Neil Kornze came to the right place to talk about mountain biking.
The national director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was in Moab last week to announce a major initiative between his agency and the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA): a new website that showcases thousands of mountain biking trails on BLM lands.
The website www.blm.gov/mountainbike, which hooks into IMBA’s website, offers detailed maps and photos of trail areas, along with directions and basic information about each site. It also profiles the 20 most popular mountain biking trails across the country, including the Moab Brand, Captain Ahab and Klondike Bluff trail systems near Moab.
IMBA Mapping Manager Leslie Kehmeier said the months-in-the-works project builds on her organization’s past work with the agency.
“We have a great partnership with the Bureau of Land Management … and we’ve gotten to do some really cool things, like design and build trails,” she said.
Despite the BLM’s longtime involvement in trail-building projects, Kornze acknowledged that recreationists’ perceptions about the agency’s role in public lands management might be somewhat limited.
“The Bureau of Land Management is known for a lot of things, but we are not known well enough for our recreational opportunities,” he told attendees at Outerbike’s fall demo event at the Bar-M. “And there are few places in this country that are as spectacular as this.”
In Utah, the agency manages about 23 million acres, and Kornze said there’s a good chance that recreationists have set foot on BLM lands at one point or another.
“Very often, when you are out mountain biking and ripping it up, you’re on public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management,” he said.
The new website allows visitors to find once-obscure trail systems far beyond Moab, such as Sandy Ridge in Oregon, which was developed on an old Forest Service road that few people were using until recently.
“We went from having less than maybe a random hundred people walking through this parcel on a yearly basis … now, about three years later, we have 100,000 people a year using these trails,” Kornze said.
The site is modeled on a similar BLM website that promotes the National Conservation Lands system, which includes 31 million acres of national monuments, national conservation areas, wilderness areas, historic sites and other attractions.
As the BLM’s recreation team members worked on that site, Kornze asked them if they could do something similar to promote mountain biking and other outdoor activities. The BLM’s main website logs some 5 million visits a year, and by Kornze’s estimates, some 90,000 web pages lie behind it. With so much information out there, Kornze said he often struggled as a citizen to find things online.
In the nine months that followed, web designers pored over detailed GIS work to ensure that data layers on the website are accurate and up to date, and now that it’s online, they’re moving on to other projects.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg of what we’re going to do,” he said.
Kornze told the Moab Sun News that the agency’s next recreation-themed website will likely highlight climbing areas on BLM lands, although he said that plans for that project are not set in stone at this point.
Off the web and on the ground, IMBA and the BLM are now working with the City of Caliente, Nevada, to develop a mountain bike trail system that could help diversify that town’s economy.
“It’s a great example of a town that’s looking for new avenues for economic growth,” he said.
Lest anyone dismiss him as a recreation-focused administrator, it’s worth noting that Kornze has serious cred as someone who is well-acquainted with the concept of multiple-use management.
Kornze – the youngest BLM director in the agency’s history – grew up in Elko, Nevada, just up the road from the famed gold mines along the Carlin Trend, and he has a unique personal connection to the area. The letters “ze” in Barrick Gold Corporation’s world-famous Betze Mine were tacked on to honor his father, a geologist who helped discover a massive, 40-million-ounce gold deposit northwest of Elko.
While the surrounding area is perhaps best known as a gold mining and cattle ranching hub, the city’s location near the Ruby Mountains and the Jarbidge Wilderness makes it a prime spot for outdoor recreation. Throughout his childhood, Kornze and his family ventured off into Elko County’s public lands to go hunting, fishing and mountain biking.
As the head of the BLM, he’s currently based in the decidedly less-outdoorsy burg of Washington, D.C., so he said he relishes the chance to get out of the office and into the field, and his recent travel itinerary confirms those preferences.
Before he arrived at Outerbike, Kornze spent the previous day visiting the Indian Creek area in San Juan County, dropping by Newspaper Rock, The Nature Conservancy’s Dugout Ranch and the Supercrack of the Desert climbing area. The next morning, he toured BLM camp sites along the Colorado River, and he even found time to ride two loops around the Bar-M, where he test-rode an e-bike.
“These are the best days for me: Getting out on the public lands and seeing people enjoy recreational access in a responsible way,” he said.
Kornze gave a shout out to Grand County Trail Mix, the Moab Trails Alliance and others for their work to develop 150 miles of new singletrack in the last few years, helping to fuel a resurgence in mountain biking around Moab.
“They can do a lot with a little,” he said of Trail Mix. “They’re spectacular.”
He also credited former IMBA board chair and Outerbike organizer Ashley Korenblat for her involvement in public lands issues.
“This is one amazing woman,” he said.
Korenblat returned the compliment by inviting Kornze to her house for dinner, where they talked about the rise of e-bikes, and how the agency can address questions about managing their use on public lands.
“It’s great to know that as we work through this and other challenges, we’re all going to be communicating,” she said.
IMBA and the mountain biking community have always enjoyed strong partnerships with the agency, Korenblat said. But she said she believes that relationship reached new heights under Kornze’s leadership.
“It’s never been at quite this high of a level,” she said.
Just after Kornze’s speech to Outerbikers, Moab Trails Alliance Executive Director Kim Schappert pulled him aside to talk about mountain biking. She said she found it refreshing that he did not talk about the need to balance trail development with oil and gas development – a common refrain she hears from other public land managers.
“I thought that he was a breath of fresh air, and I loved his energy,” Schappert said.
The fact that he came to Outerbike to announce the new website suggests that Moab’s recreation industry is on the right track, Schappert said.
“It was a really good reinforcement of what we’ve worked so hard to do here with mountain bike trail development,” she said.
Kornze said there’s still more work to be done, and he urged Outerbikers to challenge the BLM to follow through on that work.
“You are out on BLM public land. You are loving it and using it every day,” he said. “Make sure that we’re talking to you, and that we’re serving your needs as a recreation community.”
Agency launches new website that showcases bike trails on public lands
You are out on BLM public land. You are loving it and using it every day … Make sure that we’re talking to you, and that we’re serving your needs as a recreation community.