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Rubicon Trail, Land Clousures & Irresponsible Four Wheelers - Limited Articulation

Posted in Features on November 1, 2002
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Contributors: Jon Thompson

I hear a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth about land-use issues, and about how we as four-wheelers are being shut out of areas in which we'd like to wheel. It's always the fault of government and/or environmentalists, dang their hides.

Well, guess what, folks. It isn't just "them." Sometimes we're our own worst enemies. When presented with opportunities to be good ambassadors for four-wheeling, we seem too happy to vividly illustrate our worst side.

This happened most recently on the front page of the Los Angeles Times, a well-respected newspaper read each day by about one million people. A story in the July 5 edition, on page one of section one, was headlined, "Offroad Mecca at a Crossroads."

The story details trouble at the much-loved Rubicon Trail, which runs through the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. The story begins by quoting a 'wheeler as saying that nothing is more American than four-wheeling, and no better place to four-wheel than the Rubicon. And then it tells the Times' readers that the Rubicon is being 'wheeled to death.

The story talks about terrain scarred by impatient folks who shortcut the trail, and about resulting erosion so serious that the trail had to be closed last year for a while. And about human waste lining both sides of the trail. And finally, in the ultimate insult, it quotes one Rubicon 'wheeler saying it's OK, while traveling the Rubicon, to be as loud as you want and to drink as much as you want.

All of this provides, in a favorite phrase of Top Truck Challenge judge and Four Wheeler contributor Ned Bacon, bullets for the environmentalists to shoot us with. Any 'wheeler who talked to the author of this story was presented with a unique opportunity. He could have talked about responsible use of this incredible trail and illustrated his own efforts to care for the Rubicon. He could have been a good ambassador for the sport of four-wheeling. Instead, in a few phrases spoken to a reporter from one of the largest and best-read newspapers in America, at least one 'wheeler delivered language that paints four-wheelers as irresponsible knotheads who need to be controlled by more sober souls.

Part of the story recounted the good efforts of the Friends of the Rubicon, Jeepers Jamboree founder Mark Smith, and current Jamboree president Dan Mainwaring. Good stuff. Good work that needs to be acknowledged and congratulated. But I fear that what will resonate with the paper's readers, and what will make its way into the corridors of environmentalist powers, will be the bad stuff, the negative stuff, the irresponsible stuff. When that happens, shame on us. Shame on us all.

There are folks out there who watch us closely. They watch how we drive, how we behave, what we do. When we make a mistake or behave irresponsibly, they jot that down in their little books of environmental sins. Mistakes will happen. But there's no excuse for irresponsible behavior, either spoken or acted. We have our fate in our own hands. If we lose our favorite wheeling areas, it just may be because we deserve to lose them because we haven't been sufficiently proactive in keeping them open.

How to be proactive? First of all, always Tread Lightly! Be a good four-wheeling citizen. Pack out everything you take in. Everything. There are, after all, ways in which to do this. Make yourself an ambassador for responsible four-wheeling. And for heaven's sake, when you talk to a reporter-and you will, because the media will focus more on land use issues, not less-be sure that what you say illustrates four-wheelers as responsible people who take care of the natural resource that belongs to us all. To do anything else is to give 'em bullets to shoot us with.

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