A Motorized Advocate Explores the Common Ground Between All Trail Users

Mathew Giltner has worked in the trails world for decades to enhance off-highway vehicle (OHV) recreation

OHV recreation provides vital funding for all trail types through a fuel tax that funds the Recreational Trails Program (RTP), yet too often there are conflicts between motorized trail users and the broader trail community. American Trails talked to Mathew Giltner of the Silver State Off-Road Alliance in Nevada about the importance of OHV trails, and how we can start bridging communication gaps.

Hi Mathew, thank you for joining us for this interview. Can you tell us about yourself, and your work in the trails world?

I have spent my entire adult life in service to others. After a couple of decades working for the federal government I have elected to continue to do so in those communities where I participate. I am of the firm belief that it is irresponsible to take from the public inventory without adding to the public inventory.

A good analogy would be the Little League Baseball Coach.

There are two types.

The one who is super excited, working hard so long as their child is on the team. Once the child stops playing the parent steps down as a team coach.

The other type is the coach who has been in place for long enough to coach the children of their former players.

I submit the second coach is the one who is making a difference in the lives of those children. I consider the public lands and trails as the children in this analogy.

What led you to be interested in motorized trails?

Having grown up in the Northeast US I was riding snowmobiles before I was ten years old. It was always fun to go somewhere new, to a ten year old that is pretty much everywhere. Then taking a number of years off where I was ‘forced’ by the Government to take assignments on a tropical islands during the height of the drug wars, and other assignments It took no time to get back onto the snow once I retired. But what happened during my absence was amazing. The state had created a unified patchwork of trails on public and private lands. With standard requirements for signage, construction and maintenance. Where it becomes even more enjoyable is with advent of the fat tire bikes. Our efforts for the Snowmobiles had morphed to being a benefit the human powered sports too and that is really cool.

From a personal level, even as I am one to recoil from positive reinforcement or recognition, there is little more satisfying than working a long cold day grooming the trails, when a dozen or so sleds, a family group, of riders comes up from behind and seeing how happy they are at the work you have just completed, and seeing the young kids all waving and happy. A showing of pure joy on our public trail system. It is my hope that those kids grow up to become the next generation of trail volunteers.

What do you think are the greatest contributions motorized trails make to the trails world as a whole? How should we focus on conflicts between the users?

This is a loaded question but a great one. So lets get the uncomfortable bits out of the way first.

It is time to put away the pejoratives, enough with “Granolas”, the “Motorheads”, the ‘Tree Huggers” and the “Gearmouths”.
everyone is using the trails so let’s make it work.

Yes the motorized community has more than our fair share of jackassery but guess what? So does the non-motorized factions of trail users. For every beer can tossed out of a Side By Side, I’ll show you one ‘Not in my Backyard, “close the gate I am here now” corollary.

It is through the efforts of group like American Trails that we can fix this tension. And how? To quote some politician somewhere, I have a plan for that…

Currently here in Nevada we have very few official trails. No kidding. If you were look out my window right now you would see thousands of miles of tracks and used routes in the desert, but none of these are ‘trails’ by the managed definition.

In my role as Managing Director of the Silver State Off-Road Alliance, we are working with all the stake holders to develop a statewide system and by all stake holders, we are including the local hiking clubs, all the way up to the high speed desert race promoters.

So as we move forward with the process of developing a trail system the plan is specific to identify trails by use.

  1. Non Mechanical
  2. Non Motorized
  3. Motorized single track
  4. Motorized <50”
  5. Motorized >50”

Listed in the above order the lower numbers are always allowed to use the higher number’s trails so long as they understand they are now the burdened user and must to yield to other users.

Provided the trails are designed and maintained with the specific user in mind with adequate separation and destinations it is an easy task to design.

The difficult part is to garner the support from others in all off road disciplines. And let’s be honest-- getting the local club volunteers to …well ----see my answer above about the little league coach.

What is your favorite story of collaboration between motorized and non-motorized trail users working together?

