Indiana hiking trails need better design, care
The latest proposal by the Indiana Division of Forestry (DOF) 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 KT, 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 DOF 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. 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 urban life stress, challenging one’s physical capacity, seeking new adventures, viewing unfamiliar wildlife, availability of 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 DOF 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 DOF messes up what we do have.
Our response — continue to look for and use hiking opportunities in states and countries that “get it.”
Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources, especially the DOF, doesn’t seem to “get it.”
— TERRY MARBACH