The Wilderness Act itself creates strict regulations on what activities are allowed in a wilderness area.  A very common result of the wilderness designation is to begin adding additional regulations and restrictions which eliminate even more public access.  Following are just a few examples of this type of situation.
  Wilderness Institute on Trail Closures
SOURCE: www.wilderness.net/toolboxes/documents/VUM/Mt Rogers LAC Summary.doc

The Wilderness Institute website provides "toolboxes" on a variety of topics related to environmental issues.  One topic heading is "Visitor Use Management", and the following excerpts are from a document titled "Mount Rogers High Country, Limits of Acceptable Change Process Summary".  (Emphasis in red has been added.)

"Those studies, while not identifying serious social or resource problems did show increasing resource impacts and conflicts."

"This process was somewhat unique and considerably more complex than most because it included the whole 20,000-acre High Country which is about half wilderness (Lewis Fork and Little Wilson Creek) and half non-wilderness."

Note above that they are targeting their findings to Wilderness AND non-Wilderness lands.


  • "Minimize and manage physical impact from users on resources including unique ecological communities, wildlife and fish habitats and watersheds."
  • "Manage social impacts and conflicts among users."
  • "Identify appropriate levels, methods and types of restrictions, regulations, enforcement and education."
  • "Preserve unique High Country Character"
  • "Maintain and enhance appropriate user access"
  • "Minimize adverse affects of use and management on local communities and economies"

"Current Status/Planned Actions within next 5 years:"

  • "10 Person Group size limit applied to entire High Country"
  • "Horses and bicycles restricted to designated routes"
  • "Increased education/user contacts with info boards and seasonal rangers explaining camping containment strategy"
  • "Extensive campsite closures to meet standards-close/rehab approximately 45 campsites"

"Lessons Learned/Critique"

  • “Cut your teeth” on non-complex unit or units"
  • "Consider handling the lion’s share of Steps 2-5 in house, ie: develop zones indicators and standards then explain and validate with public. This will reduce confusion and number of meetings significantly"
  • "LAC standards do not seem to correspond or equate to Forest Plan standards. "

Wilderness Trail Removal Guidelines
SOURCE: www.earthcaretaker.com/wilderness/wildernesstrails.html

This website offers instructions under the heading of "Wilderness Caretaking" on how to go about closing trails in Wilderness areas AND on PRIVATE LAND.

Following are actual excerpts from the article.  (Emphasis in red has been added.)

"LAND OWNERSHIP: Is the trail located on Private property or Public land?"

"If you have official permission to close the trail, then if it is on

  • Private land, just simply employ whatever means necessary to close it.  One can also employ trespass laws to enforce closure.
  • Public land, you will probably need to add education to your trail closing toolbox, since people may feel that they have a "right" to continue using the trail."

"If you do not have official permission from the landowner to close a trail, then you will need to be very clandestine in your methods (ie, you won't want to get caught)."

Whether or not this group represents a "mainstream" environmental perspective, it does clearly show there are people who believe that illegal activities are acceptable to achieve their objectives.

Equestrian Trail Closures
SOURCE: www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/shawnee/projects/projects/eis/2005/trails/final/TDP-Record-of-Decision.pdf

This document is the "Record of Decision" for the "Trails Designation Project, Phase 1" for the Shawnee National Forest.  It was written by the US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service.  (Emphasis in red has been added.)

"The Selected Alternative will provide a combination of actions designed to reduce and mitigate unnecessary environmental effects (including those related to equestrian use), enhance wilderness character, and provide outstanding opportunities for a quality recreational experience. "

"Trails management on the Forest has been a contentious issue for several years. "

"About 165 miles of poorly located non-system trails will be closed and allowed to fade into the landscape. Most natural areas and certain popular places in wilderness will be accessible only on foot. "

"Wilderness trail miles in the Selected Alternative (49 miles) are reduced from the level proposed in the DEIS Preferred Alternative (58 miles), while providing access to most of the scenic places."

"There will be a limit of no more than ten users per group in wilderness, which will improve the recreation experience for most users. This applies to both equestrians and hikers. "

"Trails not selected for adoption into the designated trail system will be closed; many brushed in or obliterated, and allowed to naturally recover. I realize that this is a major change for many equestrians. Although some requested that I restrict equestrian use to trails only around the commercial campgrounds and continue to allow cross-country riding elsewhere, I am unable to approve this approach. Because of resource issues, the administration of trail use associated with this type of hybrid approach would be destined to failure. Cross-country riding, by its very nature, leads to trail creation resulting in undesirable impacts. "

"The Selected Alternative provides for many loop trails and should provide a varied and enjoyable riding experience across the project area. However, loop-trail opportunities within wilderness will be a longer distance than previously experienced. In providing opportunities for solitude, reducing the level of development and offering a more remote, primitive experience, the miles of trail within wilderness have been reduced. "

NOTE: It seems unclear how reducing trails will provide opportunities for solitude.

