Apathy, Parks, and Trail Running: A Bad Combination

Trail runners, we have a crisis on our hands. Trail races have been canceled because the state parks in which they are held are not being adequately funded. Other races face similar threats. In a way, we should thank a bad economy and state financial crises for pointing out our own errors. The simply reality, we cannot merely be trail users, we must be trail partners, trail stewards, and trail founders. We must take action. We must take it today. We must take it tomorrow. We must continue to take action, because without vocal, engaged users, the trails will be claimed by developers or reclaimed by the forest.

Before further discussion, here’s a list of local, state, and federal (any country) issues that threaten trail access, whether generally or for races, in particular. We’ve also decided to post resources to help you take positive action. Please leave a comment with other endangered trails or trail races as well as helpful resources! Let iRunFar.com help get folks engaged!

Park Issues

  • Laurel Highlands Ultra – A condemned highway overpass will alter the course of a classic eastern US race. Sign the petition to replace the bridge! [broken link removed]
  • Mount Diablo 50 Mile – California state budget cuts led to this race’s cancellation  in 2010. Take action with the California State Parks Foundation. [broken link removed]
  • Idaho State Parks – While we’ve yet to learn of any impacts, Idaho has cut state park funding by 80%!? Follow the news by following Friends of Idaho State Parks on Facebook. [Added 3/16/10]

Trail Runner Resources

  • Become a More Useful Trail Runner [broken link removed] – Ultrarunner Craig Thornley suggests that you develop the skills to lead trail work outings.

Funding
Recent state fiscal crises have hurt parks across the United States. Presumably, parks in other countries have faced similar problems.

After a year of meeting budgets by deferring maintenance, California state parks have cut back public services in 2010. Even seemingly small budget cuts can curtail trail running. Take, for instance, Mount Diablo State Park. Here, the California Department of Parks and Recreation “merely” cut some camping and day use areas. Those changes were enough cancel this year’s Mount Diablo 50 mile and marathon trail races. With any luck, these races will be back next year with the backing of Pacific Coast Trail Runs, but a year’s lapse might mean the end of other, independently organized trail races. California park lovers must now choose to let their parks operate at diminished capacity, allow them to be funded by offshore drilling, or successfully petition for a ballot initiative to have a license plate fee fully fund the parks. (Read more about the California state park issue [broken link removed] and efforts to re-fund the parks.)

Trail runners, let the Mount Diablo 50 be a lesson to fight harder for park funding.

Mount Diablo from Shell Ridge

Mount Diablo from Shell Ridge. Photo from PCTR.

The trouble on the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail is much smaller in scale, but nonetheless meaningful to trail runners. Sure, the trail is a pleasant place to go for a weekend run, but it’s also home to the 30 year old Laurel Highlands Ultra. In December, transportation authorities condemned the bridge, which spans an otherwise impassable highway, for structural reasons. This left the trail split in two. The bridge will soon be demolished and the race will be rerouted with an additional 6 miles this year. After much pressure from local users groups, transportation officials have at least paid lip services to replacing the span… eventually. In the short term, sign the petition to “save the bridge” and write a letter to politicians to voice your support for a replacement span.

Facilities Maintenance
Let’s face it, it shouldn’t have come petitions and letter writing with the Laurel Highlands bridge… at least not after the fact. This 40 year old bridge has been in visibly bad shape for a decade. Why did no trail runner or race official or hiker or snowmobiler raise a call to action before the bridge needed to be condemned? Has society, including us trail runners, become too complacent? Do we think someone else will tell officials what needs to be fixed? Trail runners, we need to speak up when major resources we use start to fall into disrepair.

Laurel Highlands Trail

A portion of the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail. Photo courtesy of Steve Pero.

Trail Maintenance
On a more personal note, I spent two weeks with my parents in New Jersey over the holidays. During high school and college I ran countless miles on the trails that crisscross Washington Crossing State Park behind their house. During this trip, I was appalled at the state of disrepair into which those trails had fallen. As I spent hours during my runs clipping briars and moving logs in the cold rain, I couldn’t help but fume at those trail runners who routinely use the park (and they do), but do nothing to maintain it. Do they feel entitled to good trails? When they see a trail falling into disrepair do they organize a volunteer outing? Do they even notify a park official? Trail runners, if we don’t take care of the trails, who will?

Personal Action
The history of trails and parks is filled, if not dominated, by personal will, by personal passion. These places that were birthed from passion, must be maintained by passion. Your passion. Get out there. Get out there and do something. Open your eyes. Open your mouth. Open your checkbook. Open your hand, pick up a Pulaski, and get to work!