While you’re packing your vehicle for the next weekend camping expedition, take a minute and consider the route you’ll be taking. How much impact will you have and are you prepared for the trail?
We’ve all seen the signs at the trailhead and heard the mantra of responsible off roading, Some of us have even witnessed the ramifications of not following the “Stay the Trail”, “Leave no Trace” and “Pack it Out” mottos. Why is it that we continue to see trails closed or trash left behind? Fire pits full of unburned trashed or unburnable waste. Are we loving the outdoors too much? Responsible trail use whether on two wheels or four is paramount to keeping trails open and available for all to enjoy. Off highway is vastly different from off trail. Off-highway refers to traveling off the paved roads but staying on the trail. Crossing water only at designated fords, avoiding sensitive areas and never disturbing historical areas. Off trail means damaging the flora and fauna that we all go out to enjoy. It also destroys historical landmarks and the natural beauty that Mother Nature spent millions of years to create.
Protecting our natural resources and sharing the trail with all other outdoor enthusiasts is paramount to the success of keeping areas open and free for all to use. In many areas off highway enthusiasts are at odds with hikers for the right to utilize an area. As an off highway user and a hiker, I can understand both sides and am sympathetic to both. However, right now I’m writing about what we as off-highway vehicle (OHV) enthusiasts can do to further our cause and shed some light on ways to coexist and share the trail with others.
It’s important to realize that when you cross paths with non-OHV users on the trail, you become the face of off-highway vehicle use to those you meet. How do you want to be perceived? Are you on a trail that is open to your vehicle? Whether it’s an ATV, dirt bike or 4×4 vehicle, you need to know the rules and regulations for where you are riding. If you’re on a trail that is clearly marked as “non-motorized use” you won’t be leaving a very good impression on the foot or bike travelers who are trying to enjoy that area. Many areas are considered “multi-use” and the chances of crossing paths with others is very likely. Always slow down and give hikers, bikers and those on horseback the right of way. It’s nice to stop and ask hikers if they are in need of water and it‘s a great way to present yourself and leave a good impression. It’s much better than just speeding by kicking up dirt and dust. I carry extra bottles of cold water in my vehicle just in case. Always give livestock and those on horseback as much room as possible without going off trail. Turning off your vehicle while those on horseback pass is a fine example of respecting others on the trail. Horses can spook easily if they are startled and unfamiliar around off highway vehicles. That can be a dangerous situation to everyone around. These little things make a good impression on those that we meet on the trail and could mean the difference for a great outing or a miserable one.
Be prepared and match your off-highway vehicle (OHV) to the trail you’re on. What this means is ensure your vehicle is equipped and prepared for all the obstacles on the trail. Don’t drive your 4×4 vehicle on a trail that’s only wide enough for a quad or dirtbike. Always go over or through the obstacles, not around them. Going around creates a new trail that ruins vegetation, leads to erosion and generally detracts from the beauty of a particular area. Often times here in the west, OHV trails will cross private land where the landowner has graciously allowed us to enjoy the beauty and freedom of the trail. It’s imperative that we respect their generosity. Leave gates exactly as you found them whether open or closed.
If your off-highway adventure leads you to a particular destination where you’ll be setting up camp, or hanging your ENO hammock, please chose your spot wisely. Ensure that whatever you pack in, you pack out. Choose a camp site that has already been established as opposed to creating a new one. Use existing fire rings if there are any. Nothing takes away from a beautiful campsite like burnt wood and beat down vegetation.
As the outdoor season approaches for most of us, remember that leaving an area exactly the way you found it ensures future generations are able to see the area just the way you do. The recent wave of vandalism in the outdoor community is very disheartening and people with the power to completely close those areas are taking notice. A 190-million-year-old dinosaur track was cut out and lifted from a Moab, UT 4X4 trail. Two former Boy Scout leaders were charged with toppling Jurassic-era rock formations while hiking in Goblin Valley State Park. Numerous online videos show irresponsible adults driving their OHV’s and 4X4’s off trail, over pristine wilderness areas and through streams that are labeled as “no access”. Please be responsible this season and respect the areas that we all love and enjoy. Get out with your ENO hammock and RELAX! Responsibly, of course.