Originally published in 2015 in collaboration with Salsa Cycles, this 90-page guide was written by Kaitlyn Boyle and Kurt Refsnider specifically with newer bikepackers in mind, and it remains among the best sources of introductory information in a single compilation. No longer available in print, we're excited to announce that you can now get your own PDF version here with a $5 donation to Bikepacking Roots! This guide was written with the goal of giving readers all they need to know in order to plan and execute their first bikepacking adventure. But there are also nuggets of information from which even experienced bikepackers can learn. The book includes chapters on route creation, food and water planning, and bike and gear considerations. A selection of vignettes from memorable trips provide context, share some lessons learned, and offer perspectives from other experienced bikepackers including Cass Gilbert, Casey Greene, and Eszter Horanyi.
We have one more opportunity to provide input on the future of the lands of Grand Staircase National Monument (GSENM), a future that will include minimal protections to the landscape and natural and cultural resources if the newly-released management plan goes into effect. The reasons that inspired the initial designation of Monument status are congruent with the reasons we as bikepackers seek backcountry travel by bike through GSENM. The entire planning area is one of the most scenically pristine areas in the United States, including for nighttime dark skies. We value clean air to breathe, and dark skies to sleep under. Many of us live in parts of the country where this is not an option, and bikepacking across this landscape provides a rare and valuable opportunity. As bikepackers, we value the opportunity to ride through open, wild landscapes with minimal human development. GSENM as managed as a monument offers rare opportunity for solitude, remote travel, and healthy, minimally impacted landscape.
Last month, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a plan to open nearly all of the lands removed from Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument (GSENM) to mining and drilling. President Trump’s unprecedented Monuments reduction cut 900,000 acres from GSENM, a decision that is currently being challenged in court. And just two weeks ago, the BLM released their proposed management plan for the remaining GSENM lands within the greatly reduced Monument boundaries, further undermining the protections granted by National Monument status. These plans threaten cultural and historical sites and wilderness qualities from increased mining and grazing leases, the prioritization of motorized travel and road development, and non-native grass seeding. The BLM chose the least protective version of the four draft plan options considered after a public comment period in the fall of 2018. Bikepacking Roots submitted our own commented at that time, and we urged members to do the same and provided a number of our concerns related to how the different options would potentially affect the bikepacking experience.
Why should we, as bikepackers, care about this? GSENM offers bikepackers a particularly remote and undeveloped high desert bikepacking experience on a network of 4x4 roads that traverse the wild valleys and plateaus of southern Utah. Our Plateau Passage and Wild West Route explore parts of GSENM, and the Cottonwood, Skutumpah, and Smokey Mountain Roads have long been popular with bikepackers and bike tourers. The quiet and wild experiences afforded in this Monument would be drastically altered by some of the changes we're likely to see should the protections of National Monument status be removed - coal mining, the chaining of native pinion and juniper forests to promote grazing, paving of some of the gravel roads, and more.
We strongly encourage other bikepackers to share their concerns with the BLM and to to advocate for greater protections for GSENM and the integrity of future protections granted by National Monument status. The most effective comments will cite specific sections of the management plan with specific concerns. To see our suggestions on what you might include in your own commenting, please see our annotated section references below.
Comments are due on September 23, 2019.
To learn more about the management plan, check out this concise article published by the Salt Lake Tribune. And just this week, the Department of the Interior’s Board of Land Appeals halted the BLM's plans to chain native pinyon-juniper forest and sagebrush stands in one large area within GSENM for cattle grazing range development (a process that generally involves two bulldozers dragging a large chain through the woodlands to uproot trees in their entirety). This highlights the level of protection, or lack thereof, being given to an area with designated National Monument status. The Southern Wilderness Alliance details here the implications of the Board of Land Appeals' decision and how you can support the continued protection of native habitat in GSENM.
To see the full plan and final environmental impact statements, visit the BLM's GSENM planning website and look for the "Volume 1: Chapters 1-4 of GSENM-KEPA Proposed RMPs/Final EIS" document.
To submit your own protest, follow this link to the BLM website, look for the "Volume 1: Chapters 1-4 of GSENM-KEPA Proposed RMPs/Final EIS" document, and then click on the "Submit Protest" button at right.
