The New York Times has been running a series of detailed articles about the changing demands being placed on public lands throughout the American West.
No matter how far you are from these wide-open spaces, if you pay taxes, this land truly is YOUR land. Active participation in the issues surrounding the use of these lands is the only way to ensure they’re managed in a way that best represents tax payers.
One of the articles, "Surge in Off-Roading Stirs Dust and Debate in the West" hits on something a number of us in the West take for granted: access to good trails on public lands. Trails are our gateways to the wide-open spaces that inspire so much of the silent, human-powered recreation–which in turn inspires us. The great challenge in managing these lands is their very spirit: they’re preserved as free and open places where a vast array of users can pursue their own definitions of fun, and live out their own expressions of freedom. Increasingly, this means something land managers refer to as "user-group conflicts."
The below report touches on precisely this topic from a local angle. It comes to us from local writer, trail activist, and backcountry junkie posting as "Wolfy" on the well-trafficked blog The Bacon Strip.
“It’s easier to pull the trigger than play guitar; easier to destroy than to create.” Desperado
The good thing about the West—the new west where heavy-duty pickup trucks replace horses, smartphones replace sidearms and the money trail leads east—is that wild places like the Ruby Mountains, the Toiyabies, and even little Peavine Mountain in Reno, NV are easy targets for weekend warriors armed with Subarus and Friday afternoons off. The flip side of that is the same. Everyone’s back yard has gotten bigger thanks to interstate highways with 75 MPH speed limits and urban affluence so close to areas that are still remote.
Around Reno, it is not uncommon to see OHV riders commuting several miles to trail heads on non-street legal vehicles to poach non-motorized trails. It is not uncommon to hear gunfire from over a hill while families are out riding bikes, hiking or exploring the dirt roads of Peavine Mountain. It’s not uncommon to see people having fun and experiencing the genuine joy of the outdoors while forgetting that leaving too great a mark on the landscape will inherently alter the experience.
Peavine is a place we all consider our backyard. And it’s hard to shake a sense of entitlement bread of proximity and familiarity. But the sense of stewardship necessary to protect your back yard seems missing in the new western ethos. Motor sports requite a lot of money and time to engage. And their political lobby is huge, yet all of the money spent to protect rights, does nothing to protect the actual resource: the mountain, the hill, the trails that bring the joy that drives sport for all of us.
The thing is that we’re all, for the most part, pulling the trigger. Mountain bikers aren’t any better. Stewardship groups like The Poedunks (www.poedunk.com), Ride With Respect (http://www.ridewithrespect.com/), Leave No Trace (http://www.lnt.org/), and Tread Lightly(http://www.treadlightly.org/) are struggling with little funding and little community buy-in. The solution is neither legislation or law enforcement. None of us wants fees, and government employees guarding our back yard.
WE need to be the ones protecting it. Get on the mailing list for a group who is putting shovels in the ground to build, maintain and protect the trails you love. Become a member. Then in the spring, when the time comes, get out and put in some labor on the mountain.