I’ve decided over the past three or four years that I really don’t mind driving, especially when it comes to my job. I do a fair bit of driving over the course of a winter to get to various sledding spots and along the way I get to see the best mountain views and scenery North America has to offer. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again … I never get tired of looking at the mountains.
Just this past season I drove somewhere in the neighborhood of 11,150 miles (no, really) and that included trips all over the Rocky Mountains, the Wasatch Range, the Snowies, the Cascades and the Canadian Rockies … and everywhere in between.
From the road, and even many times from the seat of a sled, the landscape looks so open and inviting. It’s only after you study a map that you see how off-limits some areas really are, especially to those of us who actually enjoy being outdoors in the winter exploring and roaming on a snowmobile.
There are times when you’re driving along and see No Trespassing signs on fence lines, alerting you to the fact that that tract of land is most likely someone’s private property.
However, no one—yet—has been so bold as to put a No Trespassing sign up around Wilderness areas, which I would like to remind folks—motorized and non-motorized—is still public land. One sign that I wouldn’t be surprised to see put up near Wilderness areas is “Restricted Access Area.” That’s exactly what a Wilderness area (and probably not too far in the distance, Roadless Areas) is.
Wilderness areas in particular have turned into a semi-private, exclusive club-type of public land (kind of an oxymoron if you ask me). The big “selling point,” if you will, from the land preservation groups (read: green) is that we’re saving land for our posterity … yea, if they want to stand and look at it from the outside in. Or if they want to hike. Those are your two options. Contrary to what the environmental groups would like to label me (a fat slob who can barely get off his butt to walk, let alone hike), I like to hike; but I also love to snowmobile. More and more we’re hearing Wilderness advocates who don’t even want two-wheel pedal bikes and horseback riders in certain Wilderness areas. And no rock climbing. No campfires. No landing a helicopter inside the boundaries. No, no, no.
Aside from the lack of snow, what other major issue does snowmobiling face? It’s simple—land use. And that comes under various labels, from Wilderness to roadless areas to Wilderness study areas … anything to do with keeping the public out and locking land up.
It doesn’t take me long to get worked up about the Wilderness issue, but I’m especially sensitive these days because a huge swath of land in Idaho is being proposed as Wilderness. Another proposal threatens the Mt. Jefferson area—our backyard and a spot where I’ve enjoyed years of snowmobiling. We already have millions of acres (the Frank Church alone is 2.3 million acres) of Wilderness in Idaho. We don’t need more Wilderness here or anywhere else.
Regardless of how Wilderness is painted, the bottom line is it is a restricted use area. Do we have to snowmobile everywhere? Absolutely not. Should we put up with continued restrictions placed on public lands? Absolutely not. If we continue to lose public lands for whatever reason, that will cause a greater concentration of use on the remaining lands. We all know how we feel about riding an area that has been pounded to death. One of the best descriptions of this I’ve heard comes from Colorado Snowmobile Association Right to Ride Chairman Roger Pennington. He said, “… if you placed your furniture in your living room so that you had only one pathway through it and it was carpeted and you never moved the furniture to change the path and you kept putting more and more people running through your living room, what is going to happen? You are going to have a lot of carpet that is in good shape but because you have shoved all the use into one small area, you are going to have worn out carpet in no time, probably have some arguments as to who has the right of way to the bathroom or the refrigerator and you have not managed the use very well, now have you? If you move your furniture around so there are multiple paths and maybe even change the furniture to change the paths so the use gets spread out, you are going to get a lot more years of use out of it, now aren’t you?”
We all have lots of choices these days as to what to spend our money on. Some of you choose snowmobiling. Others think this whole land use issue is too much of a pain in the butt to worry about so you’re taking your money elsewhere. That latter option is what Wilderness advocates are hoping (and wishing and trying to just about declare by state and federal law) we all take. That way, not so many people will object to “Restricted Access Area” or even a “No Trespassing” sign.
I for one don’t like threadbare carpet and I don’t like having to ride like a herd of mules down a path.
I love to head into the trees, gain elevation and break out on the top of a ridge somewhere and see all the mountains surrounding me—with no signs in sight.