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Maintaining Trails for the 21st Century
The whole context of public trails and how they are managed is changing.
By Tony Boone
Will our trail resources survive the 21st century? As it stands now, the answer is questionable. Public demand for trails continues to increase while funding for trails, especially at the federal level, is shrinking. How can we ensure that our favorite trails and trails we haven't yet explored survive this imbalance?
The whole context of public trails and how they are managed is changing. To survive, land management agencies are relying more on volunteers, trail advocacy groups, alternative labor/funding sources, technology and professional trail contractors. Volunteer labor is fast becoming the main force in the effort to protect our trail resources.
Mountain bikers make up a large part of these volunteers. The International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) and its 350 affiliated clubs around the U.S.and abroad have taken a leadership role and infused new meaning into the term "proactive trail advocacy." IMBA's trail advocates are working diligently with land managers to maintain some of our nation's most heavily used trails. Involving volunteers increases their awareness of trail stewardship and natural resource issues. Volunteers who have experienced a day of "sweat equity" on their favorite trail know how rewarding the experience can be.
State-of-the-art technology is decreasing the hand labor required during trail construction. Wider trails (48-60") are becoming more common. They are more economical and quicker to build and maintain. Trail users also find them easier to share with other users. By using innovative trail designs, conflicts between visitors are being minimized. By simply reducing the speed of aggressive mountain bikers, the trail experience and safety for all visitors may be enhanced.
Off-budget trail projects will become more common. These cooperative agreements bring public agencies, private companies and volunteers together. The funding source usually consists of grants, donations, and/or corporate sponsorships. The labor force can be volunteers, trail advocacy groups, youth groups, community service workers, and/or prison inmates. Trail contractors may also provide professional expertise and help implement trail projects when no staff is available.
Private landowners are promoting new hiking and riding opportunities in areas that have inadequate recreational trail opportunities. Whether it's a cattle ranch in Texas or a ski resort in New York, individuals and companies will continue to capitalize on the popularity of outdoor recreational trails.
With our help and efforts, trails can survive the 21st century. Protecting our trail resources is also one of the best ways to protect our natural and cultural resources. Remember, nature's enemy is not outdoor recreation but poor recreation management.Tony Boone is president of Arrowhead Trails, Inc., a company dedicated to designing, developing and maintaining sustainable, natural surface, multiple-use trails. Arrowhead Trails, Inc., Tony & Danna Boone, 11121 CR 240, Salida, CO 81201 (719) 539-2817 www.arrowheadtrails.com. October 1997
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Updated January 30, 2018