Last time I covered the code of ethics that guides off-road driving. I’d like to go into greater detail here, and will use the Tread Lightly! pledge as a guide.
Tread Lightly! has separate categories for land and water, though the rules are similar for both. I’ve combined them, because many off-road enthusiasts also enjoy boating. (For more on Tread Lightly!, go to www.treadlightly.org.) They make it easy to remember the rules.
1. Travel responsibly and only on designated roads and trails, and launch your watercraft only in the proper areas. Drive carefully through streams to avoid disrupting habitat, and make sure to cross on designated paths.
Fish beds and spawning grounds are particularly susceptible to being churned up and destroyed by vehicles passing by. If you must travel through a stream, drive very slowly to avoid chewing up the stream bed.
2. Respect the rights of others, including private property owners, recreational trail users, campers, anglers, skiers, swimmers, boaters and others so they may enjoy their recreational activities undisturbed.
There is enough room out there for all of us to enjoy our hobbies. On those particularly busy days or weekends, be extra considerate of your fellow outdoor enthusiasts. They have as much right to the land and water as you do.
3. Educate yourself by learning rules and regulations, obtaining travel maps and regulations from public agencies, planning for your trip, taking recreation skills classes, and knowing how to use and to operate your equipment.
Don’t try to wing it. The outdoors can be a very unforgiving place. Too many people have found themselves in dire straights because they took their skills for granted. Even experienced drivers encounter difficult situations on occasion. