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New perspectives in National Forest recreation

Kulla presents hierarchy of options for managing trail user conflicts.

By Gary Sprung

To improve managers' abilities to deal with the proliferation of new recreational activities such as "paragliders, jet skis, sailboards, mountain bicycles, wheeled dogsleds., recreational guerilla warfare firearms, recreational submarines..." Andy Kulla of the US Forest Service has written an excellent paper called A New Perspectives Approach in National Forest Recreation.

photo: Mountain Bikers on Trail

He notes that the common approach to new recreational activities is "'Ignore or Restrict'... New uses are ignored until they conflict with a traditional established use and then are managed by prohibition or restriction... The manager then tries to resolve a conflict between two or more often very angry and alienated user groups. By then it's often too late... Positions are taken, heels are dug in, and emotions rather than rational thought dominate the negotiations."

Kulla says that a land manager's attitude and approach can strongly influence the resolution of conflicts among the competing recreationists. Timing it critical. Managers must get recreationists "constructively involved in coalition building in the pre-conflict stage... to get out of advocacy and exclusionary roles and into understanding the needs and validity of other recreationists. He believes we need to stop promoting discussions of which use causes the greatest resource impact," for this means win/lose situations which "alienate user groups beyond the issue at hand. That alienation then waits for the manager in the future like an ambush."

Kulla uses mountain biking as a prototypical example of pro-active involvement by the Forest Service, and points to his own work organizing the LIMB club (Low Impact Mountain Bicyclists) in Missoula, MT.

Perhaps the best meat in the paper is an appendix covering "A hierarchy of solutions to mountain bike impact emphasizing user participation." It gives a list of options ranging from most preferable to least preferable. Outright closure of trails is last on the list. The second appendix includes a great list of ideas of how to improve mountain bicyclists' image, to take care of the land, and to reduce user conflicts.

The thought-provoking report is available from Andy Kulla at USDA Forest Service, Region One, Lolo National Forest, Building 24, Fort Missoula, Missola, MT 59801.

A hierarchy of options for managing trail user conflicts

by Andy Kulla

Listed from most preferable to least preferable:

- Signing

- Peer pressure

- Education

- Use closed roads

- Soft cycling training programs

- Trail design

- Barriers to control speed

- Requested walking zone

- One-way only

- Post speed limits

- Patrols by peers

- Patrols by rangers

- Ban during certain times

- Ban on certain days

- Construct separate routes

- Close certain areas and encourage use elsewhere

- Close trail

October 1997

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