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Of all life's paths traveled, be certain at least one is dirt

Ive been overwhelmed by the feedback received on the subject of user fees, a topic so elemental to our way of life, that many took it personal. While some believe I am 'anti-hiker'; Ive spent a lifetime enjoying the activity. I was a hiker before hunter, angler or paddler. Regardless of the method of travel, I consider myself simply an outdoorsman, though some may say, a simple outdoorsman. Over the years, I have been a sort of repository for complaints from all corners, a place to voice resentment thats festering a divide among user groups across the park. It is an equally fortunate and unfortunate opportunity, at times both silly and disappointing. Though I appreciate the comments, I rarely take them personally, even when so intended. I use no direct quotes, though readers may hear echoes of their comments. I expect to expose surprising divides and maybe, open a few eyes! In keeping with the season, backcountry skiers frequently complain about snowshoers ruining their tracks, while shoers worry about out of control skiers coming downhill at them. Universally, these groups curse snowmobiles and will continue to, till they're strapped to a rescue sled for a trip out of the woods. Then, the hum of a motor and the smell of exhaust becomes quite comforting. Paddlers regularly whine about motors, whether on seaplanes or boats. Quiet waters for all? Everyone seems to hate ATVs, and enthusiasts believe they get no respect nor attention though forced to pay increased registration fees for trail development. Banned from the Forest Preserve, ATVers are the Rodney Dangerfield of all user groups, left wondering with little or no voice, Where did the money from our additional fees go? Mountain bikers voice similar dissent and resent the fact that state agencies banned mountain bikes before a constituency appeared. Fat tire bikes were eliminated without a whimper, before the potential hordes of multi-geared, stump jumpers ever had a chance to invade the wilderness. Considered by many to be a mechanical equivalent of ATVs, mountain bikers remain equally disorganized and discouraged. Snowmobilers likewise believe they are under served and resent the recent arbitrary trail mileage caps set at 1972 levels. As promises of community connectors remain unfulfilled; proponents argue that the economic development prospects of the sport should trump environmental concerns. Unfortunately, increased financial rewards often come with increased environmental degradation. The jury remains out. Spring always brings out the birders, an affluent group ballyhooed by the prospect of economic salvation through a multitude of birding festivals across the park. With binoculars and bird guides in hand, they came, watched in both field and bog and left with wallets firmly entrenched; leaving little economic impact in their wake. Salvation will have to wait until the first ivory billed woodpecker migrates North. Hikers express contempt for trail runners and their ilk, the speedy, record setting peak baggers. Regularly voicing concerns over bus groups spoiling their experience; they raised a small furor when a new guidebook detailed routes on the Other 54, the remainder of the Adirondacks 100 tallest peaks. Occasionally, issues such as leashed dogs and mandatory bear canisters are rehashed when a ranger confronts a local scofflaw who believes his permanent park residency should absolve his adherence of the law. Rafters, who regularly take over whitewater rivers in season, continue to argue with anglers over the detrimental effects of dam releases. Meanwhile most small, Hamilton County towns embrace tubes filled with air and beds filled with tourists, at least for a while. In a unique turn of circumstance, several backcountry enthusiasts have voiced concerns over the intrusion of helicopters stocking backwoods ponds and other liming or reclamation efforts aimed at the restoration and maintenance of historic trout fisheries. If continuing efforts are implemented to reclaim the parks wilderness areas, then a comparable effort should alternately be pursued to restore iconic species. Preservation of wilderness should include restoration of indigenous strains of brook trout to historic waters. Are authentic wilderness adherents similarly within their rights to call for comparable efforts to be extended for similar landmark species such as moose, cougar and possibly even wolf. If were really going to get there, say some, lets go all the way. A regularly featured complaint is a perceived distinction between spin fishermen and those who prefer to take it on the fly. Despite the divide between meat fisherman or snob, there are plenty of waters, either on the stream or in the pond. Whether fans of rock and roll or classical music, everyone deserves a chance for