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Mother and daughter riding bikes

Exposing young kids and teens to our national parks, national forests, and to the wilderness is extremely beneficial. It helps young people connect with nature in a meaningful way, it gives kids and teens a chance to step away from digital devices, it is a great way to stay active on your vacation, and most importantly, it’s just fun! Getting outside and riding a bike or hiking and looking over a canyon rim or around a snow-capped peak is not something everyone gets to do every day. Making smores’ next to the fire, and eating a delicious meal during sunset are memories that last a lifetime.

But how do you decide where to go, or what to do? Should we bike, should we hike, should we raft, and should we camp? There are plenty of choices… camping versus hotels, the Northwest versus the Southwest, national parks versus national forests? Fully guided vacations versus DIY style vacations. The possibilities are endless. This guide will help shed light on some considerations to make if you aspire to visit a national park or national forest with your family.

1.Choosing the right place

If you are considering a family vacation that ventures off the beaten path then consider going to a national park. We are very lucky in the United States as we have set aside large expanses of land to be preserved for future generations. Over 3.5% (80 million acres) of all land in the United States has been designated as national parks. National forest also comes in at a whopping 180 million acres of land. That is a tremendous amount of open space.

FIND YOUR NATIONAL PARK HERE

Even with all of that land and the beauty and enjoyment that awaits in these destinations, there are real challenges to choosing a good location to take your family. For example, in places like Grand Teton National Park, or Yellowstone National Park the visitor centers and hot spots can be over-crowded. If you are interested in a national park you should enter the park early in the morning and have everything you need to be packed in your car for the entire day. This technique will help you avoid the areas of congestion during mid-day. Then, use tools like Hiking Project, or Mountain Bike Project to learn about trails in the region rather than relying on the standard maps distributed at visitor centers that everyone uses during their visit. This will help differentiate your hikes from the hikes the masses are doing. Take it one step further and check out the distance, technicality, elevation, and quality ratings in order to gain a deeper understanding of the trail.

National forests are certainly less crowded in most cases. Yet, national forests share being highly protected and coveted pieces of open space. Use national forests as a tool when you plan your vacation to national park hot spots. For example, when you plan to visit Yellowstone National Park take a couple of days and visit the Gros Ventre Wilderness in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. There are hiking, backpacking and camping options in this national forest, yet it will be far less crowded than its national park counterparts in the region. This same technique can be translated in almost any location with a national park close by.

2.Choosing the right adventures

Finding the right adventure can be challenging due to the logistics of making it all happen. For example, if you aspire to bike with your family through Zion National Park then you have to either bring or rent bikes for the entire family, find rides that will work for everyone and hopefully avoid congestion and crowds.

One technique that travelers can use is to hire a day guiding service on the first adventure of their vacation. During that experience, you can ask the guide about her/his favorite hikes, bike rides, and camping spots. This will help you get first-hand information from well informed and knowledgeable people about the specific geographic location.  Rather than spending your time searching for online comments, you can get first-hand information from someone who knows you and, in some cases, will be able to assess your specific abilities.

A second important factor when planning your adventures in and around national parks is BOOK YOUR CAMPING EARLY. Not all campgrounds are reservable online, but some are. In busy areas you should book 6 months in advance. To book campground reservations you can use recreation.gov/. This site will allow you to view national park and national forest campgrounds and it will either allow you to make reservations, or it will let you know that the particular campsite is not reservable online.

3.Choosing the right services

Finally, deciding whether or not to hire a guide service, create your vacation DIY style, or a combination of both can be challenging. One of the most common questions that we hear from our family vacation customers is wondering if they should just try to pull off their vacation without a guide service. Some of the pros to planning your own vacation are being able to change your itinerary on the fly, in most cases, it can be less expensive if you already own all of the necessary equipment, and there is a great feeling of accomplishment when your family succeeds said mission. The pros of hiring a guide service are centered around eliminating stress by allowing experienced professionals to handle the itinerary and letting go of all of the tedious planning necessary for meals and driving. This creates the necessary space so that you and your family can spend quality time together riding bikes, hiking, and camping.

There are pros to both methods and every family has their own experience and goals that will help them decide on what is right for them. If you’re unsure, we recommend a mixture of both options. For example, if you are planning a trip to Grand Teton National Park you can hire a multi-day guide service to handle the technical biking and camping portion of your vacation. Before or after your bike trip you can visit restaurants, hotels, and local attractions where guidance isn’t as helpful. Again, using the guide service at the beginning of the trip is usually the best practice so that you can squeeze all of the information you can get before embarking on your DIY adventures.

