A gorgeous mountain summer is upon us. Here in the Tetons, if you aren’t soaking it up outside, you aren’t living. We crave trails and trees, wide open spaces and majestic vistas. Without these elements under foot or in our sights, the summer holds no promise.
Imagine approaching your favorite trailhead, and finding it closed. Just two weeks prior, it had been open for business to all levels of recreation. Not only that, the outdoor enthusiasts on this trail practice responsible use. And yet, here you stand – staring at a sign that communicates “no access”.
These things do in fact happen, and many trail fans are left to wonder why. To satisfy our own curiosity, we contacted the U.S. Forest Service. We asked a simple question – what are the reasons that trails are closed? And we got a simple answer:
Trails can be temporarily or, in some cases, permanently closed for a variety of reasons including access and safety concerns stemming from a backlog of deferred maintenance or due to damage caused by major storm or wildfire events. Specific reasons and situations can vary widely and it’s always best to contact the local ranger district with questions about specific trails.
Is there anything we trail lovers can do to help?
Yes– the Forest Service welcomes help from volunteers and partners in maintaining trails! The best way to approach that is to contact the local Forest Supervisors Office or the local Ranger District Office to discuss trail maintenance needs and volunteer/partner opportunities.
Evidence of cooperation can be had in the activities of local non-profits. Our favorite example here in Teton Valley is Teton Valley Trails and Pathways. In the summer, the kind folks at TVTAP participate in trail maintenance on public land. In the winter – they groom trails for cross country skiing access – again, on public land. As you may imagine, they attract volunteers that wish to continue using public land. These folks ante up with personal time to assist in trail clean-up.
On a national level, The Trust for Public Land encourages responsible use and ongoing participation in the maintenance of public land. The statistics are scary – we are losing 6,000 acres a day of open space in this country. Ongoing privatization will continue to eliminate access. As public lands are lost, so is a national legacy. The Trust for Public Land stresses the most important thing in their mission: this is our land.
Are there easy answers to responsible use? Not always. Can we control or understand the motivation of a trail user that elects to cut barbed wire for further access? What about boots on the ground that happen to go off the marked trail? Trampling on parts of an ecosystem that needs protection, even lightly, gets us nowhere.
Maintaining access means keeping wildness and adventure alive. It means exercising responsible use, but it also means giving of oneself. Call the forest service and get involved. Volunteering will help feed your passion for the outdoors – and it will keep trails open.
Have a beautiful summer enjoying America’s playlands.