Upturned sawed spires mark trails and ways. Winter has turned redwood paws into looping flesh, gauged by the length of the trail now obscured and inaccessible. Human feet have cleared ways around the roots and between the split branches. Rather than obliterate the path, fallen trees suggest potential alternatives, albeit ungracefully. Though the established trail is not nearly so wide nor evident, the way to the next junction is nevertheless possible. Or, in the contemporary argot of conservationists, reduced network access to the outdoors is actually minimal when human ingenuity encounters natural processes.

Counterintuitively, degradation to formal trails does not constrain informal means to a hiking, biking, or riding end. Humans make their ways where and when the like. Such an observation provokes the typical conservationist – How – they ask – How can the reckless creation of any path be positive when each path squashes nature underfoot and undertire? It can be bad, but most strides are directed through well-worn places or towards particular phenomena. True, indiscrimate cross-country hiking (or bushwhacking) can eventually destroy habitats, but the constant expansion and reification of trail networks promotes even greater repetitive environmental stress. It’s no coincidence that bushwhackers seldom leave trash behind – greater understanding of geography and habitat substantiates a primary ethical mindset.

The highest accomplishment of reduced access is the concomitant decrease in nature commodification. No one method can dispel all valuation of nature, given larger economic frameworks that predominate current society. However, the less flattened, developed, and trampled the outdoors can be, the more they resemble sanctuary temples, not entertainment passages. (Admittedly, access does breed familiarity; knowledge does allow for more persuasive conservationism.) Thinning trails changes the outdoors paradigm: usage would not be conflated with modernity. Human capacity in the outdoors is vastly undervalued and seldom challenged, to remove one parking lot and therefore extend a hike by several miles is only conceptually challenging.

Diminution of formal trails and parking lots is not tantamount to the elimination of all outdoors access. Instead, reduced access preferences active pathmaking and discourages overactive development trends.

[Creative Commons Photo]