Major victory for mountain biking in Missouri: Mountain Biking to be allowed in Ozark National Scenic Riverways

Under a new General Management Plan recently adopted by the National Park Service, the Ozark National Scenic Riverways will, for the first time since its founding in 1964, allow mountain biking on Scenic Riverways trails.

The Ozark National Scenic Riverways includes parts of the Current and Jack's For
The Ozark National Scenic Riverways includes parts of the Current and Jack's Fork Rivers, in south-central Missouri near Eminence.

MoBikeFed, in cooperation with our members and interested groups across the state and the U.S., including the International Mountain Biking Association and the Ozark Trail Association, worked to encourage letters of support for the mountain biking option when the National Park Service released the draft GMP for review last year.  Your input was very helpful, as a large number of comments in the public input section are in favor of mountain biking and the mountain biking provisions were carried through in the final recommendation that was adopted on December 14th.

Your comments also raised the issue of generally bicycle-unfriendly roads through the park and throughout the region, another issue the final GMP addresses.

The Preferred Alternative B, the alternative that was finally adopted by the National Park Service, outlines the new approach to trails and bicycle access in the Riverways:

The location of primitive and natural zoning would increase the amount of hiking trail access compared to current conditions. Approximately 10 miles of park-owned roads and traces in primitive zones would be removed and replaced with hiking trails. When needed, trails would be developed to access some discovery sites. Some of these trails may link to the Ozark Trail. Additional accessible trails would be opened. Mountain biking would be a new, allowable trail use, but only on designated trails, as determined through development of a roads and trails management plan and subsequent rulemaking. Mountain biking would not be allowed in primitive zones. The National Park Service would also support the county, state, and federal highways programs when opportunities arise that could allow widening of road shoulders for bicycle use.

Work remains to be done, because the exact mountain bike access that will be allowed will be determined by the roads and trails management plan that is still under development. 

Mountain bike access may not be appropriate on certain trails for a variety of reasons--for example, mountain biking is generally not allowed in primitive zones and wilderness areas, under federal policy.  In other places, there may be conflicting trail uses or environmental considerations. 

But certainly at the end of this process, the Scenic Riverways will end up with significant mountain bike access on many miles of beautiful, scenic trails where it has not existed before--giving visitors another reason to spend time at the park and providing a significant boost to mountain biking in south-central Missouri.

In addition, the new policy allows the possibility of significant new mountain bike access on the Ozark Trail.  We would like to see a creation of a continuous, through mountain bike route on and along the Ozark Trail, but restrictions on bicycle access by certain land managers along the Ozark Trail--like the Scenic Riverways--has made this difficult or impossible.  Allowing mountain biking in the Scenic Riverways, which carries a segment of the Ozark Trail, helps remove one of the most significant bottlenecks to this effort.

Mountain bike access on the Ozark Trail

Right now, the 390-mile Ozark Trail has just three sections that don't allow mountain biking:

A significant portion of the Current River segment runs through the National Scenic Riverways area, but the remainder of the segment (more than half) is on other land.  So it is unclear whether changes to the ONSR policy could create mountain bike access to the entire Current River segment, or only a portion of it.

But if the Current River segment is opened up for mountain biking, it connects with adjacent Between the Rivers (29 miles) and Eleven Point (29 miles) segments to make an 88-mile connected mountain bike trail through the region.

 

And that would be pretty amazing!

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