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kurthicks

Minimum Trails Analysis

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We know that USFS roads are on the chopping block soon. This is what is going to come next. So much for the USFS motto of "Caring for the land and serving people." It is pretty easy, after all, to care for the land if you exclude the people from it. Fortunately, one suggestion of the GAO is to utilize volunteers, which may well be a cost-effective options for this proposal.

 

Here's a report from the GAO:

http://www.americaoutdoors.org/america_outdoors/pdf/USFSTrailReport.pdf

 

"Agency officials and stakeholders GAO interviewed collectively identified numerous options to improve Forest Service trail maintenance, including (1) assessing the sustainability of the trail system, (2) improving agency policies and procedures, and (3) improving management of volunteers and other external resources. In a 2010 document titled A Framework for Sustainable Recreation, the Forest Service noted the importance of analyzing recreation program needs and available resources and assessing potential ways to narrow the gap between them, which the agency has not yet done for its trails. Many officials and stakeholders suggested that the agency systematically assess its trail system to identify ways to reduce the gap and improve trail system sustainability."

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Yikes! Although I think this is effectively already occurring. The number of paid trail crews seems to be on the decline, and overgrown trails on the increase. Volunteers can only do so much, and that bums me out considering I have little hikers in the house these days.

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It is rather sad that we have largely come to accept the idea that, as a nation, we cannot afford to maintain public access to public land. Every conversation I have with just about anybody on this topic starts out with the basic premise being "these are hard times..." or something similar. But just like everything else in politics, it is truly a matter of priorities.

 

Forest Service people tell me that there is a lot of money for decommissioning right now (much of this in grants from a variety of sources) while they are getting less and less for maintenance. In a broad sense public access is losing out to other priorities and a quick look at some of the Forest Service budget explanations indicates public access is far lower in priority than restoration, management for resources, and maybe other things. This may be appropriate, depending on your viewpoint, but I don't think we have had much real discussion of whether we really want to leave roads and trails unmaintained -- it has more or less just happened as we all have more or less assumed that nothing could be done about it.

 

The budget cuts are real, and I believe that many of the people in our local forests are going the best they can with what they have but they just aren't getting a lot of public support. I've been told that republican Rep. Herrera Beutler has made noise about public access but I can't remember the last time I heard any politician making much noise about the need to fund the maintenance of roads and trails for public access. There is a lot of lip service paid to "green bonding," but in large part this means building kiosks along highway 20 and stuff like that.

 

Your kids, Jason, have high speed internet interactive nature sites in their kindergarten and they can go see a real nifty bunch of natural history displays at the provincial museam in Victoria but they won't have anywhere near the access that we enjoyed to visit the mountains they can see from your front porch.

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I suspect access and preservation are tightly linked. Increased access, via roads and trails, raises the use, visibility, and perceived value of natural resources. This in turn motivates people to protect these and maintain good access to them. I expect that decreased access will have the opposite affect.

 

Add to that the fact that there is a complex mess of passes to navigate to be able to park at the trailhead without getting fined, and the message is pretty clear: stay home on your couch. The experiment has been going on for several years now, and I'm not optimistic about the outcomes. The WA Trails Association, WA climbers coalition, and other grass routes efforts are laudable, but we need action on a higher level too.

 

That said, establishment of the Wild Sky Wilderness is an encouraging recent milestone.

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it has more or less just happened as we all have more or less assumed that nothing could be done about it.

 

Well, I have written my electeds on several occasions regarding access, volunteered on trail crews, and commented to the USFS a number of times, but I guess I really didn't think it was going to make a big difference. Still, I keep trying every year or so to rattle the cage, don't know what else to do I guess.

 

I do think that the per capita use of wilderness is going down and it is reflected in the current recreation budget of the USFS. I don't have any data, just going off of my own experience with friends and family. The WWII generation did a lot of hiking, backpacking, and camping and it has seemed to be on the decline ever since. I sense that a shift is going on where folks like the idea of wilderness, but aren't that concerned if there is much access to it (the Manning school of thought).

 

I agree that it is a question of priorities, and those that value access seem to be in the minority. When this country wants to get something done, it usually does, pretty fast.

Edited by JasonG

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I do think that the per capita use of wilderness is going down and it is reflected in the current budget of the USFS. I don't have any data, just going off of my own experience with friends and family. The WWII generation did a lot of hiking, backpacking, and camping and it has seemed to be on the decline ever since. I sense that a shift is going on where folks like the idea of wilderness, but aren't that concerned if there is much access to it (the Manning school of thought).

 

 

I think you're mostly right. While "front country" use has increased, back country use has leveled off or, in some areas, begun to decline. Part of the problem is demographics. As minority populations in the US continue to grow, interest in hiking/climbing/camping drops commensurate with. The USFS has made much of this--you may have noticed the new billboards promoting the benefits of wilderness to children of color. In any event, it seems to me this is likely more of a socioeconomic issue than a racial one, but it's a sensitive subject for sure.

 

Part of the problem remains, I believe, a betrayal of wilderness recreationalists by dogmatic environmentalists. It's ironic that you mention Harvey Manning, because the end-of-life feud between he and his longtime friend, Ira Spring, sums up the issue pretty well and is at the core of the roads debate. Here is a quote from Ira Spring's autobiography:

 

“We may be appalled at 3,000 or more people a day walking the Paradise trails at Mount Rainier or 30,000 a year hiking to Snow Lake in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, but if that is what it takes for the support of trails to the year 2015, so be it. It is up to us to figure out how to accommodate so many people without harming the temple.”

 

I spent a few days in Olympic NP earlier this week and it was sad to see not a single sole at Royal Basin--a supposed "quota area"--or on the trail over Constance Pass. In fact, the trail up from the long-closed Dosewallips is badly in need of maintenance and the boot path toward Mount Mystery has faded away. Some would say this is a good thing. I think it's kind of sad.

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The same can be said for American infrastructure in general.

 

It's not a money thing. Never was.

 

There's just not enough money in wilderness, so it loses in today's value-less politics.

 

- Fake Ivan

Edited by ivan

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I don't get this Harvey Manning thing at all. Seems like I read him waxing on about how wonderful it is to spend a couple of days hiking up a road to reach the front of the backcountry. Who has time for that? You need to be able to get into impressive country within a half day otherwise the average family will say to hell with it. And that doesn't make them lazy or undeserving either. I'm all for inculcating the feeling that the wilderness is a kind of church, but a locked church has no worshippers. It'll be torn down.

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The same can be said for American infrastructure in general.

 

It's not a money thing. Never was.

 

There's just not enough money in wilderness, so it loses in today's value-less politics.

 

- Fake Ivan

 

I agree. The USFS roads were built to support consumerism (logs, mines) and recreation was just a side gig with a little designated wilderness thrown in after 1964 to placate the hippies. But the roads remain, and I think they now serve just as valuable a public purpose. One of my favorite enviro-philosophers, Holmes Rolston III, points out something I think is worth considering in this regard when he says “wildlands absorb a kind of urban negative disvalue and provide a niche that meets deep seated psychosomatic needs.” And Baird Callicott considers wilderness recreation to be an "escape valve" for our capitalist malaise.

 

Anyway, all kinds of value in wilderness. Too bad we can't all agree on what it is.

 

I'm all for inculcating the feeling that the wilderness is a kind of church, but a locked church has no worshippers. It'll be torn down.

 

Best metaphor I've read in a long time. :tup:

Edited by Fairweather

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