Trail Stewardship

By: Cary Smith

Let’s be honest. As an issue, trail access is nothing compared to famine, poverty or violent crime. But, on a local level, at least in my town, it garners much more conversation. I have been fortunate to be included in some discussions with “the players” in this field over the last few weeks and it started me thinking about my actions, both good and bad, and how I can improve.

  Horses are users too.

Horses are users too.

Put place before self. This idea was presented to me and it gave me pause. Instead of thinking about how wild spaces can work for me, I should think instead of what would happen if it was gone. If I’m honest with myself, this is a difficult concept. I want to be able to enjoy the land and don’t want to be denied access. Yet I’m fully OK with denying access to mining, logging, development and horses. In other words, give me free rein but lock out other user groups who don’t improve my experience. This is a selfish outlook that will obviously lead to confrontation. So, I hope to see the land through the eyes of other user groups so we can all enjoy it. On the other hand, I will try to educate the other groups about what they can do to help all of us have a good experience as well.

Get involved. The more I learn about how decisions are made, the more I realize how important individual voices are. If there’s a public comment period about a decision to be made, submit a comment. Don’t just talk about it at the trailhead. If a trend develops, good or bad, inform the proper entity. The people who make decisions can’t read minds and don’t know everything that happens. Help them out by relaying what is seen and heard.

  User groups are many and varied.

User groups are many and varied.

The Forest Service is not the enemy. In my area, most of the land is controlled by the USFS. They love the land and are doing everything in their power to protect it. Unfortunately, they are woefully underfunded and understaffed. This may lead to the perception that they don’t care and would rather close the land to everything. I don’t think this is the case. They are in the unenviable position of trying to please everyone, which will often leave nobody feeling pleased. Again, tell them what is seen and heard so that they can base their decisions on what the public wants.

Be nice. This is easy to do when everyone else is being nice, but the true test is my reaction when I experience something inconsiderate, mean, dangerous or illegal. Nobody wants to hear that they’re doing something wrong. It is a goal of mine to be tactful and educational when I see a problem with someone’s actions. I need to be very cautious, however, to not overreach and ask them to change solely to improve my experience.

Remember the goal. There are more and more people enjoying the outdoors. Although it may feel crowded, look at the big picture and be happy that they’re out there experiencing wild spaces in their own way.