The overarching theme of the proposed plan is notably reducing protections on resources in GSENM. Thousands of additional acres are opened to livestock grazing and rangeland development (and some subject to native forest removal and reseeding for increased livestock forage), roads will be paved and/or further developed and greater OHV use will be permitted, constraints will be lessened on mineral leasing and mineral materials disposal, group size restrictions are reduced, and zero acres are managed for their wilderness qualities. These notably reduced protections outlined in the proposed management plan are acknowledged to reduce air quality, degrade wildlife and fish habitat, decrease soil, water and vegetation health, and alter, harm or destroy cultural and paleontological artifacts and sites.
In our initial comment submitted in November, 2018 and in the talking points we recommended including in public comments at that point, we raised a number of concerns. These were related to how the then-proposed alternative management plan options failed to address key concerns that would negatively affect the bikepacking experience and would harm natural and cultural resources. The now-preferred management plan alternative, Alternative D, offers nothing to mitigate our original concerns, and we strongly urge GSENM management to remain under the directive of the No Action/Current Management Plan. This plan, what GSENM has been managed under in recent years, offers far more extensive protections to the scenic, cultural, ecological, and human-powered recreation values.
Based on our original comments, we would like to clearly point out the following specific examples of how our original concerns have not been addressed in the new proposed management plan.
11.17.2018: Under 2-3.13, mineral leasing for oil/gas/geothermal, Alternative D (Preferred Alternative) opens nearly all of the lands removed from monument status by the president to oil gas and coal development.
9.19.19 protest: The proposed plan “places the fewest constraints on mineral leasing and mineral materials disposal in GSENM. 650,888 acres (of 861,538 total acres) in Kanab-Escalante Planning Area (KEPA) is opened to mineral development. Only 120,990 of these acres have major constraints; the rest are moderate. Opening these lands to drilling, strip mining, and underground mining would have incredibly detrimental effects on the largely undisturbed natural values of the greater GSENM landscape. These values are what draw bikepackers to this region – the opportunity to ride for hours on 4x4 roads without seeing other cars, to traverse large landscapes without traveling among mineral extraction operations and large-scale grazing operations. This is a rarity in the West, and it is one of the most unique values of the original GSENM.
11.17.2018: Under 2.3.71, when outlining management of vegetation, destruction of native piñon-juniper forest for range improvement to support increased cattle grazing (2.3.12). Increased cattle grazing will have a detrimental impact to the biological soil crusts of GSENM lands; reduced biological soil crust coverage will decrease air quality as dust is increased.
9.19.19 protest: The proposed plan opens up the most acres to livestock grazing in GSENM (991,874 acres), and prioritizes rangeland health. This increases emissions and reduces air quality in GSENM. Again, our largest concern with this is the chaining and destruction of native forests – uprooting tens of thousands of acres of native vegetation to support increased grazing should not be done within any National Monument. We acknowledge that GSENM is and will be a “working Monument,” grazing should be permitted only in areas where it will not damage remaining soil crust and with herd sizes that can be supported by the naturally-occurring native forage.
11.17.2018: Under 2.3.14, plan D opens up lands to cross-country off-road vehicle play and increases the number of legal off-road vehicle routes in the backcountry.
9.19.19 protest: The proposed plan opens 1,002,350 acres to OHVs, and there are only 1,464 acres of OHV closure within the Monument. Identified OHV routes are increased under the new plan. As mentioned earlier, solitude and seldom-traveled roads are among the most attractive elements of GSENM for cyclists. Increased OHV traffic will eventually lead to GSENM feeling (and sounding) like so many other areas in the West that are dominated by motorized recreation. This should not be the case within a National Monument.
11.17.2018: Under 2.3.5, the Preferred Alternative calls for allowing “casual collection” of fossils by anyone. This would legalize the removal of any fossils by anyone, opening up the risk of rare specimens being removed from GSENM.
9.19.19 protest: Although casual fossil collection is not permitted under the proposed plan, the plan will result in increased impact – disruption or destruction – of cultural and paleontological resources due to increased OHV access, lessened protective measures on resources and increased resource extraction and associated surface disturbance with mining, drilling, and road development, and a smaller area managed for the protection of wilderness characteristics.
9.19.19 Protest: Additionally, the proposed plan poses the greatest threat and likelihood for disturbing wildlife, fish and special status species by reducing protective measures such as increasing group size, reducing resource-specific protective measures that increase habitat degradation through surface disruption (ie: mining, grazing, drilling), and applying fewer restrictions on OHV use and competitive events. In the proposed plan, only four localized areas are managed within the already-halved GSENM with appropriate protection of a SRMA.
