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mvs
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mvs
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PostThu Jan 06, 2005 8:22 am 
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Hi all,

Recently I got into a debate with a friend who hikes occasionally, and found myself getting frustrated with a notion that I'd like to understand better. It ties into the "Spring vs. Manning" debate, where Manning would prefer to close off regions of wilderness to public access to protect them,
and Spring would like to see even more people on the trail for green-bonding. (I am sure I am  exaggerating these positions, but I just want to set the poles of the debate. See this link http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/116037_spring05.shtml)

Being an avid hiker and climber, "green-bonded" only in adult life, and capable of finding days and days of solitude in Washington wilderness areas, I put myself in the Spring camp:  true passion for wilderness only comes by touching it fully. So when I imagine a future of interpretive trails,
virtual reality "hikes", and other look-but-dont-touch solutions, I am disheartened, and can't help but think those solutions would lead to a weakening of wilderness protection in the long run. Although an individual overcrowded trail might return to pristine condition, and bears would roam freely for a time, there wouldn't be enough people with wilderness in their blood to protect the region from extractive industries.

My friend believes areas should be closed off, asking rhetorically "shouldn't there be some places we never go?" A large measure of her point of view comes from the notion that advanced technology creates more impact. Citing that lightweight gear, or a GPS unit
allows someone to feel emboldened to go further and at the same time ignore leave-no-trace principles, she imagines casual destruction going on all the time.

I think this is unduly pessimistic, and is an argument fed by a pop culture notion of inevitable decline. Having grown up always hearing about acid rain, rainforest desertification, clear-cutting, nuclear waste and contaminated streams, I tend to reflexively attain that position myself.
"The world is going to hell in a handbasket." So that is a general storyline that in thought-experiments can lead to a "close-er-off" position.

Yes there are overcrowded trails. Yes, I've seen terrible dumping beside logging roads, and once I even had to put out a fire that had been left smouldering and could have been bad. But I've hiked a lot of miles, and by and large the people I meet add to the experience rather than subtracting. I've heard about "bad old days" when litter was rampant at camps in the mountains. I'm glad to never have seen this myself. So my perspective is that sweat-powered wilderness users are being good
stewards, better stewards than they used to be.

On the other hand they say a little knowledge is dangerous. I've used my personal experience to counter the prevailing storyline of planetary destruction as regards hiking trails in wilderness areas. Do I paint too-rosy a picture? I'd love to hear anybody's thoughts. I am seeking better facts and statements for my position too so I can win my "non-virtual" argument  biggrin.gif .

As for technology bringing stampedes of the ignorant into the hills, I'm not worried about that, because either someone will use the technology (light jacket, gps, whatever) as a gateway to a true appreciation, or will get tired of the activity and leave the woods alone. A more real danger would
be expanding roads or increasing motorized use of trails.

thx for your thoughts!  up.gif
--Michael
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Slugman
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PostThu Jan 06, 2005 9:44 am 
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mvs wrote:
Hi all,

Recently I got into a debate with a friend who hikes occasionally, and found myself getting frustrated with a notion that I'd like to understand better. It ties into the "Spring vs. Manning" debate, where Manning would prefer to close off regions of wilderness to public access to protect them,
and Spring would like to see even more people on the trail for green-bonding.

My friend believes areas should be closed off, asking rhetorically "shouldn't there be some places we never go?" A large measure of her point of view comes from the notion that advanced technology creates more impact. Citing that lightweight gear, or a GPS unit
allows someone to feel emboldened to go further and at the same time ignore leave-no-trace principles, she imagines casual destruction going on all the time.

I think this is unduly pessimistic, and is an argument fed by a pop culture notion of inevitable decline.

Ask your friend how this incredibly unpopular idea would be enforced. Are we going to fence the areas, and post armed guards around the fence? Because nothing less would be effective. If "nobody goes there", then meth labs would spring up overnight, and homesteaders would move in, etc. So police-type people would have to still go there, and then the whole principle is gone anyway. PS- I'm a "Spring-er" myself.

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Stefan
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PostThu Jan 06, 2005 9:58 am 
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In Washington I do not have a problem with more roads or more trails.  Why?  Becuase over time I have seen what nature does to abandoned roads or trails.

I have seen roads abandoned 10-15 years ago and they are full of trees now with the road deteriorating significantly.  I have seen trails abandoned and within 15-20 years it is like the trail never existed.

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jenjen
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PostThu Jan 06, 2005 11:00 am 
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If you only hike trails in the guide books and only do one-night backpack trips, then I can see how it would seem like the woods are being overrun by people.  Go into some more obscure places, or backpack for 3 nights and you leave everybody behind.

