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Old 03-18-2012, 08:24 PM
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Default The Rule of Displacement

The Rule of Displacement
March 15, 2012 2:20 PM
Op-Ed by Kevin Beilke

While I would expect you to think this is going to be about engine displacement, I am sorry to disappoint you. Instead we are going to talk about displacing riders, in the context of having places to ride and recreate.

With such an unusual winter occurring, it once again demonstrates a concept I have been preaching for a number of years. This winter simply reinforces my theory, to the point I now upgrade it to "rule" status. It is true.

In the big scope of things, snowmobilers have a fairly limited number of places to enjoy their sport. But this rule is far bigger than just snowmobilers. It applies to dirt bikers, ATV riders and all forms of recreation, motorized or not. It applies to many activities, thus the motivation to bring it to your attention.

Here's the deal - everyone wants to ride their snowmobile. With little to no snow on the ground in so many "traditional" or "typical" riding areas, those who want to enjoy the sport are forced to go where they can - where there is snow on the ground. What this does is force an unusually high number of riders into a very small area. And in turn, this increased usage brings with it unintended consequences. A groomed trail can only sustain so many sleds on it before it turns into a bad experience. Anytime you force a large number of riders into a smaller and smaller area, the impact on that area is going to increase. Often to unpleasant levels.

Anyone who has been to the U.P. of Michigan this winter knows what we are talking about. Right now, it seems it is about the only place with rideable snow in the Midwest. Anyone who wants to go snowmobiling is forced to abandon their plans to go to their familiar stomping grounds, and if they want to ride they are all getting crammed into a very small area. Too many users in a small area exceeds the capacity to provide a good user experience, and despite the best grooming efforts possible, the trails are completely destroyed by mid-afternoon.

Now let's expand this. Let's move on to riding areas in general, whether it be ATV, dirt bike, sleds, whatever. We have seen this over and over through the years. Typically each riding area is going to have a set of frequent users. Where the users go is based on their experience with that area. This desire to not be forced into a high concentration of users tends to spread riders out, minimizing their impacts. But when a single riding area is closed, for whatever reason, those riders are displaced. They are forced to go elsewhere. They go to a different area, or one they don't frequent nearly as often. Then that area, with the additional pressure, experiences a degraded user experience. Too much traffic, rough trails, and nowhere to park--all of it.

Now let's consider the reason a riding area is closed. Whether it be a managing agency, closures due to weather, trail conditions, or legislative closures, it doesn't really matter. When a riding area is shut down those riders are displaced and go elsewhere. This in turn increases the number of riders in the remaining areas. Now, all of a sudden, people take notice of the increased number of users. "Oh my, oh my, we must do something about this increased impact!"

This is where the true problem lies. People get their undies in a bundle when overuse starts to become clearly obvious. The logic is typically that the land is getting trampled with too many users, so they decide the solution is to close it to protect it. While they might solve one problem, they create a bigger one. The displaced riders move on to another area, which then reaches a breaking point and the use becomes too much to manage. So they try to close that riding area. The vicious cycle continues.

What this comes down to is if land managers want to minimize the impacts of users, they are doing the exact opposite of what they should be doing. Instead of closing riding areas, they need to open up more riding areas to reduce the impact. Variable snow conditions demonstrate this so very clearly. If you want to improve the riding conditions, give the people more places to ride, not less. Spread them out. Each area can only support so many favorable user experiences.

It is a classic issue brewing on public lands across the west, and it is an issue that is not going to go away. Conservation groups continue to demand the closure of more and more riding areas, using the logic of too many riders in certain areas causing too much of an impact. So, as they clos riding areas, those riders (dirt bikers, mountain bikers, snowmobilers, ATV riders are displaced. And by now, you should know what happens next. They dig out their maps and see what is left for them to legally ride on. "Hmm, here are some trails we used to ride on, but there were always so many hikers in that area, or on those trails, that we usually stayed away from riding them. It was too congested for us in the past, but now that we have lost access to where w have been riding, we will have to go back to these other areas." As a result, trails that are left for use, are going to see more and more motorized users. Next thing you know, the hikers start complaining about the marked increase in motorized users, and the Forest Service, or conservationists will try to close those areas down as well-citing too many user conflicts, too much impact, or too much damage.

The vicious cycle continues. One by one, as we lose access to riding areas, riders are displaced and move on to remaining areas. Solbe one problem, only to create another one, often bigger than the one they thought they just resolved. You have to either increase the number of facilities, or decrease the number of users. But wait; maybe that is the ultimate objective-to decrease the number of users by diminishing the quality of the experience?

What it comes down to is this: Land managers should recognize the need to spread the users out, not congregate them. Attempts to protect one area almost always results in the accelerated desire to protect yet another. In order to properly manage and protect each riding area, you don't close it - you open up more areas. Spread the users out, don't congregate them. Why do you think highways are changed from two-lane roads to four-lane roads? To spread the users out, to minimize incidents, And to manage them properly.

We're not advocating giving motorized users access to every square inch of public land. No sir. We recognize the fact there are special places that should be preserved. For each of those that are preserved, we need to provide alternative locations for the users and not force them to become so concentrated that the next area requires protection as well. We are advocating smart management of our public lands. If land managers want to minimize the impacts of motorized users, give them MORE places to ride, not less. Remember the highway analogy. Spread them out, don't funnel them into smaller and smaller areas.
Dave Walters
Tri-Cities Peak Putters
Land Use Coordinator
WOHVA Board member

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