Ultimately, the proposed plan dramatically reduces protection of the resources integral to the health and future of the GSENM lands; this poses a notable threat to the future of this landscape and our bikepacking opportunity for generations to come. We strongly request that you do not implement a change in management until after the current litigations around the Monument reduction are settled, and once settled continue to manage GSENM and KEPA (the Kanab-Escalante Planning Area) under the directive of the No Action/Current Management Plan.
Bikepacking Roots is launching a series of initiatives to quantify a range of the economic impacts of the bikepacking community. This is critically important for better understanding the positive financial impacts that we have on communities and services along popular bikepacking routes.
If you have 5 minutes to spare, we would greatly appreciate if you would complete our "Spending Habits of Bikepackers" Survey to help with this study.
We’re excited to announce that Courtney Zotts as the winner of the Binary Bicycles titanium frame that we're giving away as part of our summer membership drive! And we're even more excited to hear that Courtney is planning to ride her new frame on the southern part of the Wild West Route while on a break from school this next year!
We'd also like to welcome and thank everyone who joined Bikepacking Roots during our membership drive! Our membership has now topped 4,000 individuals and continues to grow steadily, strengthening our ability to advocate for the bikepacking community.
The US Forest Service is revising NEPA regulations and has proposed eliminating the requirement of public input for many land management decisions. Now is the time to speak up to preserve scoping and public commenting - the somewhat ironic comment period closed on 26 August.
(Note: This comment period has closed)
8 August 2019
Public lands need public input. Seems simple enough, right? Maybe not. Right now, the Forest Service is trying to eliminate public input from many of the decisions affecting public lands.
The Forest Service manages all the National Forests, where extensive bikepacking takes place in most every region of the United States (to learn more about the history of Forest Service lands, check out our public lands history article). Whenever the Forest Service makes a decision that significantly affects these lands or our access to them, the agency is required to seek input from us, the public. The law that guarantees our opportunity to tell the Forest Service what we think is called the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.
The Forest Service is currently revising the regulations it uses to implement NEPA. As part of this revision, the agency wants to get rid of the Scoping phase of public input for projects that require an Environmental Assessment or that fall into a Categorical Exclusion. Basically, this means the agency wants to eliminate the initial phase of public input from certain types of projects, types of projects that are already streamlined compared to larger and more drawn out decisions that require a full environmental impact study.
That may not sound like much, but Scoping is particularly important. Scoping is often when we learn about projects. Scoping also gives us the chance to tell the Forest Service what we know and what we want at the very beginning of the process.
Somewhat ironically, the Forest Service is looking for public input on its proposal to eliminate public input. This is our chance to tell the agency why public input matters and why getting rid of it is a bad idea. Bikepacking Roots encourages you to learn more and submit a comment at https://www.fs.fed.us/emc/nepa/revisions/index.shtml
Comments are due August 26, 2019. The Forest Service really notices unique comments, so make your comments your own. Here are a couple of points you can use:
Bikepacking Roots' Wild West Route (WWR) showcases the wild and public lands of the American West. At more than 2,700 miles in length, the WWR is among the longest bikepacking routes in the world. It's development involved collaboration with public lands managers, private landowners, Navajo Nation Department of Parks and Recreation, and 50+ bikepackers.
The WWR is more than 80% dirt, ranging from graded gravel to seldom-traveled dirt roads to rough 4x4 tracks. It offers bikepackers a remote, rugged, expedition-scale riding experience balanced with resupply options in small communities generally spaced a few days apart. Nearly 70% of the WWR's length is on public lands, passing through 18 National Forests, 6 National Parks and Monuments, 4 areas with BLM National Conservation Lands designation, and 2 tribal parks.
Bikepacking Roots is proud to offer a suite of resources for the route, including a comprehensive 82-page print or digital route guidebook with maps and conservation/public lands educational content, GPS data for navigation with ~1500 waypoints (services, water, campgrounds, etc.), and a smartphone app.
Our mission at Bikepacking Roots is to advocate for the bikepacking experience and for the landscapes through which we ride. As such, we have been soliciting comments regarding the ongoing threats to the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM). The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the federal agency that manages the monument, is seeking comments between now and November 30, 2018 on a draft management plan and environmental impact statement (you can view the plan and other documents here or download a PDF of it here).