Somebody else said "80% of the people are on 20% of the trails".  I find that to be very true.  There really isn't any need to close off the wilderness, most people aren't going there anyway.  The people who are willing to go longer distances in and tackle harder terrain really aren't the people who are going to trash the place.  Also, people fight for things they have a personal connection to.  If nobody has the opportunity to stare slack-jawed at an unspoiled alpine lake, then people won't fight to protect those places.  Whether most of these people are actually willing to heft a pack for 3 days to actually see that unspoiled lake is besides the point - they have the opportunity to do so any time they want to.  Close off the wilderness and reduce everything to pretty pictures on the wall and you lose all the people willing to work to maintain that opportunity.
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jimmymac
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PostThu Jan 06, 2005 12:37 pm 
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And if you lock up the areas where "people just shouldn't go," then 100% of the people will be on the 20% that is not worthy of being locked up.

It's not necessary to prohibit entry to these back country areas. They can be effectively secured by reduced front country access. It doesn't take too many road wash-outs, bridge condemnations, or gate installations to weed out most potential users.

MVS points out that there is a community of people who treasure the concept of wilderness more than they value the ability for people to experience wilderness. Don't look for this camp to propose that you should be locked out of wilderness areas in the future. Instead, look at how they are already restricting your access by blocking the maintenance of existing access outside the wilderness.

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"Profound serenity is the product of unfaltering Trust and heightened vulnerability."
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polarbear
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PostThu Jan 06, 2005 8:34 pm 
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There are a variety of wilderness experiences that people have.  For some, Lincoln Park is the wilderness.  Some live in Puget Sound all their life and never make it to Mt. Rainier National Park.  Some go there once or twice.  Maybe some have only gone on picnics or been to the Big 4 ice caves.  The wilderness in our state is big, but the more you hike, the more you realize it's not quite as big as your first imagined.  I think for those that don't hike alot, the concept of setting aside a chunk of wilderness that humans can't enter is an easier concept to live with.  Those that  hike more want to be able to explore the whole thing.  I don't think trails impact nature all that much.  Afterall, bears and deer sometimes wander into towns, and sometimes animals even use the trails to get from point A to B.  If GPS's didn't exist, people would take the same trips with maps and compasses.

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...and a window that looks out on Corcovado...  Corcovado Hill
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oosik
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PostThu Jan 06, 2005 10:13 pm 
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mvs wrote:
My friend believes areas should be closed off, asking rhetorically "shouldn't there be some places we never go?" A large measure of her point of view comes from the notion that advanced technology creates more impact. Citing that lightweight gear, or a GPS unit allows someone to feel emboldened to go further and at the same time ignore leave-no-trace principles, she imagines casual destruction going on all the time.


For places where access is reached without a trail, there would be a certain degree of randomness as to the route chosen until it becomes more popular.  Merely possessing a GPS doesn't cause impact. 

Impact can be caused by promotion of a location, however.  If that promotion includes GPS coordinates, which apparently Backpacker Magazine is including in much of their content, then you have something to consider.  Guidebooks for the same reason can cause impact, as well as the addition of official trails in areas previously free of developed trails.

You would think that those places which are deeper in would be visited by those experienced enough to reduce their impact.  Yet if those folks were encouraged enough by "aids" that situation can change in a hurry.  "Aids" in this case I would list as

* transportation (more roads, snowmobiles, helicopters)
* psychological (cookbook style guidebook, GPS waypoints, route drawn on map, trip report on website pointing out how things are now "in condition" for a visit, setting of cairns or flagging)
* route refinement (a new trail, new bridge, reduction in obstacles in some way)

Yet another influence is outside pressures
* political controls (restrictive permits encourage folks to do trips in a day to avoid getting shut down by the permit system i.e. Enchantments, Whitney; the fact it is restricted can suggest more desirability)
* tick lists (variation on the guidebook theme like "Selected Routes" style books, Mountaineers club lists like for the several Snoqualmie Pass peaks that get you a pin, The Colorado Fourteeners)
* promotion (National Parks have some element of promotion for people to visit incorporated into their management style, National Forests are not promoted as much, how many folks would hike the length of the Pacific Crest Trail without promotion of a named contiguous trail network?)


