Sometimes LNT has unanticipated consequences. In the 90's, all the campgrounds here had dumpsters. Because of the dumpsters, the campgrounds were clean. But the bears learned they could feed in them. Then they took out the dumpsters to get rid of the bears. It also got rid of the people. Campgrounds that used to be full are nearly empty. Now the firepits are getting overgrown and present a fire hazard.
Transportation is the key to use of an area. People say "Don't go there, that's a horse trail." Often horse trails have gulleys a foot or two deep. In a downpour, they might be a mess. So, people don't go there because the trail is a little inconvenient. Others want to ban horses from the trails. How do they think people get the chainsaws far from the trailhead to clear the blowdowns? How do they think rescue will come if something happens?
Switchbacks may prevent erosion, but they make an area that used to have no switchbacks more popular and other problems occur.
We are told not to cut down saplings. In the 60's Boy Scouts used to cut down saplings for projects like building tables and chairs. Now the areas are overgrown with saplings or bigger trees that grow too close together.
WAG bags are crazy. If an area is pristine, more people will go there. If you want vegetation to regrow, plant a few white tulips around the area.
Increasingly, regulations are being made by people who have never been in the backcountry. They want to localize damage into a car camping area with odor free outhouses. They don't realize if they just left things alone, people wouldn't go far from a parking lot.
From this forum, I get the impression it's not much fun to backpack on the coasts. It's way too crowded and there are too many regulations. In comparison, here it is difficult to find anyone who might know a trail with the exception of the Colorado Trail.
LNT has become a religion to many. There used to be circular trail markers nailed to trees and painted different colors for different trails. Now they insist on wooden signs which are much bigger and don't last as long. Since they are more expensive they are more infrequent and make it easy to get lost.
As a concept, I feel LNT is great. But when it gets codified into a bunch of rules by people who seldom venture on a trail, it is merely a means to increase government control. They have this vision of streaming hordes going down the trails when in reality, I seldom see people.
A simple way to implement LNT would be to implement "Make no improvements." Then people wouldn't go there much.
You're starting to sound suspiciously like Colin Fletcher (a self-styled "curmudgeon.")
Your approach does have echoes of his approach to replacing the backcountry permit system: replace it with the system of making access more difficult, not easier - "the key that fits the lock" was I think how he described it. The cure for overuse was to stop doing more than minimal trail maintenance - don't clear the blowdowns, don't rebuild the bridges across small streams, etc. The harder to get to, the less people try; the fewer people, the less impact - and less need for regulation by permit.
As I recall, you hike a lot in western Virginia and North Carolina. We should probably thank our lucky stars that we live in the vibrant forests, where we can apply principles rather than rules.
Almost all my hiking experience is in Colorado. It has been 25 years since I backpacked anyplace else. We do practice LNT. We also leave an evening's supply of firewood for the next person. We have only camped away from an existing fire ring once. That was because my son had altitude sickness and we needed to stop right then due to a bad rainstorm approaching.
We had 54 stream crossings yesterday. There was only a bridge across one of them. We finally took some freedom steps and started walking through them. It was a lot easier than trying to stay dry. A lot more fun, too.
There always seems to be some volunteers that clear blowdowns. Sometimes it takes a few years, though.
I'm learning miles aren't measured in distance. Many times a slow cup of coffee on a high point is worth more than an extra mile. I'll post a trip report on my blog in awhile.
Sorry about the location mixup - I miss my short-term memory as I age.
I can relate about stopping when a storm's coming - had to do that Friday night, myself. Didn't filter water ahead of time (there was a source where I was planning to camp), but setting my pot outside the tent fly got me enough water for supper and the night, and it was only an hour or so to the next source.
The "burden" of applying LNT on this trip was mostly wet socks. One aspect of well-watered country is that we get significant amounts of rain, which can erode trails. People can turn a trail into an interstate, just by hiking the edges (or a bit into the vegetation) to try to keep their feet dry the wider trail then becomes "yucky" (where it doesn't wash out down the side of the hill), so people go even wider. It's better (but messier) to stick to the middle of the trail and squish through the muck and running rivulets, and deal with the wet socks. It also reminds you that one of life's real pleasures is peeling of wet socks, drying your feet, and putting on dry socks for the evening.
