From Horse Trails Symposium, Clemson University, 1998.
Equestrians rightfully should be credited with developing many of the nation's earliest trails. Today horse riders must spend much energy and effort to protect access that used to be a given. The theme song used to be "Home, Home on the Range," but now it is "Don't Fence Me In."
Horse associations were some of the first organized trail user groups formed as a result of being fenced in or fenced out. In every state, there are shining success stories of equestrians spending valuable time building and maintaining trails and lobbying to keep them open. The era of building single-use trails has ended as trail managers have attempted to provide quality experiences to serve the tremendous increase in demand.
As trails continue to increase in popularity, many issues must be addressed. Some of these are:
1) keeping traditionally used trails open,
2) sharing trails with other trail users,
3) safety concerns,
4) environmental impacts due to out-of-date and inadequate design techniques and overuse,
5) lack of funding for maintenance and new trail development, and
6) access to high-quality outdoor experiences including the experience of solitude.
Trail users, including equestrians, almost lost the single most important funding source in the history of trails: the National Recreational Trails Fund provided for under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA). (This fund was renamed the Recreational Trails Program during the new Transportation Equity Act for the Twenty-First Century (TEA 21) reauthorization.) This was due to internal warring among trail user groups and between trail user groups and environmental groups opposed to increased trail use-- especially motorized trail use.
Thanks to the program's requirement to create a state trails advisory board on which a spectrum of trail users are represented, including both motorized and non-motorized recreational trail users, the fund was eventually saved. This occurred because the trails community finally came together and focused on the common goal of finding a good funding source to address the overwhelming backlog of poorly maintained trails and the need for new trail opportunities. The spirit of the program has provided a forum for all trail interests to communicate, and to learn to cooperate with each other.
All users cause damage to the environment— some more than others. Too much time is wasted arguing the position that my use causes less damage to the trail than does yours, or that you have more irresponsible users than do we. The focus must be on what each trail user can do to decrease the damage they do to the environment. Each user has the responsibility to give back to the trail and to follow established rules of etiquette. Thanks to national trail user groups and their successful educational programs and outreach programs, the renegades are becoming a minority on the trail.
This is the 30th anniversary of the National Trails System Act and the dawn of the Twenty-First Century. If the trails community continues the trend of overcoming obstacles, forging new alliances, increasing communication, expanding education, committing to cooperation and finding common ground, a successful national trails system that meets the recreation, health and travel needs of ALL Americans will be rapidly established.
The mission of American Trails is to create a comprehensive national trails infrastructure that meets the recreation, health, and travel needs of ALL Americans. American Trails is the only national, nonprofit organization working on behalf of all trails and trail interests. American Trails is willing to work with all trail user groups who support responsible and sustainable trail use methods. American Trails builds its efforts on the premise that all trail users have a right to recreate, but they also have a responsibility to recreate responsibly. Putting all trail users on the same trail is not the solution, but bringing all users together to find common ground is the first step in finding a solution.
American Trails' work includes establishing and maintaining a united trails constituency. Building a united front increases opportunities to effect change with decision-makers, including maintaining access. Where common ground cannot be found, it is important to learn to understand and respect differences.