It is quite possible there are places we shouldn't go.  I wouldn't look forward to closing places off, but if there is some sort of ecosystem that could not survive visitation, it may be something to consider.  I know in caving circles there are places considered "closed" to preserve the environment as it is.  The other choice to closure is to site harden to withstand the level of visitation (like Paradise flower meadows).  The impact of "hardening" a place might be unpalatable, however.
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mvs
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PostFri Jan 07, 2005 12:04 am 
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Good points everyone, thanks for musing on the topic!
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Jamin Smitchger
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PostThu Jan 13, 2005 2:50 pm 
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I believe that both camps are right. For me at least, wilderness is something that does not exist on trails, or along trails. It is a place that is remote and where you will almost never meet another person. Therefore according to my logic, it is a catastrophe if a trail is constructed. If more trails are built and maintained, there will be no places where a person can bust through brush and struggle for a day to reach a pristine lake that has not been visited for a year. With the increase in the amount of trails in the Cascades, it may not be possible for my children or grandchildren (if I have any) to enjoy the places that I enjoy with the same amount of solitude. smile.gif
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JimK
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PostThu Jan 13, 2005 3:49 pm 
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I might have a problem if trails were being built all through the Cascades. In recent years the Mt. Si trail was shut down and reworked. The Pratt Lake trail was shut down and rebuilt. The Snow Lake tral was rebuilt. The Rattlesnake Ledge trail was built to replace an existing trail. The Bandera/Mason Lake trail was built to replace an existing trail. The West Tiger 3 trail was rebuilt. The Annette Lake trail was partly rerouted. Now it looks like the Mailbox Peak trail will become a very long 6% grade trail.

The only new trails I can think of are the Scott Paul trail near Baker and the Walt Bailey. the first goes to the same place as an existing trail. The latter was mostly volunteer built. While numerous trails have been abandoned very few have been built to new places.

The one exception I can think of is now 30 years old. The new PCT did represent a new trail. In summary, I don't want trails built to all backcountry places but I do not see this ever happening.

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Hiking Northwest
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polecatjoe
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PostThu Jan 13, 2005 4:13 pm 
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I agree with JimK- the incidence of new trail building is extremely low, probably due to lack of financing, and I don't think that will change any time soon, as the government has other priorities. Existing trails barely get any maintenance in many cases. Plus, the people who make the effort to journey into backcountry and wilderness areas are generally people who care about maintaining said areas in a pristine condition, and are therefore more likely to follow Leave No Trace principles and create minimal impact. There are always a few yahoos who think Powerbar wrappers and the like are OK to toss, but there are also people (like me) who come behind them and tidy up. A large percentage of wilderness users stay on existing trails, hence most of the wilderness remains largely untouched.

--------------
"If we didn't live venturously, plucking the wild goat by the beard, and trembling over precipices, we should never be depressed, I've no doubt; but already should be faded, fatalistic and aged."    - Virginia Woolf
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Jamin Smitchger
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PostThu Jan 13, 2005 9:04 pm 
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Yes, I sort of agree with you, but making places more accessible by grading or "improving" trails is almost the same as building new trails. For instance, the old trail up to Lake Serene was so steep and dangerous that it took a certain type of pluck to go to the lake. Since the new trail has been built, crowds travel to the lake. There should always be that type of trail which is hard to climb up and full of boulders. Most of us know that a trail like that leads to a more pristine place. smile.gif
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aestivate
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PostFri Jan 14, 2005 2:32 pm 
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JimK wrote:
I might have a problem if trails were being built all through the Cascades. In summary, I don't want trails built to all backcountry places but I do not see this ever happening.

You're ignoring user-built bootleg trails, which are proliferating rapidly. I can think of 5 or 6 new trails which have been built illicitly in the last decade in the middle fork-south fork snoqualmie area. In the N Cascades proper, there's even a trail in to the pickets now.
Very few places are safe from these people.
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mvs
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PostSat Jan 15, 2005 10:00 am 
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aestivate wrote:
JimK wrote:
I might have a problem if trails were being built all through the Cascades. In summary, I don't want trails built to all backcountry places but I do not see this ever happening.

You're ignoring user-built bootleg trails, which are proliferating rapidly. I can think of 5 or 6 new trails which have been built illicitly in the last decade in the middle fork-south fork snoqualmie area. In the N Cascades proper, there's even a trail in to the pickets now.
Very few places are safe from these people.

There are more people now than there were before. I think we probably need new trails, and the presence of bootleg trails is just a symptom. It's funny that you say "these people." Aren't they the same people that bash their way in solitude to a remote lake, but there are just enough of them that a boot path has been created?

There has been a/several trails into the Pickets for decades. I know of some controversy two years ago when illicit trail maintenence was performed on the first 4 miles of the Goodell Creek Trail. But then again, that trail used to be a road and travel was easier there many years ago.

There are still many dozens of hard-to-get-to locations in the Cascades. But if you are looking for a place with zero boot-prints other than your own, I agree those are getting hard to find. I'd say don't begrudge those people their experience.
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Jamin Smitchger
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PostSun Jan 16, 2005 2:11 am 
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My point exactly. It seems like if more people would stop maintaining more trails the level of solitude would increase. I am not really talking about established trails. For example, when I went up to Lake Phillippa the summer before last, someone had built a 3 foot wide swath through the brush. If you or someone else participates in this behavior, the hordes will learn that the lake or peak is easy to get to, with bad results. The same reason why I oppose cairns and flagging is the same reason why I do not support building more trails. I would have joined wta by now if they did not participate in trail building. smile.gif
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