In December 2017 President Trump unlawfully slashed Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Proclamation 9682. It is currently in court and should be overturned as the Antiquities Act only grants a president the authority to designate national monuments, not to revoke or diminish them. Meanwhile, the BLM has moved forward with passing a new management plan for the shrunken monument and the lands now outside of the monument. The plan proposes four management scenarios, or “Alternatives”, of which the agency has identified Alternative D as the “Preferred Alternative.” Alternative D poses substantial threat to the future of the lands that GSENM house, and should be a concern for bikepackers.
To ensure a future for bikepacking, recreating, learning, and preserved landscape within GSENM, please submit a comment to the BLM identifying one or a couple points outlined below that you are not in support of and why it personally matters to you. A story or anecdote is extremely valuable to include in your comments, and specific references to chapter/section numbers is a critical part of your comment (see our talking point suggestions below)
How to submit your comment
You can also mail a hard copy to:
Bureau of Land Management
Attn: Matt Betenson
669 S Hwy 89A
Kanab, UT, 84741.
And email your comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for taking the time to advocate for bikepacking and the landscapes through which we ride.
Concerns and recommended talking points
Here we take you through the points of concern in the Preferred Alternative and the impacts these changes may have.
Note that the law requires that National Monuments be managed to protect the resources for which they were designated; GSENM was designated a National Monument for its paleontological resources and spectacular geology, clear air and dark skies, cultural significance and archeological sites, and extensive biological soil crusts.
The “Preferred Alternative” or “Alternative D” presented in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Kanab-Escalante Planning Area Draft Resource Management Plans and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) present the following management "solutions" that are of concern to us, as bikepackers and advocates of healthy landscapes.
Chapter 2, section 3.13
Mineral leasing for oil/gas/geothermal, Alternative D (Preferred Alternative) opens nearly all of the lands removed from monument status by the president to oil gas and coal development.
Chapter 2, section 3.14
Plan D opens up lands to cross-country off-road vehicle play and increases the number of legal off-road vehicle routes in the backcountry.
Chapter 2, section 3.71
When outlining management of vegetation, destruction of native piñon-juniper forest for range improvement to support increased cattle grazing
Chapter 2, section 3.12
Increased cattle grazing will have a detrimental impact to the biological soil crusts of GSENM lands; reduced biological soil crust coverage will decrease air quality as dust is increased.
Chapter 2, section 3.5
The Preferred Alternative calls for allowing “casual collection” of fossils by anyone. This would legalize the removal of any fossils by anyone, opening up the risk of rare specimens being removed from GSENM.
Alternative D presents a management plan that dramatically reduces protection of landscape and would have a notable impact on the quality of bikepacking experience and opportunity in GSENM. Opening the landscape to mineral extraction would increase traffic, noise, and developed landscape. Increasing logging of native and old-growth piñon-juniper forest for rangeland improvements would transform the riding experience from forest habitat to rangeland inhabited by cattle. Allowing cross-country off-road travel would trample vegetation and develop unregulated roads, and have the affiliated traffic. Lifting protection of paleontogical sites and resources would result in the irreversible loss of opportunity for science and education that is preserved in the GSENM geologic story.
Bikepacking Roots has established two long-distance bikepacking routes that visit GSENM (the Plateau Passage and the Wild West Route). The reasons that inspired the initial designation of Monument status are congruent with the reasons we as bikepackers seek backcountry travel by bike through GSENM. The entire planning area is one of the most scenically pristine areas in the United States, including for nighttime dark skies. We value clean air to breathe, and dark skies to sleep under. Many of us live in parts of the country where this is not an option, and bikepacking across this landscape provides a rare and valuable opportunity. As bikepackers, we value the opportunity to ride through open, wild landscapes with minimal human development. GSENM as managed as a monument offers rare opportunity for solitude, remote travel, and healthy, minimally impacted landscape.
Ultimately, the Preferred Plan dramatically reduces protection of the resources integral to the health and future of the GSENM lands; this poses a notable threat to the future of this landscape and our bikepacking opportunity for generations to come.
In your comments, also identify what you urge the BLM to consider, a couple options that would be in the best interest of the monument and bikepacking experience are:
News and updates
Bikepacking Roots is the only non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and advancing bikepacking, growing a diverse bikepacking community, advocating for the conservation of the landscapes and public lands through which we ride, and creating professional routes. We value human-powered experiences and an inclusive, engaged, and informed membership (7,000+ strong) that makes a positive impact as we adventure by bike.
Our Business Partners that support the bikepacking community, conservation, and public lands:
Our organizational partners that support bikepacking, advocacy, conservation, and outdoor recreation: