Oct 252010
Authors: Jim Sojourner

The green-pants are coming! The green-pants are coming!

Like the furor caused by the famous line from Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride, I can imagine mass panic as those words echo off granite spires somewhere in Colorado’s national forest land.

Only instead of red-coat warriors marching in formation, muskets at the ready, it’s green-panted forest rangers, wide brim hats pulled low that strike fear into the hearts of men.

And in this nightmare, those fear-stricken men are not colonial farmers grabbing guns and farm implements, ready to form the resistance but are grungy-looking outdoor sports enthusiasts grabbing their gear, tossing pick axes and shovels into the bushes and making themselves scarce as they scurry off into the underbrush.

Saturday, a couple friends and I headed up into the wilderness for a day of rock climbing. Without a soul in sight, for hours we took advantage of the small, well-maintained trails that led us through gullies, up the hillside and finally along the edge of our cliff overlooking the land below.

Without a thought we followed the trail, keeping us out of the plants, circumventing trees and rocks and, keeping our feet mostly out of the cacti. Unlike other places I’d climbed like Horsetooth Reservoir, hillside erosion seemed minimal, but I thought little of it then.

After bagging a couple more routes, our climbing trio decided to start meandering back toward the car. As we rounded a rock spire into the gully that held what we decided would be our last climb, I spotted something irritating: the red backpack. And sure enough, there, up on a hill above us, was the man himself with a bucket full of dirt and some tools.

My first thought was that some freak had picked a rainy day to dig some graves in the woods to bury his murdered wife and kids in and skip off to Mexico. My next thought was that he was now going to kill us, throw us on top of his wife and kids, bury all of us and then skip off to Mexico.

My third thought was that no one would bury his wife and kids or us next to such nicely maintained trails near the road, so this guy was probably doing something else. My fourth thought was that I was annoyed at having to deal with whatever this guy was doing in the forest that I thought we had to ourselves.

I often get annoyed when I’m forced to interact with people I don’t know. Just as frequently, I get annoyed at myself for getting annoyed when it turns out those people are pretty cool. This guy was pretty cool.

It turns out instead of burying his murdered wife, kids and some hapless climbers, our new companion was building trails. Not only was he building new trails, but he’d built all the trails that linked us to the rocks we’d been scurrying around on all day. We thought that was pretty cool.

On the flip side, he said, the forest rangers don’t think it’s pretty cool and, were he to see a pair of green-pants coming up his trails, he’d most certainly hide his stuff and beat it. Enter my green-pants nightmare.

Efforts like those of the lone trail builder illustrate a fundamental but unnecessary conflict between the outdoor sports community and local forest authorities. For example, though climbers may be cleared to bolt and climb rocks, in most places the rangers disapprove of any trails that are built rather than allowed to form naturally.

This might seem sensible, but in high-use areas people traffic ends up creating a crisscrossing mess of trails that destroy plant life, uglify the natural surroundings and erode hills, creating a whole mess of other issues.

So, while our new friend’s trail-building may undoubtedly be illegal, as we’d experienced all day, his well-maintained trails kept us from marching all-over plants, got us to the rocks easily and actually helped maintain the natural area rather than degrading it.

As a lover of the outdoors, I want to see Colorado’s forests stay pristine. During the American Revolution people united to resist the red coats behind a flag that read, “Don’t tread on me.” Outdoor enthusiasts should unite behind one that reads “Do tread on me” and post it next to every trail they build that helps keep our forests nice.

Managing Editor Jim Sojourner is a senior journalism major. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 4:38 pm

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