"Under the Selected Alternative, we will close about 165 miles of mostly non-system trails (about 45 percent of the existing routes) not adopted into the designated trail system. About 40 miles are in wilderness areas (44 percent of the existing routes). "

"Equestrian access to the Forest from private land becomes complicated by the restriction of horse-use to designated trails. Some equestrians have acquired property near the Forest in order to have access to the Forest for riding and are concerned that the restriction to designated trails will lessen the value of their property. These concerns must be balanced with the environmental effects of unrestricted access and cross-country riding. "

"Many individuals and groups have shared their view of wilderness management with me since I came to the Forest in 2003. Based on conversations and comments, I have found there is little agreement on how wilderness should be managed. There are strong, diverse and passionate opinions on all sides of the issue and many of these beliefs are deeply rooted in the basic values that people hold. Some want to debate whether our wilderness areas should be designated at all. They argue that these areas are too small and receive too much use to be managed as wilderness. This question was answered by Congress in 1990 and is not part of the current decision. Some view wilderness solely as a recreational resource; others believe that recreation in wilderness is not important and should be restricted so that it has no visible impact on the land. The diversity of opinion ranges from the view of wilderness as an affliction hindering public access to federal lands to that of the wilderness as nirvana, the last refuge of escape from industrialized society. "

"The management of wilderness is in some ways subjective. There is no definitive check-list that can be consulted or added up to see if some numbers have exceeded an allowable level of development, or produced enough opportunity for solitude or unconfined recreation. "

"Some will argue that the riding opportunities in wilderness are still excessive. They have indicated that they believe graveled trails and stock-confinement areas are not appropriate in wilderness. "

Mountain Biking Trail Closures
SOURCE: www.imba.com/news/news_releases/06_04/06_22_idaho_wild.html

This news release from the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) website had a headline of “85 Miles of Idaho Singletrack Could Be Closed”.  Selected excerpts below. 

"Bicycle use is categorically prohibited in Wilderness areas. While IMBA supports protecting open space from development, some of the proposed areas contain popular trails that cyclists have ridden for years."

"IMBA believes that Wilderness is only one tool to protect the land and proposes Protection Areas and National Conservation Areas as alternatives that protect the land but allow for bike access."

The “Action Alerts” section of their website had numerous articles of proposed trail closures.  A few excerpts are below.

"A dangerous new Forest Service policy could close hundreds of miles of singletrack in two states. This potentially precedent-setting change must be stopped before it spreads to other states. Act now to preserve mountain bike access to singletrack in backcountry areas. "


"This could become the largest access issue in five years," warns Jenn Dice, IMBA's government affairs director. This policy would expel mountain bikers from more than 700 miles of singletrack in Montana and Idaho and, if left unchallenged, could set national precedent. "


"Most national forests allow existing uses like bicycling to continue in areas recommended to possibly become Wilderness, before the formal Wilderness designation takes place. Unfortunately, forests in Montana and northern Idaho will not. Banning bicycles from these areas could have far-reaching negative consequences and lead to trail closures in your national forests. "


"Normally, the Forest Service is very positive towards mountain biking and the Montana and Idaho policy is a departure from other Forest Service regions."

Colorado Bike Trail Closures

Selected excerpts below.  (Emphasis in red has been added.)

"The National Forest that surrounds Aspen, Vail, Glenwood Springs and Breckenridge, Colorado, is proposing widespread closures of trails to mountain bikers. The proposed closures appear to stem from a shift in the agency's approach to forest management from a position of balancing recreation with resource protection to one that places a higher priority on ecosystem health."


"Underlying the closures, the new science of conservation biology points to the need for large expanses of wild lands where humans and human developments are scarce. Colorado's Rocky Mountains are a good place for that, and about one-third of the White River has been designated Wilderness. "This is the largest Wilderness proportion of any national forest in Colorado and represents 24% of all national forest Wilderness in the state," the plan notes. Yet significant undeveloped landscapes often the places mountain bikers like to ride remain unprotected. The proposed plan would devote substantial acreage to habitat for "forest carnivores," particularly the rare and threatened lynx and wolverine."


"Rossetter agreed with the principle that roads and trails can impact wildlife, and said some closures are okay: "I think all trail users should ask themselves whether every road and trail on the National Forest is truly needed. Some closures to all users are probably appropriate to support the health of the ecosystem.""


"But the science studying the effects of recreationists on wildlife is young, and there are very few studies comparing the impacts of different user groups on animals. "We need to see evidence that justifies the closures, particularly when they close routes to bicycling, but not to hiking and horseback," Rossetter maintained. The plan does not provide rationale for the proposed trail closures."

"Bicycle use is categorically prohibited in Wilderness areas. While IMBA supports protecting open space from development, some of the proposed areas contain popular trails that cyclists have ridden for years."

"IMBA believes that Wilderness is only one tool to protect the land and proposes Protection Areas and National Conservation Areas as alternatives that protect the land but allow for bike access."

Trail Use Quotas

This partial listing of requirements for entering some of the wilderness areas in the Lake Tahoe region provide an example of the administrative restrictions that exist in existing wilderness areas.  Selected excerpts below.  (Emphasis in red has been added.)

"All visitors into Desolation Wilderness must have a wilderness permit."

"Because Desolation Wilderness is an extremely popular area and receives very heavy use during the summer months, it has been necessary to impose a quota for overnight use from June 15 through Labor Day. The quota is based upon the number of people, the date and particular point of entry. There is a limit of 15 people per permit. These numbers help maintain the "wilderness experience" that most people are seeking."

"For overnight users, 50% of the quota permits may be reserved up to 90 days in advance. The other 50% are issued on the actual day of entry on a first-come, first-serve basis."

"Mokelumne Wilderness"

"Each year the Mokelumne is receiving increasing use and "wear" by more and more backcountry travelers. To preserve the area's rewarding outdoor experiences, it is necessary to intensify management by imposing restrictions on those who cannot protect this special place."

BlueRibbon Coalition
SOURCE: www.sharetrails.org

This group is an organization which, according to their website, promotes "Preserving our natural resources FOR the public instead of FROM the public".

The BlueRibbon Coalition champions responsible use of public lands for the benefit of all recreationists by educating and empowering its members to:

  • Secure, protect, and expand shared outdoor recreation access and use
  • Work collaboratively with land managers and other recreationists
  • Educate the general public media, elected officials, and other decision makers on recreation and access issues
  • Promote equitable and responsible land management
  • Affect the political and administrative process
  • Support recreation on, and promote, respect for private property
  • Encourage appropriate enforcement of the law