I've recently faced up to the fact that I am a "green extremist." I knew this even before reading the ad placed in a local paper by a motorized recreation coalition urging people to "act now" to stop the "land grab" by people just like me.
The ad encourages forest users to oppose President Clinton's roadless initiative for national forests.
The reason I'm a green extremist is because I believe motorized vehicles shouldn't be allowed on forest trails. I also believe that we need more trails and fewer roads, and that motor vehicles allowed on forest roads should be made to follow strict rules concerning noise and speed. I have a litany of reasons for my beliefs.
Motorcycles and ATVs are noisy, and detract from the experience of others who wish enjoy the solitude of the out-of-doors.
Motorcycles and ATVs disturb wildlife.
Motorcycles and ATVs are dangerous, not only to their users, but also to people who use trails for hiking or horseback riding.
Motorcycles and ATVs pollute the clean mountain air.
These are not delusional ideas I have conjured up just because I'm a green extremist. They are brought into striking focus on trails where motorized travel is allowed.
I live near Colorado's Rainbow Trail, which runs nearly 100 miles along the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, and serves roughly as a boundary to a wilderness area. Motor vehicles are allowed on this trail, along with hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers. I don't know how many times I have been disturbed on this trail by people riding trail bikes and ATVs.
The usual scenario is that I hear them coming from miles away. On city streets and state highways, vehicles are required to adhere to regulations requiring mufflers; that's apparently not the case in the national forest, though you can be ticketed there for cursing.
Sure, the motorheads have the right to pursue their hobby, however moronic it seems to us green extremists. But hikers and horseback riders, and dirt bikes and ATVs do not mix.
One solution is to designate specific small areas of public lands as motorized sports parks. Then the motorheads can go there and tear up the trail as much as they want without disturbing or endangering other public lands users or wildlife. However, mufflers should be required; there's absolutely no reason these machines should not be subject to the same rules as road vehicles.
When I was a youngster I was taught that a person's individual freedom to swing his arm extends only so far as the next person's nose. Swing so far that you hit someone in the nose, and you've overstepped your freedom.
The motorhead coalition wants the world to believe that green extremists want to take away their freedom. The truth is that this small group of forest users has already taken away the freedom of the larger majority who enjoy the outdoors.
Hal Walter is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (www.hcn.org). He lives near Westcliffe.