Saving Trails

An OTM contributor recently informed me (only half seriously, I think) that he didn’t appreciate coverage we gave to a few of his favorite trails via articles in our September issue. More attention to once lesser-known places, the argument goes, means more people on the trails, fewer parking spots at trailheads and increased impacts on wildlife. The conversation reminded me of a bumper sticker I have seen a few times on pickup trucks in Coeur d’Alene: “Idaho’s Full, Go Home.”

While there are many people who enjoy hiking or biking in groups and the social element of being outside with like-minded individuals, others, including the guy who was giving me grief for publicizing his not-so-secret “secret” spots, generally prefer solitude to socializing on the trail. A misanthropic hiking buddy of mine used to take this sentiment to the extreme. While on backpacking trips or traveling through other parts of the West in the late 90s, if anyone would ever get curious about the Inland Northwest after asking where we were from, he would try to scare them away from visiting or moving to North Idaho and Eastern Washington by making up stories about our beloved home. His favorite yarn was to tell them how awesome the area is, “except for all of the neo-nazis and militias.” With his white lie, he hoped to keep more of the wilderness trails, lakes and rivers from being overrun by others seeking that next, best undiscovered place.

Most outdoor enthusiasts would probably prefer to have more elbow room out on the trails, but it’s tough to ignore the evidence that we are in serious trouble as a society and planet if we don’t come up with better ways to connect more of our fellow humans with nature, especially young people. That doesn’t mean we should encourage every man, woman and child to visit our most pristine and ecologically fragile places, but who will stand up for existing and future trails, recreation areas, wild places, and parks if there isn’t a robust community of people who use and enjoy them? As an outdoor recreation community, it’s in our best interest to encourage others to get outside and play but also to learn about minimizing impacts and Leave No Trace recreation (check out our Last Page article in this issue for more on this subject).

Even though I sometimes find myself cringing at the loud chatter of a big group marching through the woods in my direction when I’d rather be listening to songbirds or the delicate sound of crickets buzzing in the brush, I mostly feel a sense of camaraderie with the people I run into out on the trails these days, whether it’s in Riverside State Park or the Salmo Priest Wilderness. And I have a little more hope for the future with each pair of hiking boots, running shoes or pedals I pass along the way. //

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