I had an interesting conversation the other day with an old friend who lives in an exceptionally scenic part of Oregon that is a Mecca for outdoor recreation, especially at this time of year. As she put it, many people want to be outdoors for “exercise,” while she simply likes to be outdoors. I’m reminded of how often different forms of outdoor recreation conflict with one another.
Why has our American culture not outgrown its need to conquer nature? That desire has, if anything, actually increased in the last two decades with the obsession of “extreme sports,” many of which are winter pursuits such as snowboarding. So popular are these activities that they have spawned events like the Winter X-Games, telecast on ESPN. It is arguably the celebration of what I call “stupid risk,” situations we create needlessly that make us appear superior to others. The stock market may be another manifestation of this, but I digress.
Mount Airy Forest, a large city park in Cincinnati, Ohio, was like an eden I could escape to when I lived there, but once in awhile I found the peace and solitude interrupted by someone on a mountain bike tearing down the trail. While I am not opposed to trail riding, be it two-wheeled or equestrian, the two should be separated. I would not go snowshoeing on a downhill ski run, for example.
One traveling at a pedestrian pace is usually interested in the journey, while those careening over hill and dale are, at least to my mind, destination-oriented, fitness-driven, or speed-obsessed. When I’m afield, I want to see wildlife, and anyone making excessive noise and moving at the speed of a predator is going to frighten most birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians into beating a hasty retreat.
There is also the question of what is appropriate recreation in sensitive habitats such as wetlands and sand dunes. Marshes, bogs, swamps, and dunes are no place for off-road vehicles, except in emergencies. ATVs continue to destroy these wildlife habitats, however.
We already have skate parks for skateboarders, so why not turn open pit mines, closed land fills, and other real estate already severely compromised by human activities into playgrounds for motorcycles and ATVs? Confining recreational traffic to such areas would allow for supervision of users, on-site first aid for those involved in spills, and emergency transportation on stand-by in the event of a more catastrophic accident.
There really is room for everyone to recreate, but we need to be more considerate of each other, and more understanding of each other’s expectations of an outdoor experience. Please, share your own ideas and experiences here.