Stewardship (noun): the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially : the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care <stewardship of natural resources>
Here we stand. It’s mid-summer. Hopefully everyone has been taking any available chance to get outside… Camping, riding, fishing, just generally exploring the great outdoors. Our great outdoors. Make no mistake, public lands are ours. We have the ability to use these lands, and as a Nation, have created agencies to help us manage these lands for beneficial uses. But that doesn’t negate that these lands are owned by each citizen; man, woman and child.
Well, what does that “ownership” mean? Sure, we have the USDA Forest Service, DOI Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and hundreds of other federal, state and local agencies that manage these lands. I’ll speak for myself and pass on a thank you to these folks… I’ve cleaned enough public restrooms in my time that I have no desire to take care of the thousands of pit toilets on public lands, let alone manage permits for grazing (which is another story in itself). However, since these lands are entrusted to us as citizens, that management also comes down to us and our individual actions.
Now don’t be scared that I’m going to throw a hail-mary cry of “go bust your knuckles all weekend and move those rocks on your favorite trail.” Why? Well, because that’s not all that stewardship is about. For those of us old enough to remember Bill Murray’s “What About Bob?” movie, we all remember Baby Steps. Baby steps do not just apply to curing obsessive-compulsive movie stars that later go on to become unfortunate victims in the zombie-craze. They also apply to each of our actions, since the cumulative result is the real goal. Each little “baby step” we take helps to maintain a healthy environment, helps to maintain the inherent beauty of our outdoor opportunities, and ultimately helps us maintain the ability to access these areas in a variety of mechanisms.
So, as we continue to see the summer equinox slip behind us in the rearview mirror (not a bad thing for those of us who crave winter’s bite), here are some tips to take those little baby steps.
Pack it in, pack it out. Leaving an area better than you found it by picking up trash on the trails and policing campsites is probably one of the easiest and visibly beneficial things we can do. Now I won’t speak for others, but when I go to grab a granola bar wrapper that was accidently sent on its own outdoor adventure, I get a frantic vision of my mother in my head and hear her cry from that time I tried to pick up that piece of previously-enjoyed gum as a toddler… “ew, don’t touch that!!!.” Well Mom, after 30 years I’ve figured that one out… Worried about germs? Carry a pair of gloves (I prefer leather, since they are also the fix-the-Jeep gloves) and a little bottle of Purell or biodegradable camp soap. Worried about where to put the trash? Carry a small ziplock (for hiking or dirt biking), a 5-gallon bucket with a lid (for pickups), or buy a Trasharoo for that spare tire. Sure, sometimes things happen and something falls out of our pack or vehicle. If we all try our hardest to stay mindful of our own trash, and then pick up any wandering bits that may have set off from their owners, we leave a better experience for others and our next trip.
Campfire rings. We all love a campfire, whether for the camaraderie or the heat or the cooking potential (no comment from anyone who has been subject to my campfire cooking… SORRY). They are basically a staple of the American camping experience. We all know that feeling of coming up to a dispersed campsite and seeing the multiple rings and then WOW… there it is. The perfect ring. Some un-named campfire architect made it earlier in the year. That’s the one we’ll use, right? Well, what about those other rings that are scattered throughout the campsite? The ones that may not have passed for a degree in architecture, but maybe in impressionist art. What to do, what to do… How about breaking them down? Keeping the impacts from a campfire localized to one area in the campsite is important. No need to sterilize soils throughout the area. Take the rocks and scatter them, or use them to delineate the established “driveway” so that braiding is minimized. Clean the trash out of the ashes, and then scatter the ash and charred wood far and wide. Rake out any remaining pile. By utilizing one ring consistently, we concentrate that use in areas that are already impacted, saving the surrounding vegetation and minimizing “campsite creep.” Now of course, there are other things to consider… Are fires allowed, and even if they are, is it safe to have one? Can you use a portable fire ring, such as this one made by Tuffy Security Products? Do you even need a fire at all?
Downed trees. This can be a touchy subject, so we’ll stick to some generalities. Winter can be such a pain in the you-know-what when it comes to the trails. Spring comes around, the snow melts, and as you’re heading out to ride your favorite trail you can sense that something is wrong in the force. There is a disturbance, and when you round that second corner you see it… AAAACCCKKKK!!! Deadfall!!!! First things first… If you absolutely can’t get over a downed tree, turn around and contact the land manager or adopting club so they can take care of it. Please, please do not ride around down trees by going off-trail. That applies to everyone, by the way… Not just those with those circular rubber-encased travel mechanisms that have been around since the dawn of… Uh, for a long time. So, how to handle this situation if you really, really must keep going? Try to get over it. Hiking? Climb under or over. We all miss those days of climbing trees as a kid, so here’s your chance to dive into your own little happy place. Mountain bike? Practice those skills getting over. Ollie it. Carry it if you must. Dirt bike? Well… same concept. Get the front over, and then tell your post-riding celebration buddies to help and stop snickering. You will inevitably come across a tree that someone has turned into an obstacle by building ramps or something similar. Have fun with it, but stay on the trail. If the downed tree must be removed, you can try to pull it off to the side using a winch or those snickering friends, or cut it. Carry a small pack saw (or a non-Fisher Price miniature chainsaw, like the one in the picture above). Since different land managers may have different requirements for use of chainsaws, please check with your local folks and only use a chainsaw when properly trained (a Google Images search of “chainsaw injuries” should reinforce that… although not advised around meal time). When cutting, make sure to cut far enough back that the chances of riders catching pants or parts on the stub are minimized. Use the cut or broken pieces to visually block any bypass routes that may have been created.
Here is a fun video showing that “get over it” technique in action from some friends in Colorado – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37FtrRxZ9uI&feature=player_embedded
Okay, so that’s only 3 big tips and a bunch of little things added in for thought and humor. The main point is that each of our little actions help free up resources by volunteers and land managers for those bigger projects (again, I’ll reference the “cumulative results”) and help keep our lands and waterways in great condition so that our future generations will be able to see them as we do – Lands of beauty and opportunity.
And for you kids, next time Mom says “ew, don’t pick that up!” look at her, smile, pick it up and ask for the Purell.