A tale about trails


The latest proposal by the Indiana Division of Forestry to harvest timber in Clark State Forest, in areas containing the Knobstone Trail (KT) and other hiking trails, caused to me to put down in writing some thoughts that have been in my mind for several months.

As background, my wife and I have backpacked for several decades (completing the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail plus portions of other long distance trails) as well as doing many day hikes in various states. In addition, I serve on the Pacific Crest Trail Association Land Protection Advisory Council.

You will note that I omitted mentioning trails in Indiana. While we have backpacked on the original Knobstone Trail, we found the trail in both cases (decades apart) to be so poorly designed and maintained that we said “never again.” And we have done day hikes on the Tecumseh Trail.

But why should we, and others, want to hike on Indiana’s trails when the Division of Forestry continues to harvest timber next to many of them, completely spoiling the view which is a major reason to be on a trail. And in several cases they have logged over trails, completely obliterating them. The timber harvesting near trails also diminishes the opportunities to see wildlife, another major reason to be on the trail.

This “spoilage” also means that I’m much less inclined, as are others, to volunteer to help maintain the trails. When people trust that the land through which a trail passes is respected by the land’s owners (private or government agencies), then they are willing to volunteer to help maintain it. Maintenance of the Pacific Crest Trail benefits each year from more than 120,000 hours of work provided by more than 2,000 volunteers.

The public’s use of trails nationwide is steadily increasing. Both the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails have seen such large increases in the number of hikers in recent years that the Associations overseeing them are concerned about them being “over loved.” There are lots of reasons for this increased demand- getting away from the stress of urban life, challenging one’s physical capacity, seeking new adventures, viewing unfamiliar wildlife, the availability of lighter and better equipment making backpacking easier, etc.

There is no reason Indiana, especially the picturesque southern third, could not benefit from this demand trend if its trails were better designed and maintained, and in some areas linked together. And if the Division of Forestry did not desecrate them.

But the reality is that Indiana lags behind other states in both the quantity and, more importantly, the quality of its hiking trails. This means tourist dollars that could be spent in Indiana are going to other states. My wife and I are a prime example of this. And yes, hikers do spend money even though the activity itself is low cost. Think rooms to stay overnight, gasoline, eating out, gear, and an occasional rental car to shuttle between trail heads.

So, Indiana has fewer trails to begin with, and then the Division of Forestry messes up what we do have.

Our response- continue to look for and use hiking opportunities in states that “get it”

Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources, especially the Division of Forestry, doesn’t seem to “get it.”

Terry March is an Indiana native, a Purdue University graduate with a degree in engineer and a retired business owner. Send comments to [email protected].

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