a waltz with a dancing trout. While a few physically challenged individuals still press claims of discrimination, the amazing John Dillon Park, a unique, wilderness oasis that was designed and dedicated to handicapped access remains terribly underutilized with trails and campsites empty most of the season. Most importantly, DEC is actively inventorying and upgrading its facilities to serve this often overlooked constituency. Hunters and anglers continually bemoan the fact that although they pay for their pursuits, other groups reap similar benefits for free. Though some hunters prefer to wink and nod about pine-apples or carrots, adherents of fair chase ethics chastise such practices as a boil on the butt of true sport. While traditions of camp meat remain common practice at some camps, increasingly a tone of intolerance is being voiced. Who says we're our own worst enemies? Trappers have maintained a decidedly low profile in recent years, even as they actively cooperated with DEC to develop regulations to protect family pets from their sets. Even coyote haters understood Aldo Leopolds intent, when he said, You cannot love game and hate predators. The land is one organism. Nobody knows it better than trappers. Rock climbers willingly accept the regular closures of established climbing routes during the peregrine falcon breeding season. They realize theres more than enough rock to go around, or up and over. Their business is conducted on a hard surface. Kudos must be extended to this most unique of user groups for they give much while asking little, especially when it comes to rescue efforts. The fact is that climbing enthusiasts have quietly become a key source of information on nesting sites for the DECs Endangered Species Unit, (ESU), a small group of dedicated DEC employees that remains, quite possibly, the departments most successful and least recognized unit. Operating below the radar and with little fanfare, the ESU program is recognized as a national leader in bald eagle and peregrine falcon restoration efforts. If you witness a bald eagle or a peregrine falcon soaring the North Country skies, it is probably thanks to them. Surprisingly, there has not been a single shot taken at one of the fast growing user groups, the Adirondack ice climbing fraternity. I suppose no one cares to mess with folks outfitted in crampons, helmets and carrying two axes. They hang by ropes while scaling, soaring along an ice covered cliff. Surely, its a wise choice. Even though every interest group desires their own unique piece of the pie, the common thread that bonds all is an overriding desire to enjoy the outdoors and a willingness to do whatever is necessary to protect it. Not just now, but for the future. To this end, there aren't really any pure hikers. Most are also enthusiastic skiers, bikers, birders, hunters, anglers or paddlers. We have more commonalities than differences. Why else would we chose to live here? And while each group will eagerly share their skills, knowledge and enthusiasm, occasionally they desire to retain an exclusive element of the experience strictly for themselves. Understandable, certainly, but should this notion be accomplished at the expense of others? Which leads back to the point of this story, the dreadful concept of user fees. I was surprised to discover that a vast majority of readers leaned heavily toward acceptance of imposed fees, if a method could be devised to collect a fair fee. There were many sound recommendations offered on how to develop the 'pay to play' concept. Across the board, sportsman believed any fees should be incorporated into a regular license fee. Most importantly, implementation revolved around assurances that fee proceeds would be exclusively dedicated to the Conservation Fund. Already the Spitzer administration, with its impressive green credentials, has had to raid the Environmental Protection Fund (a locked box intended exclusively for land purchases) to help balance the budget. Conversely, the administration tapped the General Fund to maintain the Conservation Funds solvency. No one is willing to buy into the concept if the funding goes to other purposes. Nor should they. Many also believe that an educational component should be a part of any outdoor access fee or license. Similar to requirements for hunting, trapping, snowmobiling or boating, a course would incorporate aspects of minimum impact travel, safe boating, wilderness ethics and land navigation skills. Such efforts may also cut down on environmental abuses and the frequency of search and rescue operations. It has been suggested that travelers opting out of this component of an outdoor access program would be responsible for costs related to search and rescue operations, although the possibility of a $2,500 per hour helicopter ride may alter their decision.

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