Saturday, October 03, 2009

Bootleg Trails
Embrace them or give them the boot?

While researching my Day Hiking Columbia Gorge Book last week, my hiking partners, wife Heather and brother Doug discovered a new trail to an excellent viewpoint. Boy were we excited. We had heard about this great viewpoint and that it was possible to reach it by heading off trail through the woods. I told the crew to keep their eyes out at the height of land for a possible way path. What we found instead was a signed trail. How cool is that? We followed the half mile path to windswept outcropping granting an excellent view of the unblemished watershed below us as well as of Mounts Hood, St. Helens, and Adams.

Turns out though-we found out afterwards from the trailcrafter himself, that this trail is a bootleg. Yep. Never designed and never authorized by the Forst Service. Now ain't that interesting? The trailcrafter is someone with a solid commitment to trail organizations in the state and one who has little love for the agency who manages (and it could be said today, barely manages) this property hosting this trail. But, the trail was built in essence, illegally. It is in a federal wilderness areas. However, a trail once accessed this viewpoint, an old lookout site, from another direction and was like so many other trails abandoned by the Forest Service. And there was a waypath already in place, one that had been followed by scores of people. All this trail builder did was merely cut back some brush and put up a sign. Isn't that better than having 100s of view seekers blazing their own paths to the viewpoint?
I often wonder if it sometimes better to incorporate some of these well trodden boot paths and make them official to help stem the rise of multiple trails heading to the same place. Just look at any popular "official trailess" lake basins. Wouldn't it be better to adopt one trail, improve it and make it part of the trail inventory than having scores of trails crisscrossing fragile heather meadows?

But then again, isn't this (building unauthorized trails) what some renegade motorcyclist and mountain bikers are doing? And despite the fact the Forest Service is pretty much a worthless entity these days when it comes to patrolling, maintaining and protecting our resources, does that mean we private citizens should step in take these lands into our own hands even if it means violating laws to build new trails without the cumbersome (and some might add needless procedures) required to build a trail? Many would argue that no harm was done by "improving" this trail to this lookout. Others would point out that this trail mars the wilderness. Some would say-good, we need new trails and the Forest Service isn't doing much of anything these days. Others would say that the wilderness doesn't need any new trails. But either way, a well defined way path was in existence before and its presence was in essence not violating any laws beforehand. Does putting up a sign and cutting back some brush change the entire situation? Your thoughts? Yay? Nay? Is this trailbuilder doing us hikers a public service or denigrating the wilderness?

1 comment:

Partner said...

I've thought a lot about this issue before. It's not, or shouldn't be, in most forests a crime greater than a misdemeanor to bootleg trails. Now, in an Alpine setting or tundra, ie Sunrise or some other obviously very fragile land this is a shooting on sight infraction. The Forest Service(?) is underfunded and overgrown with desk sitters and has no obvious desire to actually build or maintain trails. This may become a guerilla movement of sorts. As for bikers and such motorheads, they have their place and most of them aren't inherently evil but wanton destruction is out of bounds.