My Local Club the Pine Nut Mountains Trail Association holds an annual outreach event. PNMTA is not a riding club we are a lands access advocacy club; it is our position if you hike ride horses, bikes quads or drive your rental car on public lands It is your property we allow to be managed by the government. We are here to protect your right to use your land.

As part of that advocacy we have an annual desert clean up. as one of the most sparsely populated states in the US, you may ask how much dumping can there be? The quantity is mind blowing, but for those who are not familiar with the environment in the high mountain desert, unlike the parts of the world where there is moisture which will eventually break down most any garbage (no I am not suggesting it is ok to litter elsewhere) the dryness of the desert does not break down everything scavengers can’t eat it will still be there long after I am dead. A simple example is to ask folks to go visit the Bodie State Park just over the boarder (and which is reachable by trails form the north side and I will gladly guide anyone who wants to ride through a 9700ft alpine meadow to get there hint hint ). But a visit to Bodie, shows how long it takes for things to breakdown in a dry environment.

So as part of our outreach event we have been successful in pulling in support from the community, everyone from the morning dog walkers, to the big jeep rock crawlers shows up. And more than once I have been told-

“wow all we ever see of you guys is the dust as you go zooming across the desert, I didn’t know you did this too this is great Thank You”

Over the last 20 years, PNMTA has removed over a quarter million pounds of trash including dozens of abandoned vehicles from the Nevada desert. And each of your readers is invited to join us in the fall for our two clean up events.

Do you see resistance from the motorized trail community in working with outside organizations? If so, what could help break down those barriers?

It is important that we understand the mechanics of the problems.

As someone who is not a game hunter growing up I never understood how a group like Ducks Unlimited could be an environmental asset. They are shooting ducks after all, it was only as a young adult that the connection clicked between maintaining a well-balanced clean environment that would attract the ducks for the users to responsibly harvest.

I see American trails in that same position. I have lost count at the number of times that I have used the phrase - “Trails Move People”

Because they do-- sure in the locomotive context, but I will (gladly) take anyone who wants to ride on some of our (non existent) trails here in Nevada, to see things that have a history going back to the Mesozoic era or see the efforts of the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps work still standing today, visit the Ruins of a mining community, the cemeteries in the middle of ‘nowhere’ memorializing those who died trying to make their dream come true in America’s most hostile environment. …. All the things that you can’t get to by car. For me personally this is what moves me. To see what “was” and how we can embrace the past and use it to improve our future.

This is why the resistance between the factions needs to end. And if any of your readers is skeptical let’s talk the uncomfortable facts.

Right now the well known advisories to motorized recreation have their hands in their pockets because these groups to Public lands access are as powerful as the NRA is to firearms access. This is because the OHV community has resisted organizing.

That has changed.

And because I never hesitate to be blunt, If we don’t work together the more environmentally sensitive area will lose, your favorite remote hiking spot will lose, your secret fishing hole will lose. This is the opportune time for the reader to exclaim. That’s not who I support, my Guy would never let that happen. When we win …blah blah blah.

I remain politically unaffiliated for 224 reasons, mostly because having been a government insider, I saw how quickly our ‘elected’ officials will sacrifice reason, science, policy freedom and trust for the opportunity to get funding. Both to their pet projects and their campaigns.

With nearly 900 Billion dollars in consumer spending roughly sixty percent ends up in the hands of the motorized outdoor community the rest evenly divided amongst the more dispersed recreational activities like fishing hunting hiking alpine and nordic skiing.

It should be crystal clear where the money is sitting and who’s interests are going to be protected.

Today is the day where we who understand there are many facets of trails and the need to protect and promote existing ones while building sustainable trails – it is time to get on board and make the change rather than wait for the change to be made for us.

Of course, what is your favorite trail?

My favorite trail is the one that has been forgotten, neglected or not yet built.

…… But I have a plan for that

Silver State Off-Road Alliance

Pine Nut Mountains Trails Association

Bodie State Historic Park

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