By Russell Hirschler
Special to the Valley News published on January 25th, 2022
Over the past two years of the pandemic, one of the things that Upper Valley residents could count on has been the ability to access a myriad of year-round recreational opportunities in our region. From hiking, running, and biking to snowshoeing and skiing — to name a few — people have flocked outdoors for their physical and mental health, to socialize with friends and loved ones, and to reconnect with nature.
The Upper Valley Trails Alliance knows this first hand. Trail Finder, UVTA’s free online trails database, has skyrocketed in usage (trailfinder.info). We have responded to an ever-growing number of trail maintenance, building and improvement projects, engaged more volunteers, and supported an increasing number of Alliance members with tools and technical support than in previous years.
And the increasing demand on our trail infrastructure does not seem to be letting up.
As demand increases, an additional burden is put upon trail managers and landowners to keep their trails open and accessible. Even with UVTA’s help, our trails and recreational assets are being taxed to the extreme. It is for this reason that trail users need to engage in trail stewardship of our outdoor resources … and community respect is more important than ever.
Unfortunately, this message of stewardship is being ignored by some. In addition to vandalism in some of our downtown areas, at least two episodes of trail vandalism have been documented recently: The graffiti spray-painted along the barrier fence at River Park in West Lebanon leading to closure of the River Park trails, and illegal motorized vehicle use that damaged trails at Parcel 5 in Norwich. Graffiti at trailheads and along trails has also prompted temporary closures of other local trails.
As we enter our third year of pandemic uncertainty in a society deeply divided along political lines, outdoor recreation offers common ground. The benefits are endless: Health and wellness, equitable access to the outdoors, economic development during these difficult times, and a healthier environment driven by conservation and sustainable trail-building practices. All of this is threatened by disrespect of our outdoor resources.
Data shows nearly 70% of public trails in our region are managed by small municipalities, nonprofit organizations, and private landowners. Local and regional land trusts also play a crucial role in keeping our local trails open to the public. Trails are kept open by the hard work of volunteers, and with the increased pressures created by deliberate damage we run the risk of losing access to this resource that we use and love.
Moving forward, I invite you to visit uvtrails.org and trailfinder.info for information about how to recreate safely and with a stewardship ethic in mind. Please think about the following as you venture outside in 2022:
- Know and respect the allowable use of the trail.
- Respect other trail users.
- Respect public and private landowners’ property.
- Use good judgment and tread lightly: Trail conditions are subject to change anytime.
- Stay on marked trails.
- Respect natural resources, historic structures and wildlife.
- Be prepared with food, water and first aid.
- Pack out your trash.
- Respect all trail closures.
- Plan ahead, be safe and have fun.
Be sure to say thank you to trail managers and landowners when you see them. Consider volunteering with UVTA or other organizations to help keep our trails open. A small personal investment in trail stewardship and respect of our community resources goes a long way, and feels good too. See you on the trails!
Russell Hirschler is executive director of the Upper Valley Trails Alliance, a regional organization dedicated to trails. More information can be found at www.uvtrails.org.