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By: Robert Janis

Guidelines on Behavior Proves Trails Can Be Shared By All

There are times when divergent groups meet over the same issue. Each group has its own agenda which may appear at first to be contrary to others who are concerned over the same issue. When prejudices of the different groups surface, then it may seem impossible for all the groups concerned to be able to amiably settle the issue each has in common.

That would appear to describe the situation of trail use and access. The trails of the nation are used by a divergent group of people. There are off-road enthusiasts, horseback riders, hikers, environmentalists and more. Each has their own particular reason and way to enjoy the trails. Also, each, when not thinking of the concerns of others, can make the trail experience a bad one for people of other groups.

But what happens when each of the groups work together for the common good? That is what happened involving the creation of a Share Our Trails Guideline, which provides suggestions on how users of the trails should behave.

A major participant in the creation of the guidelines was the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC). The reason for the guidelines became apparent in an incident involving local trail user groups in Northern California.

Jack Terrell, senior project coordinator for NOHVCC, explained. “The need for the guidelines grew out of an incident on state land in California. There was an encounter between OHVs and equestrians. The OHVers spooked the horses that equestrians were riding. As a result, local OHV and equestrian groups, the Loomis Basin Horsemen’s Association, the California Department of State Parks, and other stakeholders decided to form a group to discuss the event and see if something could be done that could prevent similar encounters.

“As the group discussed possible , it became clear that a set of behavior guidelines, or trail ethics, could be the answer. Discussions continued and more groups that have a vested interest in using the trails joined or were invited to participate. Soon the group became aware that this was a state issue not just a local issue, and then state groups that had a vested interest in the trails joined in. That included the Off-Road Business Association (ORBA) and the California district of the American Motorcyclist Association as well as NOHVCC. NOHVCC got on board because we saw it as an education issue.

“Discussions continued, and it soon became obvious that it was not just a local or state issue but a national issue. Therefore, the U.S. Forest Service and national groups that represented a wide spectrum of trail enthusiasts became a part of the process. These new groups included the American Motorcyclist Association, United 4Wheel Drive Association, BlueRibbon Coalition, Equestrian Land Conservation Resource, Back Country Horsemen of America, Tread Lightly!, Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, International Mountain Bicycling Association, Americans for Responsible Recreational Access, Motorcycle Industry Council, Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, Recreational Off-Road Highway Vehicle Association, and more.”

NOHVCC took the lead when the participating groups decided to actually create guidelines and set up the infrastructure which led to the publication of the Share Our Trails Guide. “We tried to put each group in the shoes of the other user groups so that they could all understand each other’s concerns,” added Terrell.

NOHVCC 

“By the time the process was completed, there were as many as 22 organizations involved,” said Terrell.

The Process

The actual process of drafting the guidelines involved a number of periodic conference calls during which all groups had an input. Notes were made and passed on to NOHVCC which put an order to them, and then an actual draft was written using the notes as a source. The text was passed around to the various groups and each suggested changes which were incorporated after review and approval by all participants. “It was a very lengthy process,” said Terrell. “Every group had their own views, but in the end we got unanimous agreement.”

Once the guidelines were complete then the involved groups sent them out to their members and promoted them on their websites. In addition, press releases were sent out by the groups including NOHVCC to the media. State agencies like the California State Parks are distributing them.

You can find the guidelines on the websites of the NOHVCC, Tread Lightly!, and Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA) as well as other groups, (www.arra-access.com/arra/sharing_our_trails.html) and you can download the guidelines from the NOHVCC website (www.nohvcc.org/index.asp)

According to Terrell, the guidelines are just suggestions. “It doesn’t have a regulatory or enforcement aspect to it. It is an educational piece. It is a starting point for people to think about how they should interact on the trails with other user groups.”

Terrell added that the guidelines should not be looked on as a guide for state legislatures to write law on trail behavior. “We at NOHVCC looked at it as an educational thing rather than a regulatory thing. If individual groups or state agencies want to take it to the next step, it is their option to do so,” said Terrell.

Terrell noted that in the immediate future--the rest of the year and during the recreation season--the guidelines will be published in a variety of formats and will appear in magazines and newspapers as well as hand outs that will be given out at trail heads and on the trails themselves.

According to Terrell, the whole process was an eye opener. “As different groups got involved, there seemed to be a better understanding of the concerns of the various groups.” He also volunteered that the group has not been disbanded. “The group can be used to help settle other issues,” said Terrell. “In the long term, it provides a good structure to work on other issues because the people involved are now comfortable working with one another and that took awhile,” concluded Terrell.


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