Is this the end of the trail?" the Vietnam veteran asked me as we approached a bodacious rocky ledge in the Post Pile area of the Rubicon Trail. "Naw," I said as I eased my TJ up on the ledge and let the BFGs get a grip with the help of the ARB lockers. "We're gonna ease over this baby and just keep on a'going," I told him as we continued our tour of the trail as part of the Wheelers for the Wounded trip 2010. But the question has bugged me for years about our sport in general-is this the end of the trail?
Land closures and trail restrictions have caught up to our sport of four-wheeling in a logarithmic fashion. Misguided politicians and radical anti-access protectionist groups have lobbied heavily to try to shut us down and get us to leave our rigs parked in the garage. But I can tell you that the future of four-wheeling is stronger than ever! We are fighting back for our access on many levels, and you can play an important part in these battles.
Allow me to give you the simple steps of what you can do to make a difference and keep the future of four-wheeling in safe hands-our hands. I call these four steps the "JAIL" speech-keeping our public lands out of jail, out from behind bars (and gates).
First off, Join (the "J" in JAIL): In order to save our sport and keep our trails open, we need to raise a bigger army. Yeah, that's right-an army of access fighters. Really, a lot of what we fight for is our freedom to responsibly enjoy our great land. You can be part of this by joining whatever organizations make sense to you, and as many as you can afford. It is by sheer numbers that we can make a huge difference in keeping our tires on the trails. Members = votes = success. You must be a part of that unified voice.
Start your memberships with a national umbrella group such as the BlueRibbon Coalition-the national grassroots champion of access organization. We all need to be part of it. Then join your state and regional associations and your local club as well. Get in the game by joining.
Second, be sure to Advocate for your sport. Talk it up to those who don't understand what we do and why we love it so much. Go to a classroom and talk to kids about four-wheeling, the backcountry, and why we love what we do. Write letters now and then to your local paper about what a great thing four-wheeling is and how you're being responsible on the lands you love.
Third, Include others in what you do with your rig and your sport. Take a non-wheeler for a ride. Take a politician from your area for a tour. Invite a member of the press to your club meeting or take them on a ride. Organize a simple clean-up day and get a member of the press there to cover it.
Fourth, it's about Letters. Write them when asked to do so or when you know there's an issue that is affecting your trails. Get your opinion out there and make your voice heard. Nowadays, most organizations have clickable links and letter generators that make our job much easier. Use them! I like to ask folks to consider a "one-for-one" idea-one letter (or phone call) for one day of trail riding. Make that your objective. There is nothing more powerful than a handwritten letter to your local, state, or federal politician. Give them your opinions!
Oftentimes I reflect on my early days of four-wheeling in the '60s with my dad in an old chopped-down Studebaker in southern California. We could travel for days across the desert and never hit a fence, a sign, or a land restriction. Trails were not well marked, and the feeling of freedom was unsurpassed. But in today's world, we have routes designated and trails that are established on maps. Yes, we must stay on the trails and follow the rules, but we must also not let the rules become unbalanced and ludicrous.
Everywhere I travel in my BRC role, I hear four-wheelers passionately describe how they love having the steering wheel in their sweaty hands, negotiating some obstacle, and seeing some unbelievable scenery in this great country of ours. Well, not only is the steering wheel in our hands, so is our future. Keep our public lands out of "jail," and do your part as best you can.
About Del Albright
Del Albright, internationally published author and outdoorsman, serves as an Ambassador with the BlueRibbon Coalition and as State Environmental Affairs Coordinator for the California Association of 4-Wheel Drive Clubs. He currently calls northern California his home, but travels nationally keeping outdoor sports alive and well. Learn more about Del at www.delalbright.com and the BRC at www.sharetrails.org.