As I was walkin', I saw a sign there
And that sign said, "No Tresspassin'"
But on the other side, it didn't say nothin'
Now that side was made for you and me!
-From "This Land Is Your Land"
By Woodie Guthrie
The locked gate: It's become an all-too-common sight on a growing number of trails on federal lands. The reasons behind it can vary depending on where you live, but whatever the reason, there's no denying that our public lands are under more pressure than ever from an ever-greater variety of interest groups, all of whom have legitimate claims to some degree, but not all of whom are interested in recognizing the claims of others or in preserving access to future generations of backcountry travelers and recreationalists.
We've always been advocates for both mixed use and dedicated use of public resources. We fully understand the ecological necessity for preserving some parcels of land as pristine wilderness or as wildlife habitat. We also see the desirability in keeping some public parks and monuments free from commercial development. (Does anyone want a Starbuck's in the middle of Shiloh Battlefield?) We also acknowledge the need for prudent management of natural resources, and while it may not be politically popular in some quarters to say so, that means setting aside some public lands for commercial uses such as energy extraction or mining. (We're still going to need plenty of oil and minerals-try building a hybrid car without them-on the road to a greener economy.)
But when it comes to public lands that have been reserved for our recreation and enjoyment, we're big believers in peaceful coexistence. To our mind, there's no reason why hikers, equestrians, bikers, hunters and wheelers can't all enjoy the same parks and forest lands, as long as we all observe some basic rules of backcountry etiquette and exercise some common sense and self-discipline. It's unfortunate that there are folks out there who don't share that "live and let live" philosophy, who seem to think that the best way to manage all of our public lands is to keep the public out of them altogether.
But that's where we are. Which means it's time for all of us to get involved, one way or another, to preserve access to our precious public lands.
Before you can act, though, you need to know the basics. So this month, we'll review the current state of federal land-use law, with detailed descriptions of the specific pieces of legislation that define, to great extent, the scope by which we access public lands. We'll run down the standing policies of the relevant government agencies regarding off-road vehicle use and let you know about currently pending legislation that could impact future access. We'll also pass along tips for effective political organizing, along with a list of advocacy groups you can contact if you want to volunteer your resources or time (and we strongly recommend that you do). And finally, we've got a complete roster of all public lands across the U.S. that can still be legally accessed by Jeep, truck, or ATV, with contact information for all of them.
It should also go without saying (ahem) that you need to get out and vote on Election Day next month. If you're eligible to vote and not registered, do it now. If you've changed addresses but haven't re-registered, do it now. If you are registered, be sure to make your voice heard on November 2. Whatever your political views may be, silence is not an option.