For over a decade, cyclists have volunteered countless stewardship hours across miles of trails in the Henry's Lake Mountains near West Yellowstone, aka the Lionhead. This range is special to regional cyclists, and its conservation is paramount to us here at the Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Association (SWMMBA).

Through a unique partnership with the Gallatin Valley Backcountry Horsemen and the United States Forest Service, cyclists have cleared trail, improved tread and offset erosion throughout the area. This partnership benefits hikers, cyclists and equestrians, improving sustainability, further conserving and protecting vital natural resources and offsetting Forest Service trail-maintenance schedules, all while fostering responsible enjoyment for all users.

Now, as the Custer Gallatin National Forest (CGNF) undergoes a Forest Plan Revision, responsible bike access is at stake. For years the Lionhead has been managed successfully and simultaneously for both mountain-bike access and to retain its wilderness character as a Recommended Wilderness Area (RWA). Going forward, the CGNF could continue identifying the Lionhead as a RWA in the final plan decision, which would now exclude cyclists under the false premise of “maintain[ing] the wilderness character of the area.” Since the wild character and cyclists have coexisted for more than a decade, mountain bikes and wild character are not mutually exclusive. Therefore, removal of cycling would serve only to exclude some of the area’s most devout conservationists.

SWMMBA has a recommendation of our own, and the broader active outdoor recreation community has endorsed it. Instead of removing cyclists, manage the Lionhead as a backcountry area, an official designation with a high level of resource protection, and one that maintains character without removing well-documented and sustainable access for cyclists.

Ian Jones

President, Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Association