OpEd: Maddox, keep wilderness wild
September 12, 2016
I guess it is appropriate that Orin Hatch hatched a bill to end wilderness as we know it. He is famous as an outspoken and powerful voice against wilderness and to a large extent our public lands in general. However, I was a little surprised by the folks who supported it. I like mountain biking – but I love wilderness. My wife and I hiked the Colorado Trail, which goes through six wilderness areas and is shared with motors and mountain bikes when not in the wilderness. Every place where motors and bikes are not allowed there is an alternative route. Everybody can enjoy the Colorado Trail. Almost across the board users were polite and it was no exception where the trail was shared with non-hikers. But we did notice a distinct difference. Wilderness is quiet, all the users are moving along at about the same pace. Your solitude is not interrupted by a polite but unexpected "Behind You!". Ten to 12 miles is a good day under the pack. Unlike the bikes speeding down the trail you are walking along seeing things a biker will never see or hear. Mountain biking is like skiing bumps – keep your eyes on where you're going. Hiking is like cross country skiing – enjoy where you are and what is around you. But that is only part of it. There are literally thousands of miles of legal bike trails in millions and millions of acres of public land; Grand County alone claims several hundred miles of legal trails. Where does one go if they want the solitude of wilderness? The few million acres of Wilderness Areas are basically the only place. Many of those are isolated and difficult to get to – but in the end well worth the effort. It is worth the effort to have a few places where you don't have to navigate around mountain bikers. I don't have the trail to myself; I share it with like-minded folks who enjoy the very nature of wilderness – a place to take a quiet walk, a place to smell the roses. Then there is the second even bigger problem – social trails. These are unauthorized trails that grow prolifically off the designated trail. In my neighborhood the social trails outnumber and outdistance the official trails. These trails put in by wannabe trail engineers cross streams, chew up meadows, dig trenches straight down the hill and violate the planning process designed to protect the land for multiple uses, not just bikes. How do we plan to protect our wilderness from these wannabe engineers? How do we expect the full time residents – the animals – to accept this new intrusion? Social trails are illegal and with one million acres for one Ranger they are impossible to control. I say leave the wilderness wild and unite Grand County by leaving the wilderness alone, not lacing our wilderness with legal and illegal bike trails.