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Trails Can't Speak for Themselves, But These Advocates Will

Posted by Francakes at Feb 04, 2016 01:50 PM |

Meet just a few of the trail advocates who have played a big role in advocating for trails here in Washington.

"For many years, I hiked with the rather naive belief that trails were there because they appeared on maps. Kind of like Santa Claus," says Elizabeth Lunney, interim executive director of The Mountaineers and a former director of Washington Trails Association.

Lunney is not alone in that thought. It is easy to think of trails as just another part of the landscape, present in perpetuity like the mountains and valleys they traverse. But it takes a lot to make and keep a trail. Beyond putting boots on the ground to remove fallen trees and build switchbacks, trails need the voices of dedicated advocates.

WTA's history is strongly rooted in advocacy, Louise Marshall, WTA's founder, and guidebook author Ira Spring set the standard for a new generation of hiker advocates. From walking the halls of Olympia and D.C. to leading community groups to preserve the places they love, some of Washington trails' best advocates have played crucial roles in WTA's history.

We look back at the accomplishments of Louise Marshall. We also sat down with a few advocates who offered their advice about how hikers can be good advocates and to talk about why they've stayed on the journey to protect trails for decades.


Louise Marshall, founder of Signpost and WTA

Marshall was WTA's original advocate for trails. WTA began as Signpost, a newsletter for hikers and backpackers distributed by mail beginning in 1966 -- 50 years ago! It was the first newsletter of its kind: hikers could submit trip reports to keep other hikers updated on trail conditions and, starting with some of the earliest issues, Louise encouraged trail users to contact land managers about issues affecting trails.

Some early issues Louise lead advocacy for the preservation of Miner's Ridge (in Glacier Peak Wilderness), coastal trails from Lake Ozette to Rialto Beach and others. After getting official nonprofit designation for the organization in 1980, Marshall's leadership in urging hikers to oppose the Ashland Lakes timber sale saved miles of lowland trails.

Before her death in 2005, Marshall was asked if she had any advice for hikers who wanted to follow in her footsteps. She said, "Get organized. Most hikers are not joiners, but we need to be united behind a movement to be heard."

Her words are as true today as they were then.


Elizabeth Lunney, former Executive Director of WTA

What do you see as the biggest issues facing trails in the future?

Lunney: Climate change and wildfire are big forces on the landscape now. But if we think about trails as human infrastructure, then the challenge is keeping them current to the needs of today.

This includes maintenance, of course, but also questions about whether our trails take us to the right places and have the capacity to meet the many different types of users and the different ways people are enjoying the outdoors.

Do you have any advice for new advocates?

Lunney: Study, study, study.

Enthusiasm and passion are very valuable. But a detailed knowledge of the landscape, relationships with decision-makers,and  experience with public processes -- these are the things that turn good intentions into change for the good.


John Spring, former WTA board member and son of Ira Spring

Do you have any advice for new advocates?

Spring: I will fall back on my father’s words. “Every advocate needs to know the power of a single letter.” So many land manger decisions are literally made on the input of one or two well-written knowledgeable letters.

As far as hikers protecting trails is to put their efforts into volunteering once in a while.

It was impressive as Greg Ball built the WTA volunteer trails program how quickly other users were at a loss of words when it came to their demands. Volunteer hours are the most powerful influence on land users.


Tom Lucas, former WTA board member

What has been most gratifying in your experience?

Lucas: The most gratifying thing for me is to actually see and use a trail which I know benefited by hiker action.

I was also the NOVA Representative for five years and I felt good whenever I filled my gas tank knowing that Washington State was forward enough to allocate part of the gas tax to outdoor recreation. Of course, I also think of the many battles we had trying to get a fairer allocation to the non-motorized users, a battle which Ira [Spring] led for more than 10 years.

What is the most important thing hikers can do to protect trails?

Lucas: One: get out and hike, enjoying yourself and learning about those trails.

Two: join WTA and be vocal on the issues. Too often hikers assume that there are so many of us that we don’t need to act.

