"Taking Care of Our Trails"
By: Thomas Wilk

Taking Care of our Trails

Most people that are involved in off-roading are aware that there has been a great deal of pressure lately to close off large areas of land to motorized vehicles.   As noted by others here, trails that had previously been open for exploration have, in recent years, been closed down. Political pressure to close off these areas has been strong of late, with many vocal environmental groups gaining the ear of our elected leaders.  Unfortunately, our side has not always been represented in good light when these issues are discussed.

Why close the Trails?

Four wheel drive vehicles have been used for decades as a means of gaining access to areas that are too remote to otherwise visit.  While most who ride the trails act as stewards of nature, not every off-roader has been as conscientious when dealing with environmental issues as they could be.  Essentially, it is the reckless acts of a few that have created enough evidence to support the theory that motor vehicles and nature donít mix.

But, there really is no reason that motor vehicles and nature cannot co-exist, despite the criticisms.  For the most part, people who use their vehicles off-road do take care of their environment.  In fact, the very vehicle that some might wish to eradicate from public lands might be the only way that most people can get out to view those areas.  It is my belief that humans are part of nature, not ones to be kept separate from it. So, it is really up to those of us that do travel off-road to take care of our natural surroundings to the best of our abilities.

 What can We Do?

There are a number of avenues that we, as people who enjoy the outdoors, must take to ensure that our trails remain open.  Probably the best advice that can be given is to simply leave no evidence of your having been there in the first place. Now, obviously its not possible to pass through mud without leaving a tire track, nor is it possible to build a campfire without leaving ashes. But, much can be done to protect the natural surroundings when one chooses to leave the pavement.

Some tips for wheelers include:

· Use tree straps when winching to prevent damaging the bark of trees.
· If you find that you have inadvertently dug deep ruts while getting unstuck, fill in the divots as best as you can. Use the winch to help prevent digging the ruts in the first place.
· If you get high centered, use rocks (if available) rather than wood to build ramps.  Replace them when you are done.
· Do not leave the trail unnecessarily with your vehicle. In particular, do not drive across grassy meadows as you may destroy natural habitats by doing so.
· Clean up after yourself. Donít leave garbage along the trail or at any campsite. If you see someone elseís mess, make it a point to clean it up. Carry a couple of extra garbage bags for that purpose.
· Maintain a friendly attitude toward others that you may meet on the trail including horseback riders and hikers. Often, these groups have been educated to dislike those of us that use vehicles off-road.  It is up to us to show them otherwise both in word and in deed.
· Spread the word to other off-road users that they must also do their part to help protect the natural environment that these trails allow us to visit.

Getting Involved

Simply keeping trails in good shape is not enough.  It pays to get involved as well. When issues involving trail closings are being discussed by our political officials, make your opinions known.  Write your federal and state senators and representatives whenever legislation that may affect our trails is being considered.  Keep track of when these issues are being discussed.  Alert others when important legislation is being discussed. Remember, our side of this issue is not being heard as readily as it should be.  There are thousands of people that enjoy off-road travel, but few will speak out on the issue.  Those opposed to the use of vehicles off road are very vocal, and are being heard. Get involved.

Another area where one could get involved is through 4-wheel club activities.  Occasionally, such clubs will select an area that has been greatly abused and perform a massive cleanup, often in exchange for off-roading privileges.  Activities such as this are not only helpful in maintaining our environment, but they also go a great distance in improving the negative image that off-roaders are sometimes given. Actions often speak louder than words.

More Information

Here are a couple of good resources on the web that can help you become a better off-road citizen as well as a proactive member of the off-road community:

 The Blue Ribbon Coalition
This non-profit group also promotes the responsible use of off-road vehicles.  Many of the goals of the Blue Ribbon Coalition are similar to those of the Tread Lightly! organization. 

Bill Burkeís Page
This link was supplied courtesy of Treehuger (Doug) in one of the message boards.  Bill Burke is one person who has gotten involved. From speaking with environmentalists about off-roading to gently scolding those who donít ďtread lightly,Ē he is an example of what we should be doing to improve the image of our sport. Lots of good stuff on that site.

One final area that might provide some insights into off-road travel is through the use of books.  There are several books available for both the novice and the experienced that can educate people on the techniques needed to make off-roading an enjoyable, environmentally friendly endeavor.  For more information, see:


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