Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Other trail users - horsemen

While I am occasionally irritated by mountain bikers, I would much rather share trails with them than with horse and mule riders and to a lessor extent, other stock users. I will use horsemen as a generic term and because my primary objections are to riders as opposed to other stock users.

The most obvious issue with horsemen is the horse manure spread liberally along the trail. While horse manure isn't nearly as objectionable as human or dog crap, few people want to walk in fresh horse crap. I have seen some trails, both in Yellowstone and other areas, literally covered with manure to the point there is no place to walk except in the crap. I find this especially galling since heavy use by horsemen nearly always indicates commercial guided operators. I don't object to commercial guides but I think when such operators degrade or monopolize a public trail, they have an obligation to mitigate their impact, something I don't often see. I was amused to read on a Yellowstone trailhead register a comment that "all horses should wear diapers". I wouldn't go that far but can appreciate the sentiment. On trails with lighter use the horse crap isn't a big deal but I avoid such trails during the summer because of noticeably heavier concentrations of bugs.

Stock use tends to cause greater trail erosion and mud problems than hiking or bike use. Many trails are closed seasonally to stock due to wet conditions; I think more western Washington trails should be closed to stock either seasonally or year around given the wet conditions common here. It is discouraging to be hiking a trail and need to navigate several freshly churned mud bowls. I've also had problems with balance on trails with even light horse usage.

Some horsemen are notably insensitive to other trail and camp users, in other words they are rude. I've been to a number of camp areas clearly marked "No stock in camp" that have unmistakable remains of stock. Horsemen seem to believe hikers can instantaneously vacate the trail when horse and hikers meet. I fully understand that stock have the trail right of way and try to move aside as quickly as I safely can do so. However, that may take a bit of time especially on steep trails or brushy hillsides. I don't move faster when encouraged by peremptory commands or sarcastic comments. A few years ago I was hiking a much used trail when I was overtaken by 2 women cantering by on horseback. At the pace they were going they quickly came up behind hikers who could not hear them until they were close due to a noisy creek. From what I saw when they passed me and the group ahead of me, the 2 women were oblivious to the hikers and continued as if the hikers were not there. They didn't run down any hikers but I got the feeling they might. As I continued out, other hikers commented unhappily on these two.

I certainly don't wish to exclude stock users from all trails. Many horsemen and other stock users are polite and helpful. I am also very aware of the historical, legal, and practical issues that favor horsemen. I certainly prefer horsemen to motorized usage in wilderness or parks. Some wilderness or park areas are simply too large for efficient patrolling or access by most hikers. I've desired for some time to use a pack service to allow me to spend time in a remote area without having to pack on my back all my gear and to allow a longer and more comfortable stay. I also believe, as I mentioned with mountain bikers, that the more users of backcountry and trails there are, the better. I don't know how much horsemen contribute to trail building and maintenance; locally I've read both that they do more than their share and much less than their share.

As mentioned above, I would like commercial operators who use specific trails to take responsibility for such trails or to construct separate horse and hiking trails if feasible. I would like more wet trails closed either seasonally or year around to stock use. Actually in western WA, some trails should be closed to all use seasonally or for a few years until the trails can be rebuilt or recover from heavy use. I would like horsemen to consider the needs of other trails users and obey regulations. And, I would like horsemen to visibly help build and maintain trails. The amount of anger I hear and read from hikers toward horsemen is not good and I hope it can be reduced.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Other trail users - mountain bikers

The International Mountain Biking Association is trying to open more trails in national parks to mountain biking (http://www.imba.com/news/action_alerts/12_08/12_18_nps.html). There has been some tension between hiking proponents and mountain biking proponents since mountain biking started as anyone who has read USENET's rec.backcountry in recent years is very aware. I don't fully understand the reasons for the conflict although I have had some less than pleasant encounters with mountain bikers. In the park I go to most, Yellowstone, only a few trails are open to biking and these are old roads still occasionally used for service. I would not want bikes on most of the backcountry trails. On the other hand, on my trips to Utah parks and monuments, I've encountered bikers on several trails and had no issues with them. This may be due to the differences in climate and ecology or just what I'm accustomed to seeing.

The issues I have had with mountain bikers have been minor and fairly infrequent. Once I met a couple of bikers on a trail clearly marked as closed to bikers (not in a park). They also left some obvious signs of trail damage - probably part of the reason this trail was closed to biking (and stock use). The other issue is having to quickly step off the trail due to bikers descending without full control. And, as mentioned, biking may cause more trail damage than hikers. Still, excessive hiking also causes trail damage and I've complained in several posts about less than courteous hikers. Also in my recent encounters with bikers they have been almost excessively polite and careful to yield the trail. It may be that the mountain biking community is becoming more sensitized to issues of conflict and willing to police themselves.

I don't want to exclude mountain bikers from all trails, I think expanding the community of trail and other backcountry recreation is a positive thing even though I complain about overcrowded trails. There are trails I don't think bikers should use for various reasons. I hope the biking community also supports trail building and maintenance the way I know the hiking community does.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Guns restrictions loosened in National Parks

The Bush administration has released regulations allowing carrying of loaded guns inside National Parks (see http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2008475500_guns06.html). I blogged why I thought this was a bad idea before (http://feralhiker.blogspot.com/2008/02/carrying-weapons-in-national-parks.html) and I shouldn't belabor the points now. However, I'm disappointed that this step was taken. It seems to me to be a solution in search of a problem. I have yet to see or hear much evidence that there is either a widespread desire or need to carry a loaded weapon in most National Parks. I realize that most comments were in favor of the change; however that does not mean most Park users are in favor of the change. Also Park administrators are highly critical of this change.

Of course there are a lot of conditions around the new regulations, the most stringent is the person must have a concealed weapons permit. Another is that the state(s) in which the park resides must allow concealed weapons. Hopefully, this will reduce the number of loaded guns carried although I suspect many people will not understand the restrictions and carry anyway. For instance, does a Washington State concealed carry permit allow me to carry weapons into Yellowstone Park in Wyoming? The Wyoming page on concealed carry permits suggest it does (http://attorneygeneral.state.wy.us/dci/CWP.html) but don't rely on my interpretation. According to the Seattle times article above, the reverse is not true, someone with a Wyoming permit could not take a weapon into Washington's parks.

See also http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2008/12/interior-officials-release-rule-change-allow-national-park-visitors-arm-themselves for an opinion and many comments on the change in gun rules.