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Land preservation: the new mission for trail advocates

From the Summer 2000 issue of Trail Tracks, the national newsletter of American Trails

Our next challenge as trail supporters will be to form closer bonds with open space and wildlife advocates, and to keep the focus on saving the lands we all want to keep open.

By Stuart Macdonald

"Even with a great deal of research and discussion, we find that the impacts of trails on wildlife are difficult to document."

A topic of much recent discussion is "trails and wildlife"— or often, "trails versus wildlife." So, are trails just a scar across the landscape? Well, sure. They are also a source of delight and inspiration. But even with a great deal of research and discussion, we find that the impacts of trails on wildlife are difficult to document. What is much more clear is that the biggest threat to wildlife is land development— not just habitat impact, but habitat obliteration.

We should remember the old advice to "pick your battles carefully."

If you were trying to have the most positive impact on biodiversity, would you spend your energy fighting against trail use on some remote forests? Isn't it likely that far more public support could be gathered to protect a 10,000 acre ranch, or a key stretch of river corridor threatened with roads and houses?

I like the way Jack Appleyard of the East Bay Area Trails Council puts it:

"More public habitat has been preserved because of public support for parklands with access, than could have been remotely possible as simple wildlife refuges. By dividing the environmental community into conflicting camps of preservationists versus recreationists, this view diminishes the community's ability to unite for the protection of wildlife habitat."

An important engine of funding for land protection has been the passage of local tax initiatives by voters in cities and counties throughout America. These programs simply make funds available for local priorities in keeping some lands undeveloped. And increasingly, trails advocates are part of these open space coalitions.

Florida's statewide trails plan embodies this cooperative goal. Titled Connecting Florida's Communities with Greenways and Trails, it begins with this vision:

"We believe these corridors— these greenways and trails— offer Florida a comprehensive way of looking at conservation and recreation, a way that recognizes the importance of each and the interconnectedness of both."

But we aren't turning our back on protecting the resources our trails run through. Land conservation and sensitive trail design are the themes of several sessions for trails advocates at the National Trails Symposium in September. Some specific topics include:

  • Design and Construction of Trails in Sensitive Areas
  • Conservation Principles for Equestrians
  • Planning Trails with Wildlife in Mind
  • Monitoring the Effects of Outdoor Recreation
  • Maximizing Trail Access and Resource Protection

Our next challenge as trail supporters will be to form closer bonds with open space and wildlife advocates, and to keep the focus on saving the lands we all want to keep open, not on preservation versus recreation.

Stuart Macdonald is newsletter editor and website manager for American Trails. He spend 19 years as State Trails Coordinator for the state of Colorado where he managed the Trails and Wildlife Project. The report of the project's task force, "Planning Trails with Wildlife in Mind," is available on the American Trails Website.

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