I’ve heard that saying ‘all good things come to an end‘ thrown around like rocks getting chucked out of a mud tire. But by ‘end‘ I just couldn’t have imagined it would be an end to the trails we have been visiting for decades.
We spent many years traveling across the highways to a mountain of 100 year old logging trails to break away from society for a weekend. Long afternoons crisscrossing the valleys, hanging out along the stream, getting stuck in mud holes, clawing up steep trails and finding great places share a laugh and a story. After a long day on the trails, we were rewarded with a great steak dinner and a few beers down at a local hotel in a small town with one stop light. After a great dinner we’d head back to the cabin for a few more beers around the campfire. The stories, the broken vehicles, the recoveries, many years and many friends. Season after season. Spring, Summer, Fall and winter made it always seem like a different mountain. Everyone knew what “going up to the cabin” meant.
As the years rolled into decades it became a tradition. Wheeling, mudding, campfires at the cabin, target shooting and just hanging out. We have tens of thousands of photos and videos dating all the way back before digital cameras. Our early vehicles that seemed timid on the easy stuff. Many well-earned memories were made up here with broken axles, a blown engine, stuck in the broken ice of a spring-fed, sub-zero, muddy mess for hours to name a few. We discovered new trails on rare occasions, we crossing the tracks into new areas, found the corkscrew that took us up to the top of the mountain, discovered a man-made dam next to a swimming hole, pondered at the outcrop of rocks overlooking the valley below, and visited very familiar mud holes and rest stops. We had a few cookouts deep in the woods, saw our fair share of rattle snakes and black bears. Got spooked by packs of coyotes running by us at night and heard the howling of the pack surrounding us at the cabin. We gazed in awe at the Northern Lights for hours and search for satellites passing through the Milky way that filled the night sky. We shared tons of laughs and brought home enough mud to start a new offroad park.
Year after year went by and we got used to the status quo, even got bored with the same old logging trails after a while. Friends would come and go, regulars would disappear for a while, then go up again years later. But most of us always figured there would be a next time. Another trip, another season.
Well not this time. Our 20+ years of enjoying this area came to a screeching halt this month when a friend from the area sent a photo of a new gate, placed right smack in the way of the only trail into this beautiful valley.
Fracking. Fracking had come to the valley and our access was cut off. And just like that, it was over. Aside from the dirt road that the cabin is located on, access to the entire valley was gone.
Apparently we are not alone in our loss of trail access. It’s happening all over. Times are changing. Land access is becoming more and more limited for all sorts of reasons. For us, it’s due to the discovery of abundant natural gas within the Marcellus Formation in Pennsylvania. Referred to as Marcellus Shale Gas, it is responsible for a huge boom in natural gas production in PA. The land we had been granted access to was riddled with logging trails, which the mining company that owned the land occasionally harvested for lumber. That in turn kept the trails open and clear. But natural gas is more profitable than lumber so it’s understandable. Sad but we get it.
So what’s the point of this you’re asking? What’s the big deal? You guys can’t wheel the old logging trails anymore. Well the deal is it’s happening all over the country. We are losing the trails. Losing our sport. If you like to 4-wheel, you probably have lost trails or you will eventually. What can you do about it? Well there actually are things you can do to help support trail access and keep your sport alive. Here are some things you can do to preserve your sport and love for the outdoors.
- Support your local 4×4 Clubs – Local, regional and national off-road clubs many times know land owners, offroad parks and other legal places to ride. Join a club and support their efforts to organize trail rides. Get involved. Organized groups can accomplish more than individuals alone. Most clubs are active in their communities and regions and help to promote off road events and activities. 4×4 Clubs help to improve the image of off-road recreationists.
- Join established organizations like Tread Lightly and the Blue Ribbon Coalition who fight for land use rights and responsible enjoyment of the great outdoors.
- Support your local Offroad Parks – Land is limited. When people and organizations dedicate land for the purpose off road use and attempt to make a living doing so, it’s a huge investment in time and resources in the hopes of making it work in a self-sustaining business. That in turn creates jobs and trails to ride on. It’s a win win for both you and the park. Support and enjoy the off road parks.
- When you are offroad, be responsible and respectful. Leave the land cleaner than when you arrived. Carry out your trash and then some. A few bad apples can ruin it for everyone. Don’t be a bad apple.