Sounds to me like you've hit that sweet spot of balancing LNT principles against reality. (After all, the only way to leave absolutely NO trace is don't go there in the first place. Understand that, and the rest is just striking the best possible balance between necessity and impact.)
LNT is a concept that was developed a while back. When I worked at NOLS in the late 1960's the USFS and the school worked together to try out many methods that would reduce human impact. Some of our original practices were later revealed to be not so good. I did not hear the term "LTN" until much later. LTN is just a catchy name that someone put on a set of methods that reduced impact. It has a more marketing ring to it than "minimize impact". The practices we worked out was never meant to exclude people from the wilderness or exclude fires per se. A basic premise of the FS is multiple use. LTN is an evolving set of wilderness practices that are based on good judgement and should be applied on a site-specific basis. Unfortunately some groups of regulators are trying to turn it into rules set in stone. We just need to be aware of how our actions impact the earth and potentially spoil the wilderness experience for those that go after us; then we need to have a "set of tools" or practices that mitigate that impact.
As for trail maintanence, it is arrogant of us to pick our point in time and then say - no more change. I feel there are some trails that need to be made more "pristine" and some that need more work and a few areas that actually need a trail to be built. For example, boardwalks through fragile meadow areas is an improvement that actually mitigates impact. When an off-trail area becomes a web of individual use-trails, it is time to build a trail to contain trail damage. I even think some very popular trails could be paved (as they do in Yosemite for the VERY high impacted trails). I am certainly NOT an advocate of making entry to the wilderness more difficult as a means of controlling numbers. A permit system also works without the arogance of not allowing less fit people enjoy the wilderness. The wilderness belongs to all, not just elite athletes.
Nor am I an outright advocate of no improvement or regulation by hardship - I just remembered reading it somewhere.
However, I have seen places where, because visitors refuse overwhelmingly to apply low-impact practices, I could justify making it harder to get there. There are many spots in National Forests here in the east where the first two miles of trail are littered with beer cans and trash, the trees are hacked up, and "Sam and Sue Forever" adorn every rock face - sometimes painted, sometimes chiseled (sandstone.) Once, I wrote to the NFS in the Red River Gorge of Kentucky to suggest that they move the trailheads a mile or so back down the gravel roads because two places (Gray's Arch and Double Arch, for those familiar with the area) were getting beaten to death. I'm not naive enough to think that my letter carried any weight, but I found it interesting that, about two years later, they eliminated the road to the Double Arch trailhead completely and made the hike to it about 3 miles longer by starting it at Auxier Ridge. The reason they gave was overuse.
Just another example of what you're saying: you have to selectively apply general principles to selected situations.
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
Originally Posted By Glenn
I'm not naive enough to think that my letter carried any weight, but I found it interesting that, about two years later, they eliminated the road to the Double Arch trailhead completely and made the hike to it about 3 miles longer by starting it at Auxier Ridge. The reason they gave was overuse.
I'm on a mailing list that the NSF maintains for the Ava district for the Mark Twain NF. When they are proposing any changes in the way this district is managed they send me a letter informing me of the proposed changes. Usually they have a list of options, with one being designated as that which they intend on implementing. They also provide info on how to submit feedback to the proposals. I'm pretty sure that every district must maintain such a list.
My experience is that they do listen, and often times do respond with a change in their proposed and implemented plans, so I wouldn't be too sure your letter didn't sway them.
I will say that limiting accessibility is, in my opinion, the least desirable option to prevent misuse and overuse. We pay a lot of money to maintain our public lands and insisting on access is not demanding too much for our money, nor is insisting on law enforcement where and when it is required. That, and maintenance, is what we are paying for.
I think LNT is a principle to strive for. Obviously a fire (even in a pit built by others) leaves a trace. I have a hiking buddy that pretty much won't camp where he cannot build a fire. I think fires are great and love to have a fire where permitted. Fire is a trade-off, if you're practicing LNT, than a fire would be out. If you're shooting to see how little you can get away with carrying...then you're most likely going to have building a fire as part of your plan.