We all love hitting the trails. Whether it is to escape the work week, vacation, hunting, camping, hiking, etc., we love our state/public lands. I’m sure you or someone you know has complained about the taxes we are charged by our state, especially those in New York and California and I know we all hate to see state, federal or public lands getting closed. Have you ever had a location you love get closed and then seen another location get state or federal funds thrown at it for upgrades or maintenance? Wonder why?
Trailhead Information Registry
When you pull into a forest parking area or trailhead staging area you have probably seen the trailhead information registry. It could look as small as a large birdhouse/mailbox or as big as a pavilion with maps, brochures and picnic tables. These are there for multiple reasons; the most important is for your safety.
When you sign in/out you lets rangers know if you are there or if you have left. If something bad were to occur this gives the rangers and search & rescue teams useful knowledge to help them find and help you. You may also find warnings of trail conditions or closed areas posted by the local rangers giving you a huge heads-up before hitting the trails. Registries also help you by letting others in your group know if you have arrived or if they have arrived before you.
No fancy computer systems, wifi or high tech tablets…registries are as low tech as they get because they work! I know in the past, when I was much younger and knew everything, I would drive by these thinking I was only going in for a quick drive or a short hike. Later, after knowing the ramifications of my actions, I changed my policy and always stop, read the board and sign in.
Why Sign In?
Other than for safety reasons, you may be asking yourself, what does this have to do with keeping lands open for me and others to explore?
Both state and federal offices use the low tech registries to gather multitudes of information that help them track usage, determine maintenance required and, most of all, decide on areas that need funding.
Back to my earlier question: Have you ever had a location you love get closed and then seen another location get state or federal funds? As we all know, funds for the outdoors tend to be rather tight. If the government sees that one area’s registry is full week after week while another has very few lines on the registry log filled out, this is what guides them to their decision about where to allocate the funds.
Keeping it Clean and Safe
When the registry fills up with explorers’ names and information, the rangers in that area use this knowledge to properly staff each area based on demand. In turn, the areas with the most “sign-ins” will tend to be the cleanest and most well kept. On the other side of this coin, the areas where folks drive or hike right by the registry may tend to be less desirable. You may find dead ends where people have dumped trash, campsites with debris strewn about and trails that are washed out and approaching dangerous levels.
It is imperative that we always be aware of our actions and, as stewards of the outdoors, we need to “Tread Lightly” and maintain the practice of “Leave No Trace” at all times. If we ignore our duty to sign in, we lead our public lands down a path to closure.