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, Owner, Equestrian Trails and Facilities Consultant LLC

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 2019

About the Author

Lora’s parks and recreation career spans thirty-two years; twenty-five years she served as a dedicated law-enforcement/maintenance ranger at Metroparks of Toledo. Add to that her formal schooling in two distinct areas – environmental studies/resource management and equestrian studies. Work, education and personal experience have woven together seamlessly to create a uniquely qualified, neutral horse trail expert/consultant and author with a profound knowledge and understanding of recreational equestrian needs; sustainable trail planning and maintenance in natural areas; law enforcement issues and strategies; community involvement; best practice horse keeping; equine behavior; customer service; volunteerism; natural resource management; mounted patrol operations and multi-use-trail conflict resolution.

In 2011 she began sharing her expertise at park conferences including: The National Parks and Recreation Congress, Ohio Parks and Recreation Conference, American Trails Symposium and The Park Ranger Institute.

Lora has been a trail rider and horse owner since 1986 and has ridden, started and re-schooled a variety of horses in various disciplines. Current trail mounts include a Tennessee Walker gelding and a Warmblood cross, gelding. You might also find her hiking, cycling, kayaking or camping with and without horses.

Contact: [email protected]

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