Being courteous always pays dividends, and using old-fashioned common sense will carry you a long way in the out-of-doors. But every once in a while, your supposedly sensible “good intentions,” “goals” and “compliance to signs” can get you into trouble, if you’re not aware of the larger context.
I DID NOT KNOW
I grew up as a city girl in France. Like many who visit Flagstaff, I had limited knowledge regarding the cultural and natural world in the Coconino Plateau. A few years back, as a rookie volunteer ranger for the National Park Service, I was invited along on a training hike in Wupatki National Monument. NPS archeologists, naturalists, and biologists were the leaders. At a point where I had fallen behind, I saw a chance to do what I thought would be a good deed. I gathered glass shards which were scattered along the ground, and placed them in a plastic bag.
When I caught up to everyone, I proudly held up the bagged glass. But the look on their faces told me I had done something very wrong. Because those glass shards were more than 50 years old, they had become historical artifacts, carrying important cultural information. It was an unintended consequence of my lack of knowledge.
As a ranger, when I am up at the top of Arizona’s Snowbowl Scenic Chairlift, I frequently encounter enthusiastic visitors convinced that it would be a good idea to climb to the top of Agassiz Peak.
Although I sympathize with their desire, I explain that it is a $500 fine, enforced for two critical reasons. First, multiple Native tribes in our region believe this space to be sacred and ask that we honor their request to let it be. And secondly, the San Francisco Peaks Groundsel (aka Senecio, but now classified as a Ragwort) is an endangered species, found nowhere else on Earth, aside from the tops of San Francisco. Having learned this information, visitors are happy to respect the regulation.
And there is good news: the “no off-trail hiking” policy implemented in 1986 appears — at least in the single most easily-viewed spot at the top of Arizona Snowbowl’s Scenic Chairlift — to be promoting the preservation and even some new spread of this lovely flower.
CHANGES OVER TIME
The culture of mountain biking requires some updating, it seems to me. The yellow Trail Courtesy sign worked in the past, when bike riding was leisurely, at 10 to 14 mph. Its arrows indicate that hikers (and horses) have priority over bikers. Today, mountain biking has become a very, very fast sport. Speed and terrain can make it difficult for the biker to stop for a hiker. Sticking to the sign’s yield indicators can lead to frustration and even accidents.
Jack Welch, leader of the Grayhound Walk and Talk Social Club, and I are proposing two changes regarding the right of way: First, instead of expecting bikers to give way, hikers need to announce to others in their hiking group that bikers are coming, and then they should step aside for approaching bikers. Most of the time, stepping aside is easier and safer for hikers to do than for bikers to lug their cycles off the trail.
And secondly, bikers must take responsibility to announce their approach by ringing their bell or calling, and then they should also indicate how many are in their group. As Jack suggested recently, “Perhaps the Trail Courtesy sign will be redesigned because of the increase in electric bikes?”
Join the Flagstaff Trails Initiative (http://flagstafftrailsinitiative.org/) to get involved. They are addressing issues including “conflicts between users (such as bikers and hikers) and a desire by community members for new trails, such as purpose-built and/or advanced mountain biking trails and motorized trails.”
As a ranger, I strive to prepare visitors with education to behave safely and respectfully, fostering ongoing curiosity to protect and expand present-day knowledge of the cultural and natural world around us.