Three-day weekend brings out ‘idiots’
June 7, 2010 by Scott Sandsberry
YAKIMA, Wash. — Memorial Day weekend is annually welcomed with poignant regret over lost heroes and loved ones, with relief over the end of cold-and-wet and the onset of warm-and-dry, and with relish over the prospect of a three-day break from day-job drudgery.
For those who manage or maintain trail systems, though — and even for those who recreate on those trails according to rules and trail ethics — Memorial Day weekend isn’t welcome because of, as one four-wheeling enthusiast put it, “that bunch of idiots out there.”
This year’s holiday weekend — which left rutted trails and mudbogged meadows in and around Naches and Cle Elum Ranger District trail systems — was dreaded by public land managers and reputable off-roader clubs alike for three reasons.
The first was the weather — the wettest late spring in recent memory — which left trail systems and nearby meadows soft and muddy.
“We had made the decision a month before that we weren’t going to close the (Naches Ranger District frontcountry) trails because it had been dry,” said Naches District Ranger Irene Davidson. “But then we had rain.”
The second was closures of trail systems in other areas — most notably Reiter Foothills (“the Pit”), a popular off-roading area on state land near Gold Bar in Snohomish County that has been closed since November because of creekbed damage and unauthorized trail use.
That meant a huge influx of visitors who might otherwise have recreated elsewhere, filling the Little Naches, Rimrock and Manastash areas with more trail-riding enthusiasts than ever before.
That meant, even though the majority were still rule-following club members, there were also greater numbers of the ones who simply ignore trail rules and ethics.
“That was the highest number of off-road vehicles I’ve seen in past years,” said Ron Rutherford, a member of a Yakima-area club called the Jeeping Nomads.
“A lot of these folks, they were just independent individuals who left their manners and common sense at home and just let it all out,” Rutherford said. “I’m part of a reputable club and we’re trying to do the right thing and keep the trails in good shape, so we did a little education and asked them to follow the rules.
“But by Saturday some of them were like, ‘Hey, there’s no enforcement, anything goes!’”
Yakima County Sheriff’s Deputy Steve Sutliff, who for much of the time has to be the sole officer patrolling off-road vehicle use over the Chinook and White Pass corridors, called it “normal, run-of-the-mill off-road vehicle activity” that just happened to be a lot of riders in limited space.
“Long Meadow and the Ponderosa really got hammered,” Sutliff said. “The Ponderosa (a camp-and-trails area east of the Little Naches drainage), to me, was a mudhole. There must have been 20 or 30 dirtbikes and quads in there. That area is kind of designed for that, but not when it’s wet like that. It was just a lot of mud.”
In some cases, the trenching of some of the trail systems wasn’t because of people breaking rules. It was just the vast number of people riding around on the trails and dispersed camping areas.
“There was no place for them to go, really, because there was snow up higher and it was rainy, so they just rode the same trails over and over again,” Sutliff said. “The Kaner trail (No. 676) was really mucked up all to ****. All the trails were. It didn’t matter where you went — everything was wet.”
With more people heading to the hills to recreate and fewer public lands in which to do so, this kind of problem isn’t going away, said Mark Mauren, statewide recreation program manager for the Department of Natural Resources.
“The real tragedy is if you look at the history of development of recreation trails, both motorized and non-motorized, you’ll see the majority of investment was done in the ’60s, ’70s and early ’80s,” Mauren said. “Since then — whether you’re talking about state parks, the Department of Natural Resources, the Forest Service or whoever — we as a society really haven’t invested at the same level, and yet our population has doubled.
“We haven’t been able to adapt to that change or even have the staff to manage this influx of people so that we don’t have these impacts that we’re seeing across the state.
“And it’s good people; these are well-intentioned people, but they just have nowhere to recreate, whether motorized or non-motorized. In my mind, that’s really the tragedy.”
Filed under All, Outdoors