Missouri Department of Conservation proposes massive increase in bicycle accessibility in Missouri conservation areas totaling 1 million acres - your public comment needed!

UPDATE: Initial success! Due to a large amount of interest in including e-bikes in this proposed regulation, even before the public comment period had formally opened, the Missouri Department of Conservation staff has withdrawn the proposed regulation and is re-writing it to include e-bike access.

For that reason, the March public comment period has been withdrawn.  Instead, MDC staff is working to update the proposed regulation. It will be presented to the MDC Commission again in August 2021 and then the public comment period will be in October 2021. If approved, the regulation will take effect March 1, 2022.

The MDC press release reads:

The proposed regulation initially approved by the Commission did not include the allowance of electric bicycles. MDC staff are now exploring amending this regulation to include the use of certain classes of electric bicycles, also known as e-bikes. The use of motorized vehicles, including electric bicycles, is currently not allowed on conservation-area multi-use trails and service roads.

MoBikeFed and other groups have asked to be able to provide feedback to the proposed new regulation prior to submission to the Commission in August, so that technical details are correct and further delays in implementation can be avoided.

The Missouri Department of Conservation is proposing to vastly increase bicycle access at conservation areas across Missouri.  The proposal is to allow bicycle access on most service roads in the more than 1000 Conservation areas across Missouri.

MDC proposes improving bicycle access to million acres of Missouri CAs
MDC proposes improving bicycle access to million acres of beautiful Missouri Conservation Areas like this one. Your comment in support will help ensure this positive change is approved.

Currently, bicycling in Missouri's Conservation Areas is allowed only on roads open to motor vehicles and a few additional multi-use paths.  This change will open up many hundreds of miles of bicycle access in literally thousands of natural areas all across Missouri.

MDC is inviting public comment on this proposed change March 2nd through March 31st, 2021.  If you support t his proposed change, please submit a public comment to MDC indicating your support.

Missouri has more than 1000 conservation areas, located in every county in Missouri, totaling 975,000 acres.  So improving bicycle access to these natural areas has the potential to have a large positive impact all around Missouri.

Sample public comment

* State your name and where you live.

I strongly support the Missouri Department of Conservation's proposed rule change to allow greater bicycle access on service roads in Missouri Conservation areas. This change will allow greater public access to Missouri Conservation areas and encourage a wider variety of citizens to access our publicy-funded Conservation areas, while also preserving the environment, wildlife, and natural beauty of these areas.

* If you like, include a couple of sentences indicating why bicycle access to natural areas is important to you personally

* Sign with your name and city.

Additional points you can make in your comment:

 * Greater access for people with disabilities and older citizens. Adding bicycle access opens up Conservation Areas to access by a wider variety of citizens, especially including older Missourians, those with disabilities, and people who simply can't walk for long distances.

 * Ensure access by people with all levels of ability and disability by ensuring that all types of bicycles are allowed.
Missouri State Parks has created an excellent model for access by citizens with all levels of ability and disability in its regulations regarding usage of trails. State Parks' definition of "bicycle," for example, is carefully crafted to include all types of pedal-propelled vehicles, including (for example) tricycles, which are more often used by adults with disabilities and balance issues. MDC should follow State Parks' lead here.

 * Change the proposed rule to allow Class 1 eBikes to access trails, as well. The currently proposed rules allows human-powered bicycles only.  However, Missouri State Parks and many parks departments and trails owners around Missouri and the U.S. have allowed Class 1 eBikes on trails alongside traditional human-powered bicycles. Class 1 eBikes require the rider to pedal at all times and give the rider a power boost, but only when pedaling. Experience on the Katy Trail and other Missouri State Parks shows that Class 1 eBikes blend in well with other bicycles.  Allowing eBike access opens up bicycle access to a wide array of citizens who can't access parks, trails, and natural areas by walking or by un-assisted bicycling.  This includes many citizens who are older or disabled in various ways.  Missouri has seen a recent, large upswing in usage of eBikes--and one reason is because they open up access of trails and natural areas to a large swath of the population who have never before been able to enjoy them.

    - More about the three classes of eBikes and eBike laws around the U.S.

    - Missouri State Parks Katy Trail usage regulations and general parks regulations, which includes this rule:

(26) Use of Pedal-Powered or Electrically Assisted Pedal-Powered Vehicles. To facilitate accessibility to the public, the use of pedal powered and electrically assisted pedal-powered vehicles is permitted on all trails designated for bicycle use.

 * Bicycle access provides greater access to Conservation Areas by all Missourians. Increasing access by bicycle and eBike allows hunters and fishers greater access to hunting and fishing on Conservation Areas.  But in addition, adding these modes increases access to Conservation Areas by the majority of Missouri citizens who fund Conservation Areas through their tax dollars but do not hunt or fish.  We know that access to natural areas is vital to mental and physical health, and improving access to natural areas for all citizens and all those who fund Conservation Areas through their tax dollars is an important positive outcome of this proposal.

Details about the proposal to improve bicycle access to Missouri Conservation Areas

The Missouri Department of Conservation press release has more details about the proposed changes:

The Missouri Conservation Commission gave initial approval to the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) at its Jan. 22 open meeting on a proposed change to Wildlife Code of Missouri regulations that would allow the expanded use of bicycles on many department-area service roads.

“Many of our conservation-area users have expressed interest in allowing bicycles on service roads for greater access to the areas,” said MDC Deputy Director and Chair of the Regulations Committee Mike Hubbard. “Opening service roads to bicycles will provide greater opportunities for cyclists – and also hunters, anglers, and wildlife watchers -- wanting to access more of their conservation areas.”

Bicycle use on MDC’s approximately 1,000 conservation areas is currently restricted to roads open to public-vehicle traffic and some multi-use trails. This regulation change would expand bicycle access to include most service roads on MDC areas. The proposed change does not apply to electric or other motorized bicycles, which would not be allowed.

Service roads are non-public roads on MDC areas used by staff to conduct resource management activities. They are listed on conservation area maps at areas and on the MDC website. Some service roads are currently used as walking paths by the public. MDC notes that conditions of service roads on department areas vary greatly and are not maintained at the level of public multi-use bicycle trails and public roads.

Exceptions would be service roads on waterfowl-hunting areas during hunting seasons and other MDC areas that are closed to other activities during hunting seasons. Exceptions would also include area-access roads used by staff at fish hatcheries and other MDC areas where bicycle use could be unsafe or cause damage such as erosion.  

MDC invites public comment on the regulation changes March 2-31 online at mdc.mo.gov/about-regulations/wildlife-code-missouri/proposed-regulation-changes and by mail to: Regulations Committee Chairman, Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180.

MDC will then review all comments received and present a final proposal for a final vote by the Commission during its May 21 public meeting. If approved, the regulation change will become effective March 1, 2022.

Working for greater access for bicycling around Missouri is one of the major goals of the Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation's Vision for Bicycling and Walking in Missouri. Improving bicycle access in Missouri Conservation areas--which currently number over 1000 and are located in every county in Missouri--will be a major step forward in that effort.

Your membership and generous financial support helps turn our Vision into reality!