As part of its strategic plan for 2016, on Monday, January 18, at the Snake River Brewery, SHIFT convened nearly two dozen fat bikers, land management representatives and conservation advocates to discuss the winter management plan for the Cache Creek area in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Among other developments, participants were unanimous in their support for area user fees that would help Cache Creek land managers to better execute their responsibilities.
The gathering was part of SHIFT’s goal to apply its stakeholder constituency of outdoor rec, conservation, land management and youth engagement advocates to help address natural-resource issues around the country.
For the past year, the Jackson Ranger District of the Bridger-Teton National Forest has been actively seeking public input to improve management of recreation use during the winter months (December 1 – April 30) in the Cache Creek drainage. While the central focus has been on issues related to dog waste and dog control in Cache Creek, the January 18 gathering, organized by SHIFT Director Christian Beckwith, focused on the intersection of fat biking, conservation and land management.
Moderated by Luther Propst, Chair of The Center for Jackson Hole (the nonprofit behind SHIFT), the Monday night discussion offered a lively opportunity for community members to share, face-to-face, their views on the use and management of the Cache Creek area.
To Propst, Cache Creek—a network of trails in Bridger-Teton National Forest popular for hiking, dog walking, mountain biking and, more recently, fat biking—is a “microcosm of many of the issues surrounding the intersection between conservation and recreation.” In gathering stakeholders to address the balance of access to public lands and their carrying capacity, Propst identified a “united love for public lands” that has implications for broader conversations on a national level.
First to speak was Linda Merigliano, the recreation, wilderness and trails manager for the Bridger-Teton National Forest north zone. Merigliano identified “unbelievable pressure” in the interface around Jackson, which she attributed to a hallmark of contemporary society: the intense fragmentation of time. Easy access to nearby Forest for recreational activities allows community members to better balance work, families and recreation in the midst of their increasingly busy lives.
The goal of the National Forest, said Merigliano, is to provide access to a wide range of activities, but in a way that sustains the resource. In a space that has seen user conflicts increase with overall usage of the trailhead, Merigliano hopes that the community can solve issues through peer-to-peer deliberation, rather than Forest Service oversight.
Amanda Carey, the executive director of Mountain Bike the Tetons, weighed in next from the perspective of fat bikers. Carey discussed the need for fat bike riders, and mountain bike riders in general, to see themselves as not just riders, but as members of a larger community of trail-users. Carey also contrasted the struggles of fat bikers and mountain bikers to communicate to land management agencies with a single voice with the successes realized by the coalition of snowmobile riders who mobilize to advocate for their needs.
From the perspective of conservation, Chris Colligan of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition shared a sentiment with which many residents of Jackson Hole can identify: a deeply-rooted love for recreating in the midst of an ethic of conservation.
Citing research on winter wildlife range, Colligan noted increased stress, caloric depletion, and unusual behavior in various species as their range has shrunk in other native ecosystems.
On the topic of winter-range closures, Colligan noted that Jackson Hole, with its high elevations, challenging topography, strong winter recreation ethic and severe weather, features a unique set of characteristics not seen in otherwise comparable places like Yellowstone’s Madison Valley. These characteristics may call for more winter-range closures in the future.
After representatives of the stakeholder groups laid out their viewpoints, the discussion continued with a lively round of contributions related to projected increased visitation in the Jackson area in the upcoming summer that coincides with the centennial of the National Parks Service.
“When people come, how do we manage their use and still provide a good experience?” asked Merigliano, opening the conversation to issues of community compliance.
As the discourse grew animated, Propst re-centered the group, noting that conflicts around user issues tend to gravitate around the question, “Why aren’t things the same as they used to be?”
Monday’s discussion wasn’t expected to solve any specific issues regarding Cache Creek, but the group did find common ground in supporting the potential for user fees at Cache Creek to underwrite management. As one participant responded to the question, “What is one take-away thought or ‘ah-ha’ moment you derived from the discussion?” in a follow-up survey, “The large majority of folks from diverse perspectives support user fees, education, and regulation to manage user conflicts and protect wildlife.”
The follow-up survey indicated 100% support for user fees, as well as near-unanimity on the usefulness of similar dialogues in the future.
In response to the question, “Is it a good idea to institute user fees for Cache Creek?”, 40% of respondents thought it was a “moderately good idea”, 20% of respondents thought it was a “very good idea”, and 40% of respondents thought it was an “extremely good idea.”
Comments accompanying the responses included the following:
Complete responses to the survey may be found here.
Participants at the discussion also identified the value of increased peer-to-peer pressure on issues that may affect multiple user groups, and agreed upon many of the points outlined in the Principles for Outdoor Recreation and Conservation.
The Principles, introduced at SHIFT in October, aim to guide collaboration among outdoor recreationists, conservationists, and public land managers to better protect natural resources.
Perhaps more important, the discussion provided a novel format for managing public land issues: putting stakeholders united by a common desire to protect a resource around the same table to share ideas about access, responsible use, and management, before the issues become contentious.
In the coming months, SHIFT plans to explore more issues pertinent to the Jackson Hole community with representatives from the relevant stakeholder groups as they beta-test the idea of launching similar programs nationwide.