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252 NPS Fitness 2010-07-09

horse trails

America is too fat. Michelle Obama has made American fitness a priority by promoting healthy eating, fitness, and education. Her goals are needed for America's health. The National Parks are a wonderful medium for promoting health and fitness. The opportunities are boundless. It should be easy for the Parks to support Ms Obama's agenda...

On our recent stay in Aspenglen Campground (Rocky Mountain National Park) we noticed a few hiking trails on the map that seemed worthy of exploring. On closer inspection, however, the trails were not only hiking trails, they were also the dreaded horse trails. Now, hikers may walk on a horse trail and I have walked them myself a few times, but it is not pleasant walk. And each time I walk on a horse trail I violate a promise that I made to myself the last time I walked on a horse trail - never to walk on another horse trail! Ever!

Horse trails are for riding horses, not walking. Horses are definitely a part of the American heritage. For many, a vacation would be incomplete without a horse ride. Serious riding requires serious fitness; but trail riding is much like straddling a hard stool for a few hours. One part of the sitters anatomy will definitely be feeling the pain, but the riders fitness level will, most likely, be unchanged.

The reason for my dislike of the horse trails are the unusual conditions created by the horses. There are deep, sandy ruts where the horses trod. If the trenches are too deep, new trails develop next to the already created ravines. They too become sandy trenches. In places, the four foot wide trail has degraded into a twenty foot wide thoroughfare. Then there is the liquid and solid waste deposited on the trail by the horses. The smell is overwhelming. A misstep would be very unfortunate, indeed. And the flies swarm. Not satisfied with the waste, the flies attack the passersby. A swat accompanies every step. Any bites from the flies include inoculation of the horse wastes. To make matters even worse, if it rains, chemistry mixes the trail juices into a lethal concoction.

There are other trails in Rocky Mountain National Park that are not horse trails. The camper may drive to other trails but, too frequently, if they want to walk from the campground they must walk on a horse trail. Hikers only walk on a horse trail once without violating personal vows.

What can be done? Here are a few suggestions...

  • Make separate hiking trails.
  • Place warning signs (as to the conditions) on the horse trails.
  • Require the trail riding companies to do trail maintenance, lots of trail maintenance. They are profiting as they destroy the trails, they should be required to maintain the trails in pristine condition. The maintenance would also include waste removal.
  • Redesign the trails so that it would prevent the riders from leaving the single path.
  • Hikers are not allowed to shortcut switchbacks, similar rules, along with fines, should be enacted on the trail riders - keeping them on the trail.
  • Place the onus of the responsibility on the trail riding companies.

It is important to fix the problems associated with the horse trails. The fixes might break a few traditions, but I carry plastic bags everywhere I walk my dog. I have learned to clean up after my dog and myself. The horse riders need to learn the same. America needs to improve its fitness, we need more paths and trails. NPS needs to saddle up and fix the horse trails for America.

Happy horse trails.


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