Perhaps you saw an article in the Austin American Statesman recently that navigates through the sometimes contentious issue of renegade trails in natural areas. http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/2009/08/09/0809bikers.html The article focuses on some mountain bikers who cut unauthorized trails using methods that harm the watershed and habitat. These activities are of most concern on the protected Balcones Canyonland Preserve (BCP). BCP was funded in part by Travis County voters, private conservation minded funders, and state and federal agencies for the specific purpose of providing endangered species habitat. Passive recreation was initially permitted in many areas as long as it was controlled to protect critical areas at critical times. Some visitors felt the trail opportunities weren’t satisfactory, and took some saws into their own hands and routed renegade trails through some sensitive places.
The same sorts of activities are happening in the Barton Creek Greenbelt managed by the city of Austin. The greenbelt was preserved primarily for watershed protection. But lots of badly built trails can cause harm; from the Statesman article:
Without proper design, the paths erode, degrading water quality downstream. Loss of the overhead tree canopy creates swaths of sun-baked, compacted ground that draws such predators as rat snakes and fire ants. And when improperly done, cutting branches from oak trees can contribute to the spread of oak wilt.
Certainly recreation, and in particular hike and bike trails, will have to be a large component of the urban natural areas even as they serve other environmental purposes. But how do we manage misbehavior? Who will pay the costs? Who will create and build out the plans?
San Marcos has had a taste of these sames issues. Hikers and bikers may have noticed trails that seem lightly traveled leading off of Dante’s Trail at Upper Purgatory. Visitors, unaware of the unauthorized status of such “renegade” trails, will use them to increase their experience with the area and inadvertantly hardening the trail. SMGA understands all sides of the issue and is working on a couple of fronts, including some recommendations for interim stewardship guidelines. We hope some of our recommendations will help us find our way through the formidable task of managing our natural areas so that critters, clean water and visitors can coexist sustainably. Feedback from our members is always encouraged…your thoughts? Email [email protected]