park, due to no bicycle lanes or safe shoulder, he does think that cyclists or pedestrians now using the bike path would be able to safely enter the park to rest and tour the visitor’s center.

Schappert also pointed out that additional mountain biking trails within national parks may serve a financial purpose.

“Dead Horse State Park had done a great job in increasing revenue by building the Intrepid Trail System,” Schappert said.

The Intrepid Trail System was built in 2009 and provides three mountain biking trails.

“They have been cutting funding for all these places that we love,” Schappert said. “If we have to be creative to support (parks), if a mountain bike trail can increase revenue for the park without damaging the resources, this may be one of the answers.”