Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Other trail users - motorized users

As a hiker I don't like motorized use of backcountry trails or roads set aside for snow recreation use. Over the years I've been hiking, I have observed enough bad behavior by riders of trails bikes, ATVs, and snowmobiles to ensure I don't like such uses of trails. Motorized use tends to be noisy and polluting, lead to increased environmental degradation, and users may be inconsiderate to the point of vandalism and other illegal behavior. On one occasion, I heard noise coming up behind me that I initially thought was Whidbey Island jet jockeys flying up canyons north of Lake Wenatchee, something I've seen several times. No, it was 3 dirt bikes coming up the trail. Many off-road machines are 2-stroke engines which are inefficient and unnecessarily pollute the air. I've seen riders pull down fences and signs, both on public and private lands. Also, I've seen riders use closed trails and ride across previously unmarked land, destroying vegetation. Many arid hills show erosion patterns due to multiple bike or ATV trails going up.

Of course motorized use doesn't have to be so obnoxious. Quieter 4-stroke engines and mufflers are available. Riders who obey laws and ride on hard surfaces don't necessarily cause excessive erosion. Of course most motorized use is more damaging than hiking, but I've seen enough alpine meadows trampled by hikers to know that other users also cause environmental damage and I've commented recently on horse and mountain bike issues. I've had pleasant conversations with people on dirt bikes, snowmobiles, and ATVs many times. I have also seen riders help non-riders when lost, stuck, or mildly injured. Of course this is expected behavior but points out that not all riders are obnoxious jerks.

I also know that riding may be fun. For a couple of years around 1970, I used a trail bike to get into Forest Service lands. Mostly I used the bike to allow myself to get closer to the area I wanted to hike than I could with a car rather than actually ride on a trail, my skills weren't up to real trail riding but I remember enjoying riding along Forest Service roads. On my recent trips to Utah, I've wanted to take an ATV on some of the motorized trails, I can't hike that far anymore and I would like to get further into the non-road areas. I've used a snowmobile a couple of times on logging roads, it was great.

My copy of Backpacking One Step at a Time (1973) has the following quote "Strangers met on the trail deserve the same consideration - unless they are riding motorbikes in which case the proper response is every manner of hostility short of lynching." My response to this quote has moved from amusement to acceptance to dismay. I don't like motorized trail use, I don't even want to be in the same area that motorized use is occurring but I think that blanket hostility is the wrong approach. I think riders behaving in a considerate, legal, and respectful manner should be treated courteously, as we treat all other users. Yes, motorized use is problematic and uses more resources than non-motorized use. But I drive often and sometimes longs distances to hike, is this not a waste of precious resources? Also, there is some hypocrisy in a group of users who celebrate the joy of helicopter-assisted skiing but object to snowmobiles on a logging road. All recreational users need to consider the cost of their use and work to reduce these costs.

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