photo: A group of mountain bikers ride along a rebuilt section of the Continental Divide Trail in the Centennial Mountains.

The International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) and the Montana Mountain Bike Alliance (MMBA) recently announced their support of more than 97 percent of the acreage included in the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act of 2011. Sponsored by Montana U.S. Senator Jon Tester, the bill includes 35 units, totaling 1,019,764 acres. IMBA and MMBA are requesting boundary adjustments in five units that would lead to reduction of Wilderness (23,419 acres), and an increase (16,319 acres) of Recreation Management Areas.

“Well-managed mountain biking is a proven economic driver for many communities across the country,” said Ashley Korenblat, director of IMBA’s Public Lands Initiative. “Montana’s small towns are poised to benefit from a sustainable revenue source if the state’s world-class trail opportunities are planned, protected and promoted — this bill will help us do just that.”

IMBA recently hosted a trails conference in Montana to discuss land protection options, and to explore trail opportunities throughout the area. A cross section of stakeholders attended the conference, leading to the identification of nearly 1,000 miles of existing and new trail opportunities.

“While some new construction will be needed, many existing trails simply need maintenance. IMBA’s experience in trail design, permitting and funding will be very useful in creating these opportunities,” said Jonathan Klein, from the U.S. Forest Service’s Madison Ranger District.

According to the IMBA, the bill would help bring recreation dollars to the region from mountain bikers and other recreational users. New routes would become viable through the release of more than 66,815 acres of Wilderness Study Area (WSA), and the creation of more than 369,500 acres of Recreation Management Areas or Special Management Areas.

Cycling is a growing part of the Montana economy for both visitors and locals, and the requested boundary adjustments in the bill were designed to protect access to trails for Montana’s communities.

“My business could be located anywhere,” said MMBA member Greg Garrigues, president of Pacific Outdoor Equipment. “I moved my company to Bozeman so that our staff and their families would have the benefit of the outdoors close at hand. It’s not only where we recreate, it’s also where we craft the designs for the equipment we make, so protecting our federal lands is very important to me.”

IMBA recently submitted testimony in support of the bill, including a list of needed changes and the new trails it would make available.