As a person who loves to spend time in the back country, I am increasingly aware of the responsibility that goes with forays into the forests and canyons of Utah. The potential I have as an individual to impact areas I enjoy has made me more sensitive to principles of responsible and ethical recreation.
There is no better place to start learning those principles than the Tread Lightly website (www.treadlightly.org). Founded in 1985 by the United States Forest Service as an awareness program, Tread Lightly became a nonprofit organization five years later. Today, they are an organization 40,000 strong receiving support from 80 different companies, including Ford and Toyota.
Because motorized recreation has the potential to penetrate the back country further and faster than other recreational groups, one of the Tread Lightly purposes is to educate motorized user groups. Jerrica Archibald, who is in charge of communications for the national Tread Lightly organization, explained their mission, saying, “It is to empower generations to enjoy the outdoors responsibly through stewardship and to further the goals of responsible and ethical recreation.”
I like the word “stewardship.” When I venture into the wonderful wild, I need to treat it as if it belonged to me, which it does. As a citizen of this great country, I get to enjoy the vast beauty of our public lands.
The “Tread” part of their name is an anachronism designed to emphasize Tread Lightly principles:
Travel responsibly by staying on designated trails. Cross streams only where the trail passes through. Don’t ride muddy trails and avoid widening trails.
Respect the rights of others, including land owners and other recreational users. Don’t do anything to impair their outdoor experience. Leave gates the way you found them.
Educate yourself about your machine, the trail you plan to ride, regulations and weather conditions.
Avoid sensitive areas like meadows, wetlands, streams and delicate soils. Don’t disturb historical sites.
Do your part by modeling proper behavior. Dispose of waste properly and leave the area better than you found it.
The Tread Lightly program came to mind as I witnessed the devastation of the wildfires this year. While many of them were started by lightning, the Dollar Ridge fire is listed as human-caused. Burning some 363 structures, with 75 of those being homes, this fire impacted the lives of a lot of people.
In light of this incident, I received an email from Tread Lightly about the precautions to be taken with reference to what I can do to prevent wildfires in the back country. They include:
Campfires — This summer, open campfires were banned because of the volatile conditions that existed in the woods. When they are allowed, they need to be built in existing fire rings clear of any flammable material. Keep water close by, and before you leave a campfire, make sure it is dead out. It is not safely out unless you can put your hand in it.
Fireworks — I enjoy fireworks as much as the next person, but they are not allowed on public lands. As a boy growing up in Oklahoma, I learned how quickly a firecracker set off in dry grass can get out of control. Fortunately, with the help of neighbors, I was able to put it out. However, it scared me to death.
Target shooting — I don’t usually carry a gun with me when riding my ATV, but I have in the past. Shooting a gun on public lands carries with it a measure of responsibility. The type of ammunition used as well as the type of targets you are shooting are important to understand. Even shooting at gun ranges have been a problem this year.
Conditions of your machine — The time to inspect your machine is before your ride begins. Dragging parts like chains can throw off sparks that can start fires. Secure your load and make sure nothing sticks out further than the width of your ride. Catching something on a narrow trail will not be good. Do not park your vehicle on dry vegetation. Catalytic converters are hot enough to cause a fire.
When you go into the back country, take plenty of water, keep the rubber side down and learn to safely enjoy our public lands.