Notice I used the term “Cyclists”…

The next county over from me is in the planning stages of a big recreational trail project. To make it politically viable, there’s something for everyone in it- hikers, bicyclists, ATVers, snowmobilers, cross country skiers, etc.. The plan is ambitious- Over a hundred miles of trails in a county of around five thousand folks. And they’re starting from almost ground zero, with but a couple miles of unconnected trails, some of which cry out for maintenance. So they need to be resourceful, and search out routes that give the maximum trail for their limited funding. One potential route they’re real enthusiastic about is the abandoned roadbed of a U.S. Highway, 7 miles long through a scenic area and in good enough shape that the County Engineer thinks they can clear the weeds and grade it for zero $$$ in their slack time between other jobs.

Before the snow arrived and stuck I motorcycled about the county, checking out the proposed routes from public roads. The abandoned highway route is a gem, and as it appeared to be a legal road and receiving some use I entered it and rode a couple cautious miles, mindful of the occasional potholes and ruts. Get to an intersection, park and look around, and here’s a battered sign from the Nature Conservancy warning that the road I’d just ridden was closed to motor vehicles. So stopped at the library on the way home and researched the matter and found that yes indeed, the Nature Conservancy does own some land there, though it’s hard to tell for sure if they own the abandoned highway. And the Conservancy don’t even allow bicycling on their turf, never mind motorcycles. Not that anyone was there to enforce the Conservancy’s rules or even care- I’ve never seen anyone from the Conservancy there nor does anyone seem to hike their turf. From all appearances, the Conservancy bought the land and forgot about it.

For experienced motorcyclists, being treated like Lepers by the environmental movement is nothing new. Like many motorcyclists, I’ve been an REI member for decades. And despite all the money we’d spent at REI, seems we never saw a motorcycle in REI catalogs, but plenty of SUVs. Turns out that REI management is allied with the Sierra Club, and the Sierra club was in some legal battle with off-road motorcyclists a few decades ago over whether they should be allowed to ride in the desert, and the Sierra Club/REI had stereotyped all motorcyclists as mad destroyers of the wilderness. Heck, I never realized my 24 cubic inch Yamaha RD400 street bike was capable of such things! There was some nasty stereotyping in the motorcyclists camp too- Bought an aftermarket motorcycle shock and in the package was a hateful anti-environmentalist and anti-gay screed. Haven’t done any business with that supplier since, and I haven’t joined the Sierra Club either.

In recent months I’ve written a few blogs critical of the sloppiness of the oil biz and sleazy frac sand mining in particular. Some of those blogs have been picked up by environmental activists and posted to their various blogs, forums, etc.. I’ve got no problem with that, and if the oil industry sees something in my blogging that helps their argument, they’re welcome to it also.

But I’m not rushing over and joining the Sierra Club, Conservancy, NRDC, etc. for good reason- they don’t like motorcycling, and if you read their websites a bit you quickly figure out that they think we should stay home in a tiny urban condo and limit our explorations to the service area of the local transit system. Except for their club outings, which often seem to involve the use of an SUV to get to the distant trailhead. Meanwhile we motorcyclists use little fuel nor parking space nor raw materials, use little energy as we spend the evening around the campfire and then retire to our tents… And the greens think we’re the environmental evildoers?

Now sand trucks endangering our safety with their spilled loads in corners and ruining the beauty and tranquility of motorcycle meccas like the Great River Road is a legitimate motorcyclist’s issue. That alone is enough to oppose the current frac sand follies playing out on our beautiful river valley roads. And I have no doubt that the environmental movement will try to co-opt motorcyclists just as they have farmers, ranchers, and river town residents to use as pawns in their plan to plug the oil supply in the name of maybe slowing global warming and force us into their their proscribed rather geographically limited lifestyle. Sorry, we’re not going to park our bikes.

There is a model for cooperation between the environmental organizations and motorcyclists though, the Blue Green Coalition, made up of several major labor unions and environmental organizations. It hasn’t been all sweetness and light between the greens and labor, what with the greens delaying pipeline projects that will put union members back to work. But the cooperation has increasingly been a two way street, with environmental groups joining labor in fighting for the rights of workers to unionize.

Imagine a press conference at a scenic park near Sturgis, the parking lot full of motorcycles, and representatives of every major environmental group and  motorcycle group and manufacturer in attendance. The hatchets are buried for good, the riders promise to ride on designated trails and roads, the manufacturers commit to reduce emissions and energy consumption, and the environmentalists agree to promote motorcycling as a minimal impact method of exploring the outdoors. It could happen…

And Nature Conservancy, lets talk about that chunk of abandoned U.S. 59 on your Hole in the Mountain property. It’s been abandoned for a half century now and it’s not disappearing… Can we maybe ride our bicycles on it and give the preserve some activity for a change?