[pct-l] For the Love of the Trail......

Karen Somers kborski at yahoo.com
Wed Dec 20 11:53:10 CST 2006

As Carl so aptly stated, "there are thousands of miles
of seldom-used trail traversing some of the most
beautiful places in the world."

I am currently writing a hiking guidebook for a
little-known, little-used long distance trail in
Texas.  One of them most endearing things about this
trail is that it is so remote and little-trafficked. 
Like the lovely Ouachita Trail in Arkansas, I can
spend days at time hiking on the Lone Star Trail
without seeing another soul.

As a lover of all trails, and wilderness at the heart
of that, I had a hard time deciding to write a book
about this trail.  I don't want to diminish the
peacefulness of this place that I have grown to love. 

However.....there is a darker side to little-used
trails that frightens me.  

I have had several experiences on this Texas trail
that turned my opinion towards writing a book about
it.  One involved illegal horseback riders toting guns
when it wasn't hunting season (horses are not allowed
on this trail) in a manner that was intended to
threaten me (and other hikers).  My other experiences
involved seeing people on ATVs tearing up the trail
and a team of giant tree-loppers clearcutting right
over the top of it.  

I've also seen these type of things on the PCT -- dirt
bikes in that pitiful section just before
Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road, armed locals menacing
hikers in Section O, and heavy machinery eradicating
every trace of PCT just past Carter Meadows Summit
(south of Etna in No Cal).

It came to my realization that, unless more people
HIKE on this hiking trail in East Texas and fall in
love with it like I have, then there is the very real
risk that it will eventually be overrun with ATV users
(who are already lobbying the USFS for legal access to
the trail, excessive logging and other interests that
will destroy its wilderness character.  A volunteer
group maintains the Lone Star Trail, the US Forest
Service has oversight of it, but in the end, very few
people look after it.  Just one small group of trail
advocates (you can definitely make an argument that
the USFS is not a true advocate).  It has national
status but not national attention.  There are a lot of
small, little known trails like this in the US.  They
offer great solitude, but they stand on the brink of
fading away or annihilation through neglect and
disinterest or competing development-minded interests.

I still struggle with my decision to write a guidebook
(by the way, anyone with any experience writing
guidebooks will adamantly tell you that it is not
something you do for profit or fame, as I will
actually lose money in the endeavor and will struggle
to stay published and in print).  I weighed the pros
and cons of writing a hiking guidebook, and I decided
I love the trail so much, and I love the wilderness
that it helps protect from mechanized use and logging,
that I would write a guidebook for it.  It still
worries me to know that my guidebook may increase
hiker use, but I don't want to see the trail disappear
either.  And of all users, hikers have the least
impact on the land.

I spent two months on the southern AT this past
summer, and I was a bit disheartened to see the sheer
number of hikers as compared to my thru-hike in '98
(one could argue that it has to do with me being out
there later in the year when the AT sees more use, in
general).  I came away slightly jaded.  However, the
AT certainly is not going to fade away from disuse,
and they aren't planning to clearcut Blood Mountain
because no one cares.  There would be an outcry if any
entity tried to damage the land along the southern AT.
 That's a good thing.  But there's also the concern of
overuse, because at some point trails will reach a
level of use that is detrimental to the land and
animals (and other hikers) in the area.

It's a subtle balance and no one who loves wilderness
and trails (read Rick Bass' The Book of Yaak, for an
excellent example) is immune from this concern.  Trail
lovers  want desperately to protect trails and
disseminate information that allows appropriate use by
ethical people, yet you don't want to see trails
peppered with an overabuncance of tent sites, have to
sidestep around toilet paper laying on the ground, or
cringe when you hear other hikers brag about killing
rattlesnakes.  That's sickening.

A bit unrelated, but still relevant:

Squatch wrote to the list about some impending power
line towers that they want to build in the San Felipe
Hills.  As a list of PCT advocates, we could turn our
attention to a true and selfless concern for the
present well-being of the PCT.  Please write to the
San Diego power company asking them move these power
lines away from the PCT.  

We can't do much to protect the trail while sitting at
our desks, but we can act together to both communicate
these kinds of issues and voice our concerns.  We can
and should write letters and emails to defend and
protect the trail itself, as well as the facilities
along the trail.  

Once you've hiked the PCT, it is embedded in your
heart forever.  I believe that anyone who has hiked
the trail has formed a bond with it that can't be
described in words and that those people will always
have its best interest in their heart.  


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