By Bob Burns:
We’ve spent the colder months sheltering in place away from COVID-19, but now warm weather has returned, making it even more difficult to stay at home. If you want to get out and about this 4th of July, and as public spaces begin to re-open, maybe the safest place other than home is out on the trail.
We are lucky to have access to acres and acres of public land to hike, camp, and drive off road. Thanks to the growing popularity of four-wheel drive vehicles, dirt bikes, side-by-sides, mountain bikes, and ATVs, more and more people are taking advantage of our incredible natural resources.
Growing popularity also means we are all responsible to share. As off-road use increases, it is essential we all become stewards of these lands. With a little bit of planning and awareness, we will ensure a pleasant experience for other adventurers.
Here are few key rules and some essential resources that will help you to become an informed and considerate trail user. Help keep the trails we love beautiful and support a positive reputation for our hobby!
1) Respect others on the trail. They may not travel as quickly as you like, so find a safe place to pass them.
2) Maintain your off-roading vehicle to prevent leaking toxic fluids and a loud exhaust that may bother local fauna and other trail users.
3) Check your vehicle’s condition before heading out. It is much easier (and safer) to refill low coolant in your driveway than out on a trail!
4) Prepare for emergency repairs out in the wild. Keep any tools you might need for your vehicle on board, just in case.
5) Travel trails that safely suit your vehicle, and your skill level. Conditions change, so be ready for that.
6) Give uphill traffic the right of way. Uphill vehicles may need to keep up their momentum to continue climbing. Pull over if you can find the room. (The real world often says whoever has the room to pull over ought to be the one to let others pass.)
7) Be ready for difficult, unpredictable terrain. If you cannot get through a tough obstacle, do not carve a new trail around it. Instead, use a winch or turn around. Creating new paths—“trailblazing”—or damaging existing ones because your vehicle is not equipped for the challenge is NOT an option.
8) Stay alert for oncoming traffic. Other off-roaders may get lost or need to turn around due to trail challenges or vehicle problems. They may be marked as “One Way”, but there is no such thing as a one-way trail. Stay cautious at intersections and look for joining traffic. Motorcycles, ATVs and mountain bikes may move at a pretty quick pace on the same trail you may be on. Always be aware.
9) Clean up after yourself. You may have heard the term “Pack it in, Pack it Out”. This means everything you bring on the trail comes back out with you. Trash, broken vehicle parts, unused food, human waste… everything. You might also encounter trash on the trail that you didn’t bring in yourself. Whether it was left by neglect, or accident, your help disposing it goes a long way.
10) Even though it’s the 4th of July, fireworks have no place on the trail. They scare wildlife and other users, but more importantly, they are a fire risk. Summer is wildfire season, particularly out West. Don’t spark the next wildfire. Keep your fireworks at home.
11) Learn these useful guidelines from Tread Lightly: https://www.treadlightly.org
12) Visit NPS and master their seven Leave No Trace principles: https://www.nps.gov/articles/leave-no-trace-seven-principles.htm
We want to leave our trails better than we found them. With a little effort and common sense from all of us, we will keep our trails beautiful for the next generation.
Have a happy, and safe, 4×4 of July!