Trailhead Ambassador Program enhances hiking in Oregon

August 30, 2019 by  
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Wilderness lovers often see dismaying things on hiking trails: litter , thirsty people in flip flops who forgot to bring water, rambunctious dogs whose owners have never heard of leash laws, clueless couples who carve their names into trees. Instead of simply griping about these miscreants, some parks and wilderness areas have developed constructive ways to educate the public and make recreation safer and more fun for everybody. The Trailhead Ambassador Program at Oregon’s Mount Hood and Columbia River Gorge recruits volunteers to greet hikers at trailheads, answering questions and offering suggestions. Inhabitat talked to Lizzie Keenan, wilderness lover and co-founder of the program, about how trailhead ambassadors can make tangible differences in the local environment. Inhabitat: Tell us about your involvement with the Trailhead Ambassadors Program. Lizzie Keenan: I co-founded the program with Friends of the Columbia Gorge in the summer of 2017. The program was a mesh of an idea the Mt. Hood and Columbia River Gorge Tourism Alliance had merged with Trail Talks, a program Friends of the Columbia Gorge piloted that summer. The Tourism Alliance, which I manage, has funded the bulk of the program since its inception, and I have been there every step of the way helping to shape and grow it into what it is today. Related: Seven commandments of Leave-No-Trace camping Additional partners to get it launched included U.S. Forest Service for the Columbia River Gorge and U.S. Forest Service for Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon State Parks, and local tourism entities like Oregon’s Mt. Hood Territory . The idea came from increased feedback from our local communities in the region that search and rescue at our trails was at an all-time high, that congestion at trails was becoming unmanageable and there was a general call for help for educating visitors on best practices in our recreation areas. I did some research and found a couple of programs in different parts of the U.S. running something like what we were looking for. In the end, we mirrored a lot of our program from the White Mountain National Forest Trailhead Steward Program . Inhabitat: What are some of the more unusual questions ambassadors have heard? Keenan: Upon seeing the dog that our volunteers brought with them to the trail, a young boy asked, “Will I see other mountain lions like that one on the trail?” Ambassadors working at Multnomah Falls have been asked by visitors, “How do I get to the Columbia River Gorge from here?” The answer is usually, welcome! You made it! Someone asked at the Dog Mountain Trailhead, “Is there a restaurant or store on top of Dog Mountain, so we can buy food?” Inhabitat: What kind of traits should a volunteer have? Keenan: Being a trailhead ambassador requires someone who enjoys talking with people. We ask that our volunteers study up on the trails they will be volunteering at so they can share advice with confidence and authenticity. Finally, ambassadors should love the region. Love the trails, the communities, the culture of the area. That translates to visitors loving and appreciating the land they are recreating on more. Inhabitat: Have you seen any results? Keenan: Yes! In our first season, which ran over the course of 20 weekends, our volunteers talked to over 23,700 visitors in the Gorge and on Mt. Hood. They helped to shape visitors’ experiences. Example actions visitors have taken after speaking with a trailhead ambassador include going to their car to get better shoes and/or water, taking a picture of the map of the trail so they can reference it on their hike, getting a parking pass when they didn’t have one already and much more. Related: Get ready for an adventure with this ultimate checklist of backpacking essentials Other results include fewer car break-ins on the weekends that volunteers staffed the trails as well as a feedback loop of trail information that would go directly to the local land manager. One example of this was at Starvation Creek; after speaking with hikers in the area, the ambassadors found out there was a landslide on the trail. They were then able to inform Oregon State Parks about it, and soon rangers came in to close off that portion of the trail. Inhabitat: What kind of feedback have you received from visitors? Keenan: It has been 99 percent thankful and supportive. Both regular recreators and new folks visiting from out of town have been incredibly thankful to have trailhead ambassadors stationed at their trail. Those who are local are thankful to have people sharing advice at the trails, because they have seen and helped unprepared visitors in the past. Those new to the trails are excited to have someone nice and approachable to talk to, to ask questions of and feel more confident about heading out on a new adventure. Inhabitat: Do you have any advice for other places interested in starting similar programs? Keenan: Borrow materials from another program who is running a program like the one you want to do; don’t recreate the wheel. Start small and develop your dedicated group of volunteers. Finally, collect data. This program has been a huge opportunity for us to learn and track common issues and trends at our trailheads that we and the other agencies involved can use to better serve the land and visitors in the future. + Trailhead Ambassadors Program Images via Trailhead Ambassadors Program and Bureau of Land Management

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Trailhead Ambassador Program enhances hiking in Oregon