Planning a vacation for a national park road trip is a good idea… at least we think so! It can be challenging to pull off all of the logistics to maximize your family’s experience. We hope this list sheds a little more light on the process of taking your family to beautiful places where memories are created.

LIST OF WESTERN SPIRIT FAMILY TRIPS

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This season sees the Western Spirit guides putting 100%’s line of cutting-edge eyewear through its paces while guiding. While on the bike, 100% sport performance models such as Speedcraft and Speedcoupe will offer the clarity and protection our guides demand. “We’re stoked to bring new insights into the performance needs of our guides and guests and offer a refreshing perspective on the evolution of trail riding” says Western Spirit owner/guide Mark Sevenoff. “The guides are the heart and soul of our company and demand the very best. They’re outside seven days a week in the most extreme conditions you can imagine.” When traveling the West, or back at camp, they’ll be sporting active lifestyle models including the Centric & Type-S sunglasses.

About Western Spirit

Western Spirit is a cycling company who organizes road and mountain biking trips in our National Parks, National Forests and BLM lands. The trips range from mellow family-style outings to 5-day package rides above 10,000 feet on world-class single track. They also run product launches, press events and team building trips for corporations interested in giving their employees and corporate partners a challenging bike experience that will be both emotional and physical. It’s all about connecting people with their equipment, the trail, their guides and themselves.

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About 100%

The roots of 100% date back to the early 1980’s, when the popular logo graced the jerseys of the biggest stars in motocross. Thirty years later, the passion for the Spirit of Racing is greater than ever, being now an influential icon in mountain biking and cycling that inspires a whole new generation of racers, still asking them, “How much effort do you give?”

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Important Public Land Designations: Wilderness and National Monuments

In Part 1 of our public land series we clarified the three major federal land managers: US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Park Service. All three of these land management agencies manage different types of lands within their jurisdictions. In the forest and on the BLM most of their lands are usually open to multiple uses—that means they are available for harvesting trees, grazing cows, mining, and/or recreation of all types. But both agencies and the park service also have lands that are special for one reason or another.

Lands can achieve special status for many reasons: perhaps they are critical wildlife habitat, or they may have some special recreation status like a reservoir or motorized recreation area—in which case they many have a special name, a special color on the map, and special rules for visitors. Many of these special designations can be made by the agency itself through planning processes that include public input. But the two most special designations: National Monuments and Federally Designated Wilderness Areas are made by the president in the case of national monuments and by the Congress in the case of Wilderness.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 was the first time we as a species decided to put the needs of nature above the needs of man. Until this time, and for all of human history, the earth was here for us to use. By the early 1960s the pace of development around the globe became a concern and many people began to think that it would be wise to leave some portions of the planet in their natural state, thus the Wilderness Act of 1964 was born. The act itself is fairly simple in that the goal is to leave areas designated as wilderness ‘untrammeled by man.

Since the mountain bike was not invented in 1964, there is no specific mention of bicycles in the act. But the act does clearly state that mechanized transport is prohibited. Horses however were allowed continued access, partly because they are animals, partly because it was a historic use, and partly because the act would never have passed if horses had been excluded. Every act that congress has ever passed has includes compromises.

Many people have tried to slice and dice the wording to find a way to allow mountain bikes in Wilderness Areas but none have succeeded. Instead many bike advocates have worked with wilderness advocates to sort out Wilderness boundaries in a way that keeps established and legal bike trails open. With one exception, none of the Wilderness bills passed since 2009 have closed bike trails.

This is one of the important distinctions between Wilderness designations and national monuments. When a Wilderness bill is proposed by a congressman to designate either BLM or Forest Service land as Wilderness, the process is long and detailed and the public is part of the process at every step. The public can see drafts of the bill, they can submit testimony at the hearing, and they can lobby members of congress to vote for or against the bill.

National monuments go through a process that goes through the executive branch rather than the legislative branch, and in some ways is the opposite because the public input come primarily after the designation has been made. The president was given the power to unilaterally issue a proclamation designating a piece of public land as a national monument by Congress when it passed the Antiquities Act. The purpose of this act is to protect places of historic or cultural significance. Many of our national parks started as national monuments. At first the locals were angry because they found themselves losing the right to use these lands for grazing or mining or other traditional ways to make a living. But over the years most (but not all) residents have come to appreciate their national parks.

