Friday, January 15, 2016

Ramming Speed Friday: Public Spaces for People

Somewhere in the West
...ern Gorge region
I whine about not having places to ride my mountain bike.  Maybe I’m like Emo Kylo Ren.  But I sometimes forget that I was perfectly content to ride my mountain bike on Hatton Ridge, the Short Creek Rim, and along Whites Branch and Big Bend so many years ago.  When I found the four mile Big Sinking loop down near PMRP back in 2006 or so I was stoked!  That seemed like what mountain biking should really be.  It was a nearly abandoned oil access road that had been torn all to hell, to a dry creekbed, to a dirt county road, and back to the dry creekbed.  I even dragged the Training Partner down there once to ride and we were both pretty stoked.
After being spoiled in the mountains of Colorado on primo singletrack I have come back to Kentucky feeling somewhat cheated in life and I’ve been on this downward spiral into singletrack hell.  I DO believe there is incredible potential for singletrack where I live, but I’ve also begun to rediscover that I love riding on what is already out there to be ridden.
Hatton Ridge is an incredible place.  While there is the scant danger of being burglarized by Methbillies (or Methnecks if you rather) that danger is…scant.  Back in the early aughts I roamed around Hatton Ridge, Spaas Creek, and the Short Creek Rim almost exclusively.  I had shifted away from recreating in the Gorge proper and was systematically exploring the western regions of the National Forest in the Gorge area looking for potential trad routes and boulder clusters.
I can honestly say I’ve hiked almost every scrap of cliffline and quite a few dozen miles of old logging roads in that area.  I know it well.  As well as anyone else.
Dave and I have alternately been working on flagging reroutes on the Powder Mill Trail for the USFS for possible inclusion in their 2016 work plan.  We’ve been hopeful that our efforts will lead to improvements on the only legal mountain bike trail in the RRG region of the DBNF.  And so we’ve been meticulous in our map studies, our field work, and in deciding where a potential reroute should go.  If we’re going to do this we want to make sure it’s done right this time.
But during this process I have ended up riding my mountain bike on Hatton Ridge Road again.  I revisited an old unofficial trail out to a cool over look on my bike.  While technically not a legal trail it’s also not illegal in the strictest sense of the word.  Off road travel is allowed by non-motorized methods in the national forest, and I simply followed a “game trail” on my bike to an overlook.  I made no improvements (other than tossing a couple of deadfall branches aside) and I’m not going to publish here where that particular trail is.
While that ride doesn’t reflect the same kind of experience as following purpose-built singletrack it is enjoyable and desirable to someone like me who just likes to get out and be active under the sun.  If I were to ride Hatton Ridge and all of the Short Creek Rim it would take me most of an afternoon and I’d get in near twenty miles.  The scenery is amazing and it’s a very quiet and vast place as long as there aren’t a lot of ATVs and ORVs buzzing about.  The solitude is typically unparalleled for this area.  That whole region is not as well known or as frequently visited.  And that’s primarily because the reasonable access is from Menifee County in the north and not from the Gorge side where all of the outdoor recreation traffic comes from.
Throw in a mix of private lands with uncertain boundaries and it’s not as inviting a place for the masses.  But for someone like me it’s a recreational paradise.
I posted a piece earlier in the week about the standoff in Oregon on federal lands.  The Y’all Qaeda folks want all federal lands turned over to the states and “given back to the people.”  Of course we know this is balderdash.  The “people” they mean are those who stand to profit from extractive industries on those lands; not the general public who might want to recreate or otherwise enjoy public lands.  In essence these people want to pimp out our public lands to the highest bidders.
I have social anxiety.  It’s related to neurological conditions I have dealt with my entire life.  In my forties I am beginning to understand that I’m not anti-social, I just react negatively to crowded situations or situations with complex social interactions.  My wiring doesn’t function as smoothly in a cluttered social environment.  And the best therapy I have found (instinctively I might add) is regularly being in the outdoors away from the built environment.
While I would love to live in a little cabin in the woods far from any semblance of a town I actually don’t need that.  I just need access to some wide swaths of woods or prairie or an alpine environment to escape into from time to time and reboot my system.  And while I think I am overly sensitive to the stimulus of civilization I think all of us benefit from such reboots. 
There isn’t enough public land in the US.  I feel bad for the people that live in wild and rural western states who are offended by the fact that the federal government owns a large percentage of the land in their states, but I think those public holdings are important to the health, safety, and welfare of our country and society.  And while I don’t agree with every policy of the USFS or BLM and wish in a lot of cases we had more freedom to develop recreational opportunities I am perfectly willing to work within whatever framework we have because I recognize the importance of having regulatory policies to protect our great natural resources.
Making money doesn’t directly benefit any of us.  And so, making a cash withdrawal from our forests, fields, and mountains isn’t automatically a good thing.  What we do with the cash that has been converted from mineral into currency is more important to that societal health.  And if we act in a greedy manner our cultural soul will become sick.  It is sick. 
The best medicine to our disease of greed is to get out in nature and remember that we live in a beautiful world that has intrinsic value in its natural (or as close to natural as we can have these days) state.

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