“It’s not easy being green,” sang Kermit the Frog.
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He probably wasn’t thinking about Jeeping at the time, but he sure could have been. Critics of the sport have plenty of ammunition, from tire tracks left in sensitive wetlands to Youtube videos proving that some folks have a better grasp of modern video technology than old-fashioned common sense.
As members of the wheeling community at large, we have the opportunity to make things much better for ourselves, or much worse. Some of the simplest things include packing out whatever we pack in. Carrying a garbage bag (bungeed to the spare tire) makes it easy to pick up and pack out not only your own trash, but also other people’s litter you find on the trail. I find that by setting a good example for others, I rarely even have to say anything. People naturally start opening their eyes and picking up a candy wrapper or pop bottle that got loose on the trail. Having the garbage bag easy to access but still outside the vehicle makes it a no-brainer.
Another no-brainer we stress in the Iron Range Offroad adventure classes includes staying on the trail. While still in the parking lot (before even airing down tires), we talk about driving over (and not around) obstacles on the trail. We are here to learn and practice our off-highway driving techniques, so we make it a point to aim for the rocks and stumps we encounter. Driving around not only defeats the purpose of developing the techniques, but also actually widens the trail, causing unnecessary erosion. We also straddle ruts, or drive the center of gullies and washouts. Careful use of the throttle (as slow as possible, as fast as necessary) keeps us from digging up more dirt as we climb up or down the path.
There are a few water crossings in northern Minnesota, and I share with students some valuable advice given to me many years ago. Cross water only at designated fording points, or where the road crosses the stream. If you see tire tracks going in, but not coming out the other side, there is probably a good reason why. Find another spot and make sure you know the depth before dropping in. If finding another spot means backing up, keep backing up until you find a safe place to turn around. Turning around on a narrow trail just means you will be digging up the ground unnecessarily.
Some of the trails we use in the Iron Range Off Highway Vehicle park are considered “shared use.” As such, we encounter ATVs and dirt bikes on these core roads. When we encounter other vehicles (or horses or pedestrians), I am always considerate. I’ll pull over and stop my group to allow the others to pass, and indicate how many are traveling with us. If our group is small, it might be easier to let us go through first, but sometimes trail conditions require they get a ways past before we continue. We try to keep the noise and dust down, and never spray dirt or gravel. That kind of behavior has no place in our sport if we want to build and maintain green credibility.