Trail Warriors

American Trails contributor Lora Goerlich celebrates Trail Warriors-- park rangers, naturalists, maintenance workers, and staff-- who understand and care about real and sustainable trail access.

by Lora Goerlich

photo credit: Frances Gunn, unsplash

Trail Warriors - the long-standing park employees who quietly and painstakingly advocate for inclusion. Their position within a park agency might be a park ranger, naturalist, maintenance or non-field personnel. Trail Warriors have extensive knowledge of the nuances of select user groups. Their ability to masterfully balance user needs, maintenance, education, law enforcement, communication and conservation is a core trait, impossible to write into a job description.

Misconceptions combined with misinformation often expose Equestrian Trail Warriors to unyielding scrutiny and criticism at their workplace, from opposing user groups and sadly, the groups they advocate for. In spite of it all, they work tirelessly to maintain presence. Uncelebrated, silent victories may include maintaining current access to equestrian trails, successful inclusion in new trail opportunities, implementing trail safety realignments, creating safe access points for park neighbors/boarding stables, integration of volunteers, educating staff and the public while dispelling common myths; successful elimination of proposals for user specific entry fees; ensuring appropriate facilities, adequate trail signage (rules, educational, directional, maps) and timely facility/trail maintenance such as mowing, trail trimming, tread repair or deadfall removal.

Law Enforcement personnel have the added responsibility of enforcing rules that protect both natural resources and visitors. Trail violations such as, treading off designated paths, consuming alcohol/drugs, littering, dogs off leash (where leash laws have been established), habituating wildlife (stopping in the roadway/getting too close to wildlife), poaching (flora or fauna) and reckless behavior are typically treated with zero tolerance. When misuse is deliberate and recurrent, citations are necessary. Vigilant adherence to rules is what keeps trails open, whereas careless behavior on trails jeopardizes trail access opportunities.

Trail enthusiasts can support parks and Trail Warriors by following established rules set forth in each park; making choices that support sustainable trails; behaving politely to park staff and other park visitors, including those traveling in different modes; offering constructive feedback rather than making demands when expressing ideas; and adhering to volunteer guidelines during work projects. If you don’t understand a recent change, change that seems slow, or lack of change, ask for clarification from the person who knows; most of the time it will be the Trail Warrior. Use the correct line of communication by speaking with the liaison (TW) first. This demonstrates respect for the liaison and for the process.

Do you know who your park Trail Warriors are? How have you acknowledged them? Is your acknowledgment positive, negative or absent? ~ Lora Goerlich

Published December 10, 2019

About the Author

Lora served as a law enforcement-maintenance park ranger for twenty-five years with Metroparks of Toledo and was stationed at the “globally rare” Oak Openings Preserve. Throughout her career she was deeply committed to educating equestrians, non-equestrians and land stewards about proper trail etiquette, trail planning in natural areas, and to preserving equestrian trails. In 2011 Lora began teaching at international, national and state conferences to further encourage equestrian trail inclusion. She has been a board member for the Park Ranger Institute since 2015.

Her formal education includes an associate degree in horse production and management from The Ohio State University and a bachelor of science in environmental studies/resource management from The University of Toledo. Lora’s areas of expertise include: extensive knowledge of equestrian needs (trails and facilities), trail planning and maintenance, law enforcement issues, community involvement, best practice horse keeping, equine behavior, customer service, volunteerism, natural resource management, mounted patrol operations and multi-use-trail conflict resolution.

Lora started riding in 1986, crossing multiple disciplines before exclusively trail riding; you might also find her camping, hiking, kayaking, cross country skiing or cycling. Her current trail horses include: a Paso Fino mare, Tennessee Walker gelding and a rescued gelding of unknown background.

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