Bicycling Banned on Federal Tract of Champion Land

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(Host) The federal government has banned bicycles on its portion of the Champion timberlands in the Northeast Kingdom. The decision has upset some local cycling enthusiasts, as VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The federal government owns 26,000 acres of the 133,000 acres that used to belong to the Champion timber company. The federal land is part of the Conte National Wildlife Refuge. It includes about 40 miles of gravel road that cars can use and another 17 miles of trails and logging roads that are open to hikers. In the winter, snowmobiles are also allowed to crisscross the federal property.

But bicyclists are not allowed. That’s according to a final management plan released by federal officials. John Worth is an owner of East Burke Sports in East Burke. He says bikes and the few logging trucks that use the area should be able to share the roads safely:

(Worth) “These roads are really, they’re wide; they’re quiet. It just doesn t make any sense. I can’t imagine that bicycles would be an issue more than cars would for a logging truck.”

(Dillon) Conte Manager Beth Goettel says bikes were not a traditional use in the area. She says Champion didn’t allow cyclists, either. And she argues that the bicyclists could scare wildlife:

(Goettel) “We manage the lands for wildlife first. And then, unlike the National Park Service, which is managing the land for people, we allow recreation uses if they’re compatible and if they’re not going to disturb anything and if they’re safe.”

(Dillon) Worth says bikes are allowed on the former Champion property that’s now owned by the state and a private timber company. He says he can’t believe bikes pose a threat to wildlife.

(Worth) “I just think that is a really weak argument. C’mon…. There’s just no way a motor vehicle is less obtrusive to wildlife than a bicycle. There is no way. I ride my bike all the time and I drive my pickup truck around all the time. And I see a lot more wildlife on my bicycle. And how many moose were killed in Vermont by bicycles last year?”

(Dillon) An organization called Kingdom Trails attended the public hearings on the refuge plans and advocated for cyclists to use the area. But refuge managers say the next plan won’t be drafted until 2004, so the cycling enthusiasts will probably have to wait before they can pedal through the wildlife refuge.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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