CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A plan to create a 6,042-acre wilderness area on North Fork Mountain in Grant County is drawing fire from mountain bikers who would lose access to a segment of the scenic North Fork Mountain Trail under a wilderness designation.
The proposed North Fork Mountain Wilderness would be created through passage of the Monongahela Conservation Legacy Act of 2010, introduced earlier this year in the House by Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., later introduced a companion bill in the Senate.
The proposed wilderness area is a downsized version of a 2004 proposal that failed to win congressional approval. The earlier wilderness plan called for a 9,171-acre wilderness area on the Monongahela National Forest ridge.
Under the current wilderness proposal, the northernmost seven miles of the 24-mile North Fork Mountain Trail would lie within the wilderness boundary, making that segment off-limits to bicycling -- not allowed in federally designated wilderness zones.
"It's a very popular trail for bike riders," said Kimberly Jo Coram of the West Virginia Mountain Bike Association, who added that the International Mountain Bike Association includes the trail on its national "Epic Rides" list as part of the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks trail system.
Both the WVMBA and the IMBA are opposing the wilderness proposal, and have launched online petition drives to let the state's congressional delegation know their feelings on the matter.
The two organizations hosted two well-attended rides along the North Fork Mountain Trail in the proposed wilderness area last fall.
"The trail has always been open to us, but with the wilderness designation, we would be the only user group eliminated from using it," Coram said. "You can have a horse-drawn sled in a wilderness area, but bikes aren't allowed."
The seven-mile segment of North Fork Mountain Trail included in the proposed wilderness extends northward from the Pendleton County line to the trail's northern terminus on Smoke Hole Road (State Secondary 28/ 11) near its junction with W.Va. 28/ 55. The 1.5-mile-long Landis Trail would also be closed to mountain bikers if wilderness status were approved.
Mike Costello of the West Virginia Wilderness Coalition said more than 3,000 acres were removed from proposed wilderness boundaries to accommodate mountain bikers. Redman Run Trail, which connects Smoke Hole Road to North Fork Mountain Trail near the Pendleton County line, was excluded from the wilderness area, giving bikers trail access to 17 miles of North Fork Mountain Trail, and making loop rides possible.