Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Outdoor Wreck-reation

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.


  1. Many of those that must tear up the bogs and marshes, pollute the air space with noise and fumes, and pleasure themselves with speed and daring feel entitled to be able to do just that. They have a totally different mentality, and consideration of others is not in their vocabulary. ~karen

  2. Karen I agree with you up to a point. Although I can't help but wonder if like Eric has said, if communities would create areas just for 4 wheelers, and bicyclist etc. that it would indeed help a precarious situation. I've spent many days outside walking trails and been interrupted by mountain bikers barreling down the same trail I was exploring at a leisurely pace, I was nearly mowed down, and any bird within a 1/2 mile was scared away. Another occasion to the same area brought with it a man and his 3 sons having a paint ball war. While I did not object to them having their fun,the thought of being hit by an errant paintball kept me from continuing on (experienced that, didn't care to again) and I felt compelled to turn around. Finding locations to explore in peace and quiet seems to be a commodity that is becoming harder and harder to come by. Luckily for me I have my beloved Happy Holler Conservation Area. While there is a lake that draws a lot of fisherman to the area, there are many areas that allow for leisurely pursuits like birdwatching, insect hunting, and photography.

  3. Among the general populating, the idea of conquering nature is still the dominant concept. This is but one of its many manifestations.

  4. For me, birding sometimes feels like hunting but with binoculars rather than a gun. And I think I get a lot of enjoyment out of that stalking and "getting" the bird. So even though inconsiderate ATV'ers and such really bother me, in a way I'm also acting on that "conquering nature" urge, albeit in perhaps a more thoughtful way.

  5. "There really is room for everyone to recreate, but we need to be more considerate of each other"

    This discussion is very anthropocentric. Human concerns aren't the only important ones. NO, there ISN'T "room" for everyone to recreate, not if wildlife are valued, which I would hope they are. Wildlife have already lost far too much of their habitat. Building new trails just so recreationists of various persuasions don't have to encounter each other just destroys more habitat. It's not a solution. The only solution is to ban vehicles (e.g. ATVs, mountain bikes, mountain boards, etc.) from natural areas. Humans & horses can all get along with each other just fine then.

    Bicycles should not be allowed in any natural area. They are inanimate objects and have no rights. There is also no right to mountain bike. That was settled in federal court in 1994:
    http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/mtb10 . It's dishonest of mountain bikers to say that they don't have access to trails closed to bikes.
    They have EXACTLY the same access as everyone else -- ON FOOT! Why isn't that good enough for mountain bikers? They are all capable of walking....

    A favorite myth of mountain bikers is that mountain biking is no more harmful to wildlife, people, and the environment than hiking, and that science supports that view. Of course, it's not true. To settle the matter once and for all, I read all of the research they cited, and wrote a review of the research on mountain biking impacts (see
    http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/scb7 ). I found that of the seven studies they cited, (1) all were written by mountain bikers, and (2) in every case, the authors misinterpreted their own data, in order to come to the conclusion that they favored. They also studiously avoided mentioning another scientific study (Wisdom et al) which did not favor mountain biking, and came to the opposite conclusions.

    Those were all experimental studies. Two other studies (by White et al and by Jeff Marion) used a survey design, which is inherently incapable of answering that question (comparing hiking with mountain biking). I only mention them because mountain bikers often cite them, but scientifically, they are worthless.

    Mountain biking accelerates erosion, creates V-shaped ruts, kills small animals and plants on and next to the trail, drives wildlife and other trail users out of the area, and (worst of all) teaches kids that the rough treatment of nature is okay (it's NOT!). What's good about THAT?

    For more information: http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/mtbfaq .