Today, many people who live near public lands may agree that a particular place deserves a higher level of protection, but they would prefer achieving that protection using legislation—a bill in Congress that would include their input and ideas as it was developed. The national monument designation rankles some residents because the proclamation process does not officially include public input.

However—and there are two ‘howevers’ involved here. The national monument process DOES include public input in the management plan that is developed to sort out exactly how the new monument will be managed. In this process, many of the same types of decisions that are made about Wilderness boundaries and other public land designations, that are part of public land legislation, are addressed in the monument management plan and the public is involved.

The second ‘however’ involves gridlock in Congress that prevents any legislation from passing. In many cases locals have been working on public land bills that would designate some Wilderness and perhaps create some other designations, but Congress has failed to pass these locally supported bills. In those cases, the public had had no choice but to by pass Congress and ask the president to act unilaterally to implement the protections they have agreed upon via a national monument designation.

Whether these special designations are achieved via a public lands Wilderness bill or a presidential national monument proclamation—there are still people that think any increased protections are a bad idea. The current thinking of the Trump administration is that all regulation prohibits economic growth, and many of the recent updates in land management and environmental protections have already been rolled back. There are many ways that these changes could affect a mountain bike trail near you, but before we head down that dark path, our next post will be about communities that are prospering precisely because they have access to protected public lands.

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Why you need to know about public land: As mountain bikers, we are dependent on public lands. Through my career in bike manufacturing, racing, and as an outfitter I have had the opportunity to ride on trails of every description on public lands of every type.

Today there are increasing pressures on our public lands from all directions, so we here at Western Spirit thought it would be useful to use our blog as quick and easy place for mountain bikers to get informed on public land issues that are likely to effect the trails you love.

Land ownership through the ages: The first land owner was probably someone from a nomadic tribe that accidentally planted a seed and decided to stick around to watch it grow. Or maybe it was someone who found some type of ore coming out of the ground and figured he could trade it for food. For most of human history, land ownership has been the best way to generate wealth to take care of yourself and your family.

The Homestead Act of 1862 encouraged immigrants to head west and claim some land. Lots of land did get claimed but quite a bit didn’t. Why not—nobody wanted to live there. In most cases the problem would have been lack of water, but in other place the topography itself just wasn’t very hospitable.

Thus more by accident than by design Americans ended up owning large sections of public land, primarily in Western States. These lands are in three major categories: National Parks—the jewels of the program, National Forests, and Bureau of Land Management Lands. And in all three there are places that are considered: front-country—near roads, near towns and easily accessible; and backcountry—which are further away, usually you need to camp out there. In general more skills and experience are needed to reach backcountry places.

National Parks are the most unique and special places in the country and are also often historic locations. Front country lands within National Parks include visitor centers and short hikes to points of interest. Backcounty areas in National Parks are often sensitive landscapes where visitation is limited by a permit system. The good thing about a permit system is that when you do get out there, you have the place all to yourself! Like we do on the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park. National Parks are managed by the Department of Interior. Congressman Ryan Zinke from Montana was just appointed Secretary of the Interior and while we don’t know if he mountain bikes—he does hunt and fish so we are hopeful!

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is also managed by the Department of Interior. These lands include all kind of incredible deserts and canyons and are primarily designated for multiple use. That means oil and gas, grazing, and mining, as well as motorized and non-motorized recreation. In recent years, recreation on BLM lands has grown exponentially, partly due to strong partnerships between local BLM Managers, local mountain bike groups, and the International Mountain Bicycling Association, IMBA. But conflicts between recreation and resource extraction like oil and gas and mining are starting to pop up around the country. Because oil and gas operators pay for leases on these lands, they have more rights than we do. We are making progress zoning some lands for recreation through the land planning process as business owners and trail users get involved, but when we don’t show up, resource extraction usually wins the day. More on this in future blogs.

National Forests are managed by the Department of Agriculture, primarily because much of the original focus was on harvesting trees. Today there are lots of trails on forest service lands and in some places near ski areas or other resorts ‘the trees are worth more standing up than they would be lying down.’ Timber management remains the focus of the Forest Service, but the Outdoor Industry Association along with other groups have recently launched a process for improving recreation management on Forest Service lands and this program is progressing.

These are the major categories of federal land managers. These lands are owned by you. Its all yours!! Next week Wilderness and National Monuments demystified!

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