Sunday, August 6, 2017

Non-Motorized Trails Need Love Too

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

A recent trip to the Pacific Northwest to hike and observe non-motorized travel management prescriptions reminded QWR that off-route travel including shortcuts on trails with switchbacks can present land managers with significant challenges.

Non-motorized travel management becomes even more acute at popular federally designated sites such as National Scenic Areas and National Monuments.  Often these sites are visited by thousands of domestic and international tourists each day. 

Such intensive use can place a stress on agency resources and staff in maintaining visitor services such as day use areas, interpretive centers, and trails.

QWR believes that signs are the most effective (and often the only management tool the public sees) method by which a land agency communicates its commitment to the public and the resource.  And, the quality of an agency’s signing program is directly proportional to the level of user enjoyment, public compliance with regulations, and success of the unit’s mission, vision, and values.

Shortcut Trail - Larch Mountain Trail
Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area

Last week, QWR had the privilege to hike the Larch Mountain Trail up to Multnomah Falls at the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area and tour various trails at the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument appears to have a modern signing program that uses a combination of more traditional travel management signs with the addition of more universal or “picture” signs to convey where the public should travel.

Effective "Picture" Travel Management Sign
Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Evidence of illegal cross-country non-motorized travel at the Monument was virtually non-existent which pays tribute to the unit’s management strategy and team.

Traditional Travel Management Sign
Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

The Larch Mountain Trail up to Multnomah Falls was in overall good condition but it appeared that additional measures might be needed to address a number of non-legal shortcuts across some of the 11 switchbacks on the 1.25 miles of paved trail up to the falls.

Effective Sign with Trail Delineator - Larch Mountain Trail

Since this trail literally gets thousands of hikers from various parts of the world each day, QWR believes the unit should consider modernizing its signing program by integrating some “picture” signs that convey the importance of users staying on the paved route.

A "Picture" Shortcut Sign
Mendocino National Forest

This is particularly important since this area of the country has a long wet season where off-route travel can have significant impacts when the soil moisture content is elevated.

QWR has suggested the agency also enhance their signing program by increasing the number of trail delineators (e.g. spilt rail fences, etc.) and consider using woody debris to help camouflage old ghost trails or shortcuts.

The purpose of this article is to highlight the import role that both the motorized and non-motorized recreation community has in helping support sustainable travel management practices on public lands. 

And, those high use areas require more intensive travel management strategies and prescriptions.

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