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Rogers: Trouble on the trail

Don Rogers
Vail, CO, Colorado

Editor’s note: Matt Zalaznick’s column, which normally runs on Fridays, is taking a week off. It will return next week.

Hiking a legitimate trail in the forest will damage the environment?

Please. Someone has their ranger hat fitted way too tight.

A column idea was already brewing as I read our story Tuesday about crowded trails and backcountry campsites: There go those humans again, ruining everything, everywhere, just by being humans.

I was thinking about reports arguing over whether walking to the market or driving would create the larger carbon footprint, depending on how one counted the energy needed for each. And how it was discovered that local sheep in England feeding on heavily fertilized land actually added more to global warming than those whose meat was shipped all the way from New Zealand. Crazy calculations like that.

It’s only a matter of time before some cult will argue over the best way to shrink that footprint through simple suicide. No humans, no problem, right?

Would a bullet cause more carbon emissions than a rope from China, or a knife made of steel forged in some polluting factory, or the SUV engine running long after you slipped this mortal coil in the garage? You can never think too hard about these things, after all.

Now even hiking is harmful?

Then the phone rang, breaking the philosophical musing with something a lot more personal.

Vino and Jackie Anthony were on the line. And they were not happy.

Jackie had just happened to hike by a Vail Daily photographer shooting pictures recently for the story dealing with Forest Service trail maintenance and the observations of people who work on those trails.

The photo of Jackie and her dog Fozzy stepping over a log across the West Grouse Trail ran on the cover Tuesday, under the headline “Hikers are hurting our backcountry.”

The story wasn’t about evil hikers who maliciously set out to wreak havoc in the forest. It focused on how basically we’re loving our trails and backcountry camps to death because so many of us use them.

But whatever we thought we were saying in the coverage about the effects of humans in general on the forest, they weren’t buying it. To them it was personal. There was Jackie in the picture. And there was the headline above.

Jackie was upset. People were stopping her at Wal-Mart, even calling on the phone. “You have no idea how many phone calls we’ve gotten,” Vino said. They were asking Jackie what she did, as if she did something wrong.

Actually, you won’t find a more conscientious hiker, or person, than Jackie. She always comes home from a hike with a bagful of litter that others left on the trail. She’s so concerned about treading lightly that she even brings along a bag just for Fozzy’s droppings.

So it was intolerable to see her picture under a headline like that, and then to face people asking her about it.

She did not understand that the photographer was from the Vail Daily. Jackie thought she was a Forest Service employee.

Our policy is to identify ourselves and what we are doing, and the photographer remembers doing this with everyone that day. I’m not going to argue with anyone’s memory, other than to note that the person in the picture did not realize she would make the front page, and to tell you that we’ve had some further discussion about making sure people know who we are out in the field.

Jackie said that had she known, she would have requested that the photo not be published. And I expect that we would have honored her request, given that there was no overriding public interest in that particular image.

Vino suggested that the better photo would have been like the one with the story on A2 that showed the backs of hikers headed up a trail. Or we could have thought some more about the headline in connection with the picture of his wife.

He’s right. Better those alternatives than upsetting them for no good reason. I know Jackie’s no malicious trekker out to do harm to the forest. I hope and trust that the vast bulk of readers who saw the story also understood that was not the intent or point of the coverage.

But it sure sounds like a few were confused, though, and for that I am sorry. That wasn’t fair to Jackie.

This is part of what makes community journalism much more challenging than the “big league” variety. We live in the same town. Many, many people know the Anthonys, and I know I’ll no doubt bump into them sometime soon. That makes our journalism, and responsibility, very personal.

Besides, I share their love for the forest, and my wife also makes a point of picking up litter when we’re out there. I like to hike. Actually, I really like to run some favorite trails, like East Lake Creek. I certainly don’t believe I’m harming anything by doing so, either.

I think my own irritation reading the story might well have been a touch of indignation that using a trail is “damaging.” I find that notion ridiculous, frankly. Are we supposed to all just bushwhack then? Or never go in the forest at all? Forget that.

Sorry, I’m alive. And I’m going to live while I’m here, thank you, even if I add to the footprint breathing and adding some wear to a path through the woods.

Last I looked, that’s what trails are for.

Don Rogers is responsible for the editorial oversight of the Vail Daily, Eagle Valley Enterprise and Vail Trail. He can be reached at 748-2920, or editor@vaildaily.com. Read his blog at http://www.vaildaily.com/section/BLOG.


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