January 21, 2022

Lawmakers roll out bipartisan public land bike bill

A bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers will soon introduce legislation to promote long-distance biking on federal lands.

The bill — named the "Biking On Long-Distance Trails (BOLT) Act" — is just the latest legislative proposal in the 117th Congress aimed at creating new opportunities to engage in outdoor recreation while also invigorating the outdoor recreation economy.

“Colorado’s outdoor recreation economy drives our mountain Main Streets, bringing travelers from across the globe to see the national treasures and precious public spaces that we’re lucky to call home,” Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), chair of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands and the lead House sponsor of the new bill, said in a statement.

“As Chair of the Subcommittee … boosting our state’s outdoor recreation industry is a key component of our legislative agenda,” Neguse continued. “The [BOLT] Act furthers our work on this front.”

The legislation, shared first with E&E News, would direct the Interior and Agriculture departments to identify not fewer than 10 long-distance bike trails and not fewer than 10 areas in which there is an opportunity to develop or complete such new trails, on federal or National Forest System land.

The bill would define a long-distance bike trail as a “continuous route consisting of 1 or more trails” that is not less than 80 miles in length, and calls for Interior and USDA to “make use of existing trails and roads … to the maximum extent practicable.”

Once created, the two agencies would be given the latitude to publish and distribute maps, put up signage, and share promotional materials relating to the new trails.

For accountability and transparency purposes, each agency would be expected to consult with “stakeholders” about the feasibility of completing a new trail on government property. Each would also be required to submit a report no more than two years after the date of enactment of the bill regarding their progress.

Dave Wiens, executive director of the International Mountain Bicycling Association, is a strong backer of the "BOLT Act."

“Mountain biking has grown in popularity over the last decade, most notably during the pandemic, and we at the International Mountain Bicycling Association applaud Representative Joe Neguse from Colorado for recognizing the importance of outdoor recreation and introducing the [bill],” Wiens said in a statement. “Now is the time to invest in our outdoor recreation infrastructure by providing pathways to positive physical and mental health and creating jobs in the outdoor economy.”

Neguse will introduce the House bill with fellow Democratic Rep. Susie Lee of Nevada, alongside Republican Reps. John Curtis of Utah and Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota.

Sens. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) will lead on a companion bill in the Senate, with support from Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and the chair and ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee — Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), respectively.

Introduction of the "BOLT Act" will follow a flurry of legislative activity around other bipartisan bills that would boost outdoor recreation opportunities and in general benefit the outdoors economy that has boomed since the start of the pandemic, with public health guidance urging people to spend more time outside than indoors.

Manchin and Barrasso, for example, are jointly pushing S. 3266, the “Outdoor Recreation Act,” which would authorize funding for enhancements to existing recreation sites on federal lands, establish a pilot program for public-private partnerships to modernize campgrounds and remove some current restrictions on recreational climbing in national forests.

And Neguse and Heinrich are lead sponsors in their respective chambers of H.R. 3670 and S. 1229, the “Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation (SOAR) Act,” which would streamline the recreation permitting process for activities like river rafting and horseback riding on public lands.

Jessica Turner, the executive director of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, recently told E&E News she and other advocates were hoping Congress could unite this year around a package of bills centered on helping the outdoor recreation economy — one area where Democrats and Republicans can come together in agreement even as they are divided on just about everything else (E&E Daily, Jan. 4).

"It's a divisive Congress," Turner said. "That's where recreation comes in."

By:  Emma Dumain
Source: E&E News Daily