An Interview with Geoff Baker

Geoff Baker is an attorney and an experienced mountain bike rider who has worked to preserve trails for mountain bikers. This interview was conducted in the summer of 2010.

Geoff Baker

Bruce Reichert: As a mountain biker, what do you like about the White Clouds?
Geoff Baker: I had some friends take me up to the Fisher Williams Loop; and that is just one of those epic, fun, nationally known, or at least regionally known trails, that once you do it, you're hooked. I wanted to explore a little bit more outside of just Fisher Williams and there are some fantastic trails up there. They are some of those high alpine trails – Fourth of July Creek up over into Ants Basin and Warm Springs Creek and Robinson Bar, and some of those trails which would be closed to mountain bikers. Those are some of the best trails in the state of Idaho, if not in the rocky mountain west.

BR: What's your take on CIEDRA, the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act?
GB: I only recently started looking into what CIEDRA is all about, and understanding that is a very divisive issue among mountain bikers. You have some who also ride motorcycles, and they want to keep it open; and you have some who are also backpackers and they might want to close it to mountain bikes.

My own personal view is mountain biking is a compatible activity with wilderness. And the main problem really isn't CIEDRA itself. The main problem is the prohibition – the general prohibition -- against mountain biking in protected wilderness areas like that.

Mountain biking is silent, it is human powered, and from a strictly environmental perspective, we're very respectful of trails. We don't get out there and attempt to do damage. We're not 2,000 pound horses with metal shoes on.

We're riding 26 - 27 pound bikes with soft rubber tires, and it brings people from all over the west, all over Idaho, to come ride in that area. I look at it from an economic development standpoint. There are studies after studies that show that mountain bike trails and mountain bikers create a positive economic impact for rural communities, especially places like Stanley. It is not something we should ignore, and it is certainly not something we should try to get rid of in places like Stanley.

A mountain biker crosses a stream on a log.BR: You are an attorney. You've probably had some passing familiarity with the Wilderness Act and what it would take to change it. What are your thoughts?
GB: If I had one personal goal to achieve in the next 40 years of my professional career, that is the golden ring right there. It is merely an interpretation of the law. It is not written right in the law. It is an interpretation of what mechanized means, and the Forest Service or the powers that be have determined that mountain biking qualifies as mechanized.

I think the values of mountain bikers and what mountain biking is all about furthers the interest of preservation. We're certainly not out there to damage the trails. The vast majority of mountain bikers I know are very ardent environmentalists, and I think would get behind an effort to see mountain biking opened up in wilderness. And I don't think the wilderness advocates are against that. I think they are like everybody else; they just don't know what to do with us. We get looped in with the motorized group, but at the same time we have so many more commonalities with the hikers and the backpackers than we do with the motorized groups.

BR: But not all mountain bikers are created equal. Some can really go places that no one would have imagined even a few years ago.
GB: Mountain biking itself has evolved so much in the last 30 years. It used to be just cross country riding, and then downhill riding was developed, and now you've got free riding, and you've got people who want to see structures and big jumps and things like that, and those aren't compatible with wilderness.

And so trying to get all mountain bikers on the same page sometimes is really difficult. You have organizations like the International Mountain Biking Association. They do represent a broad swath of the mountain biking community. I think they are the key group here who can really speak for the broader mountain biking community as a whole.

Born Lake North in the White CloudsThere really isn't one central group that can speak for mountain bikers in Idaho. You have all these separate little groups throughout the state, but there is no one unified voice for mountain bikers in Idaho. I'd love to see there be some sort of mountain bike trail association that can speak for all of us.

BR: Do you feel any sympathy for someone like Congressman Simpson who is trying to put a wilderness proposal together that everyone can buy into?
GB: As they always say about legislation, it is like sausage. You don't ever want to watch it being made. For part of my professional life I do work on legislation. I have written a lot of pieces of legislation. I've overseen lobbyists and worked with lobbyists and worked with legislators directly ,and I know how difficult the process is from a personal standpoint and a professional standpoint. I don't envy Congressman Simpson or Senator Crapo or Senator Risch or any politician who is directly involved in this, because you've got a lot of cats to herd, and some of the cats don't like each other at all, so how do you get around that?

They say the most successful legal settlement is where nobody is happy. And maybe that is the answer here, is we're all going to have to give up a little bit. But man, I personally would hate to lose some of those trails, and it would be nice to see something written into the Act to preserve a corridor for just mountain bikes. If they can do that for the motorized group, why not preserve for just mountain bikes? I think they can write that into the Act. I'm not absolutely sure, but that is something I would love to see preserved in there. Just open it up to a couple of trails for just mountain bikers.

Like I said, the brass ring is getting mountain bikes out of that mechanized definition, and man, if I could work on that and get paid for it, that would really be nirvana for me!