And three: volunteer when needed. It is amazing to me how many ways one can serve. By the same token, WTA should find a role for everyone who volunteers. It may only be mailings but as I found out when I volunteered with the Issaquah Alps Trails Club, this is a learning process, and getting the chance to work with informed hikers—Ira [Spring], Harvey [Manning], Karl [Forsgaard], John [Spring], Ken Konigsmark, Dave Kappler—and many others provides an education.


Photo by Karl Forsgaard.

Susan Saul, Southwest crew leader and former WTA board member


    What has been your most gratifying experience?

    Saul: Watching the Mount St. Helens National Monument advance from legislative establishment in 1982 to become: a world-class science, education and research site vastly advancing our understanding of ecological response to catastrophic events; the importance of biological legacies; and how our Cascades Mountains ecosystems coevolved with active volcanoes.

    I have enthusiastically watched the former Coldwater Visitor Center being transformed into the Coldwater Science and Learning Center with educational opportunities for students of all ages from grade school through graduate school.


      What is the most important thing hikers can do to protect trails?

      Saul: Advocate for adequate funding for land managers to manage their trail resources, including the trail environment and the trail assets. Too often, trails are lost when land managers don't have adequate financial resources so they abandon or close trails, or they use the trail environment for income, such as through timber sales and livestock grazing leases.


      Mark Boyar, leader of Middle Fork Snoqualmie conservation effort and former WTA board member

      What does it take to be an effective advocate?

      Boyar: To be an effective advocate, get to know the trail and surrounding area so you can speak with authority. Of course that means learning how a trail is holding up to wear and tear from boots and mother nature. But also learn about the health of the surrounding forest, user conflicts, law enforcement problems, and other issues.

      When you expand your view of what it means to protect a trail to include the surrounding landscape, you vastly increase your effectiveness as a trails advocate. No one can focus on all issues, but everyone can  learn about them and find out who’s effectively tackling each one.

      Support these good people -- land managers, nonprofits, community activists -- so they can assemble the funding and community support to do their work. As a trusted member of this community, you’ll find more support for your work as well. When we work as if we’re all in this together (and we are), we protect our trails and wild places. And have a lot more fun while we’re at it.

      Is there anything currently missing from the region’s outdoor advocacy efforts?

      Boyar: My opinion is the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River model needs to apply to everywhere. There is so much unmet need. There are so many trails in the backcountry that are disintegrating because it’s expensive to get back there. It’s going to take all of us. Not just individual projects where grants will finish it.

      We need to be working with all land managers so it’s across jurisdictions. We’ve got to get out of our silos, and I think that’s what we’re all trying to do up in the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie.


      Karl Forsgaard, environmental lawyer and former WTA board member

      Advocacy isn't a project with a clear end date. What keeps you motivated?

      Forsgaard: I’ve always enjoyed being out in nature. Wildlife and wild places were always fascinating to me ever since I was a small child. I was fortunate enough to learn early on how to be comfortable in the outdoors. Learning how to camp and enjoy myself in conditions where other people would say, 'this is miserable.'

      That passion for wildness and wild places is what keeps me going.

      What got you involved?

      Forsgaard: The major issues facing the hiking community [in the 1990s] were the logging of forested valleys that had trails in them, at that same time there was increased use of off-road vehicles on trails. There was a reaction from the Puget Sound backpacking community. There was, early on, a decision by the land managers in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest to not allow motor bikes on trails in what is now the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

      At that time, there was concern about the areas that we still hadn’t succeeded in protecting as wilderness. Since the 1964 Wilderness Act passed, we’ve been adding more designations from time to time. We still have land that isn’t protected yet.


      David Kappler
      David Kappler. Photo by Kurt Lenard

      David Kappler, president of Issaquah Alps Trails Club

      Why did you get involved in advocacy for the outdoors?

      Kappler: Outdoor recreation has been very important to me and my family for as long as I can remember.

      Littering, abuse of natural things both living and non-living or doing anything not respectful of the natural environment was not acceptable as I was growing up. I had an "environmental ethic" years before the term was invented and became more proactive in making sure individuals and institutions treated the environment more carefully.

      Anything else you'd like to share with our advocates?

      Kappler: People would be surprised and amazed how much good can be accomplished by a small group of people, especially given the great staff people and elected officials we have in this region at all levels of government. An individual can make a big difference, when several team up miracles can and do happen.