Hansen: There are many trails, but only one path to serenity

There is a sign in the various wilderness areas of Laguna Beach showing a picture of a hiker, biker and a horse, asking that they all get along.

Unfortunately, no one sees the other. We only see ourselves.

If we hike, then it's our hiking trail. If we bike, get out of the way. And no one ever takes ownership of the horse for some reason.

It's the age we live in, the Finger Pointing Age (FPA).

Most agree the FPA started on Oct. 7, 1996, with the launch of the Fox News Channel.

Think about it. When did you first start hearing about red and blue states?


Like it or not, we have become bifurcated. There is very little gray or nuance or doubt. Few people admit they don't have everything figured out.

Similarly, we don't yield. A trail in the woods becomes our trail. And if someone encroaches in our space, we raise our fist and yell.

"There is some trail conflict," said Bill Porter, owner of MountainBikeBill.com. "It's much like politics: A very small percentage of people monopolize it a lot of the time. Every group has their 10% that are not good representatives of the group."

Porter, who rates the various mountain bike trails around Orange County and surrounding areas, says no location has a monopoly on rudeness.

"You hear about the hateful hikers or the snobby equestrians or the crazy downhill mountain bikers or the environmentalists as well," he said. "The common ground they all share is they are looking for that natural outdoor experience."

The problem is no one agrees on the definition of "natural."

"So many people come to the parks to recharge their batteries and have a nice, tranquil experience, regardless if they're there to get their afternoon ride in, or to exercise or take a jog or hike," said John Gannaway, Orange County Parks Division manager.

Gannaway agrees that it's ironic when people get worked up at a park.

"They're there because of the beauty of the park and nature, wanting to be somewhere where they can gain perspective, relax and have time to think, enjoy the outdoors with friends and family, relieving the pressures of the day," he said. "Most of the time, you're here to relax and enjoy yourselves so why create more stress?"

But we do.

It's not always intolerance, but a lot of times it is. For some inexplicable reason, we feel entitled. Maybe we think it's "our" trail because it's in Laguna. Maybe our house abuts the greenbelt. Maybe we just don't like out-of-towners.

"These are the reasons the trails are multi-use," Gannaway said. "They're not just for hikers; they're not just for equestrians, and not just for cyclists. They're for everyone to enjoy."

So we're back to this democracy thing.

The reality is, though, trails are not always equal. The mountain biker will take the rugged, single track. Eventually, it becomes rutted and wide because of overuse, and the hikers complain and try to ban the biker.

They show up at supermarkets with petitions because that's what people do nowadays.

"Yes, there are user conflicts that do occur but it's a small percentage of the encounters," Gannaway said. "I think most of the interactions are very positive. It's the exception, not the rule."

To that end, the sports chain REI recently gave the Laguna Canyon Foundation a $15,000 grant to help with trail maintenance and education. REI has a history of donating to the group.

Porter agrees that a lot of the trail issues could be prevented with education.

"Education is huge," he said. "A lot of times the people who use trails frequently, they sort of get it. You learn the etiquette. But over half of the user groups go out once every other week or so. A lot of times they have no idea what the trail etiquette is.

"Educating people goes a long way toward reducing trail conflict in the first place and it also helps in keeping the trails in good working order."

Trail etiquette is basically being polite.

Giving way. Communicating.

But we don't communicate very much anymore.

We dictate. We throw arrows. We like to hear ourselves talk.

We live in the Finger Pointing Age when we should be pointing out the hawk, the bobcat or the snake.

We have become a user group on a sign, defined by affiliation or role.

Maybe, someday, we can just let it all go and breathe.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at davidhansen@yahoo.com.

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