Editorial: The fewer public land rules, the better
The possibilities for conflict are endless.
A snowshoer savoring the sounds of “easy wind and downy flake” as Robert Frost’s woods fill up with snow is startled out of her reverie by the roar of an approaching snowmobile.
A mountain biker rounds a curve on a trail only to roll through unavoidable piles of fresh horse manure, which sticks to the knobby tires for a rotation or two before it’s launched face-ward.
Equestrians fight to control their mounts as motorcycles whoosh by.
Boaters struggle to navigate around the many anglers’ lines criss-crossing the boat ramp, and on and on and on.
New Hampshire’s parks and state forests are owned by all and used by many for many different forms of recreation. Conflicts between users, and between a use and the need to protect natural resources, are inevitable. So even in the Live Free or Die state, rules are necessary. The state Department of Resources and Economic Development, which oversees the parks and forests, is in the process of revising the rules governing their use, holding hearings, and soliciting public comment. We applaud the agency’s efforts to involve the public in the governance of its resources and ask that as it does, it keep this advice from the National Highway Administration an the National Trails Association in mind:
“Use the most ‘light-handed’ approaches that will achieve area objectives. This is essential in order to provide freedom of choice and natural environments that are so important to trail-based recreation.”
To that advice we would add this: Use the process to shrink or eliminate unnecessary rules. Among them, we think, is the blanket ban of skim boards from state beaches. Their use creates some risk – so do sharks and sharp seashells – but is it really enough to deprive children of fun and exercise they offer?
Changes in technology and fads in sports require rethinking rules. Geocaching – hiding a container full of assorted objects that must be located by deciphering clues and following GPS coordinates – is a case in point. The sport started small and is now wildly popular. The department’s proposed rules would require people who want to hide a geocache on public land to first get a permit, a measure meant, among other things, to make sure people depositing the cache and searching for it don’t trample fragile environments. The requirement makes sense.
Another proposed rule would ban fishing from state-owned beaches and parks from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. This blanket prohibition is unnecessary. New Hampshire has a very small coastline that offers limited space for fishing, and activity saltwater anglers must now pay to engage in. The problem that could occur if an overzealous angler casts plugs with treble hooks near swimmers is obvious, but how often does it occur? In inclement weather, or even on cool days, beach-goers and swimmers are rare to non-existent. It makes no sense to close beaches to anglers on such days. A better rule, if common sense indeed isn’t be used by some anglers, is to set a minimum distance between angler and other beach users.
The most controversial of the proposed rules are meant to address the problem of horse manure on hiking trails. Dismounting to kick manure off the trail, as the rule suggests, as riders claim, isn’t safe or practical. Other measures should be tried. Since horses tend to unburden themselves in the first half-mile of a trail, some parks use two entry trails that later converge, one for horses and one for other users. More riders could voluntarily rake and otherwise maintain the trails on public lands. Other user groups do so.
The goal of the agency, as it creates rules for public lands, should be to arrive at the minimum number that gets the job done. The proposed rules can be found on the agency’s website: nhstateparks.org, with comments sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.