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“If we want a lot of great, quality, sustainable trails, we need to focus more on cooperating with the people with whom we have the most in common: other trail users.”


arrow From the Fall 2014 issue of American Trails Magazine


Why you should support other recreational trail users’ trails


Outdoor activity has long been a part of my life. When I was growing up, swimming, bike riding, hiking, and camping were family recreational activities. There was a decade of sailing. As a young mother, my son and I biked locally and hiked many trail miles across Delmarva and in Northeast states. Today, I prefer to hike, walk, and bike.

photo of ATVs on trail

"People are people no matter how we choose
to recreate"

I remember reading an article regarding a national conservation group’s members leading people for off-trail runs through an area that was recently scorched by a fire, creating rogue trails and trampling areas that were posted as closed to give the earth time to recover from the fires. Should I assume that all hikers/runners are bad or that all members of this conservation group don’t really care about the environment?

I have seen parents let their children loose on a posted closed area in Mt. St. Helens national park. The kids were running on a fragile meadow which was set aside for rehabilitation after the volcano erupted in 1980. Should I assume that all parents have no control over their kids or have no care for the impact their children cause to the environment?

I have heard of equestrians threatening to interrupt a fully permitted youth dirt bike event by riding on trails that were not open to horses, not caring of the potential to harm children who thought they were riding on one-way trails. I have heard of dirt bike riders who have breached equestrian-only trails with little concern that they could spook the horses.

I have heard of mountain bike riders who travel down steep multi-use trails at unsafe speeds without a thought of potentially running down a hiker or spooking a horse. Does this mean I should think ill of all equestrians, dirt bike riders, or mountain bike riders?

I hope your answer is “no” for all of the questions above. People are people no matter how we choose to recreate. Most of us are good, responsible recreators regardless of our form of recreation. And in every single group, there are a few bad apples that give the rest of us a bad name.

If you are wondering about how this philosophical reflection relates to the article title, it is to help us to remember that each trail user has more in common with each other than differences. For all of you doubting my sanity with that statement, take a step back and think of why you like to use trails. Do these ideas strike a chord?

• Physical exercise
• Being out in nature
• Getting away from it all
• Being in God’s country
• Seeing awesome views
• Seeing flora and fauna
• Relieving stress

Then there is that sense of freedom or spirit revitalization that only comes when you are out in nature and are absorbing the essence of the environment. It doesn’t matter what your type of recreation is, those are most likely the key aspects of why you like trails.

Now we get to the reason for this article. All of us want trails and there is only so much land to go around. There is no longer enough land available for each trail user to have their own dedicated trail system. We are going to have to share some trail with other recreational types.

The more acreage that is shut off to any type of trail system leaves that much less available acreage for everyone. If a local equestrian trail system is closed, those equestrians may end up on trails designed and focused on hikers or mountain bikers. If ATV trails are closed, they may end up on forest roads or other, wider trails which were not designed for their use. If walking trails are closed, the hikers may end up on dirt bike or mountain bike trails. You get the picture. Forcing other trail users off of their trail systems could very well put them onto your trail systems.

And getting back to people being people, they are most likely going to continue their chosen form of recreation whether or not their trails are closed or prevented from being open. Although, I don’t condone any type of illegal trail use, I have to acknowledge that it exists and is not likely to stop unless those trail user’s needs are met in a legal and managed setting.

So the next time you think of opposing a trail system for another recreational type, take a moment and reflect that assisting in the creation of those other trails, your trails could be either improved or remain intact. And in the end, if we want a lot of great, quality, sustainable trails systems that get us all into nature, we need to focus more on cooperating with the people with whom we have the most in common, other trail users.


Karen Umphress is a member of the American Trails Board and Project Manager for the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council.

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