Trail use by outdoor enthusiasts is driving out an elk herd in Colorado

August 27, 2019 by  
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Home, home on the range? Not so much for an elk herd near Vail, Colorado. Unfortunately, the number of elk among this group has dropped off dramatically, and it could worsen if outdoor enthusiasts continue scaring them away. In February, researchers flew over unit 45 where the elk reside and counted just 53; at one time there were more than 1,000. The herd makes its home between 7,000 and 11,000 feet on hills and at the top of the Colorado Rockies. Related: Glenwood Springs, Colorado set to run on 100% renewable energy “Very few elk, not even many tracks,” the researchers noted . “Lots of backcountry skiing tracks.” Wildlife managers say growing numbers of hikers , mountain bikers, skiers, ATV and motorcyclists are among those causing the herd population to shrink. Visiting U.S. parks and wilderness areas for recreation has become a popular pastime; Yosemite , for instance, reports around 5 million people visit annually. Bill Alldredge, a retired wildlife professor at Colorado State University, believes the reason the elk and their calves have died off is because of the increase in outdoor recreational enthusiasts hitting the trails near unit 45. In Colorado , a hot-spot for outdoor fun and trail use, visitation to the elk area has more than doubled since 2009; reports say about 170,000 people visit per year. According to Bill Andree, a wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Vail district, unit 45 is busy 24-7, 365 days a year. Even night trail use in some sections has increased by 30 percent in the past 10 years. Andree began studying unit 45 in the 1980s because of the rise in ski resorts and trails systems. He researched how humans impacted the elk calves by sending hikers into the calves’ area. About 30 percent of the elk calves died when their mothers were disturbed, but when the outdoor enthusiasts stopped, the number of calves returned. Why calves die after being disturbed by human activity isn’t crystal clear, but some researchers say it could be because the mothers get scared by people and dogs passing. If mothers run too far for their babies to catch up, this may result in starvation and possible attacks by other animals . Signs have been posted to prevent explorers from disturbing elk habitats, but while a majority of nature-lovers obey, the fraction of people who cross those lines continue to cause stress to elk populations. Via The Guardian Images via Bob Denaro and Mark Byzewski

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Trail use by outdoor enthusiasts is driving out an elk herd in Colorado

The world’s longest hiking trail is officially open

September 8, 2017 by  
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The Great Trail in Canada is aptly named – it’s now the longest hiking trail in the world at 14,864 miles. It was built over the last 25 years, snaking through 13 provinces and territories. The trail, which is comprised of over 400 individual paths, just officially opened at the end of August. Canada’s Great Trail winds from Saint John’s in Newfoundland to Victoria in British Columbia, with a loop up through the Northwest Territories and Yukon to the Arctic Ocean. It’s not limited to hiking – explorers traversing the trail can snowmobile, bike, ride horses, or cross-country ski through some parts of the route. 26 percent actually crosses water, so a canoe or kayak is necessary to cross some portions. No cars are allowed. An estimated four out of five Canadians reside within 30 minutes of part of the trail. Related: World’s longest car-free trail stretching 15,000 miles to open next year in Canada Local areas maintain the smaller trails that come together to form The Great Trail, described as “truly a gift from Canadians to Canadians” by the nonprofit Trans Canada Trail, the organization that has overseen its development. The Great Trail has also been termed the largest volunteer project in the country’s history. According to Trans Canada Trail, The Great Trail promotes conservation and healthy living, and it is expected to stimulate tourism and create jobs. The group calls it a national legacy for future generations. Users will be treated to sweeping views of mountains, plains, frozen tundra, coastal islands, urban areas, and lakes throughout the country. The longest section of the trail, which passes right through major cities like Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, Edmonton, Ottawa, and Winnipeg, is in Ontario, where it rambles around the Great Lakes. If this sounds as good to you as it does to us, you can locate a portion of the trail near you on this interactive map or via The Great Trail app (available for iOS and Android ). + The Great Trail Via Mother Nature Network Images via The Great Trail ( 1 , 2 )

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The world’s longest hiking trail is officially open

Asian Elephants Get a New Home at the Smithsonian National Zoo

September 4, 2010 by  
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Image Credit: Mehgan Murphy, National Zoo If you’ve been to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C.

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Asian Elephants Get a New Home at the Smithsonian National Zoo

Top Green Gadgets to Improve Your Next Camping Trip

May 4, 2010 by  
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Photo by Steve & Jemma Copley With Summer on its way and gorgeous weather here to stay, what better time to hit the trails and take advantage of the great outdoors? Camping is the ultimate vacation experience for environmentalists, but you don’t have to rough it to experience nature at its fullest – there’s a bevy of green gadgets and services out there to help ensure that your next trip is a blast

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Top Green Gadgets to Improve Your Next Camping Trip

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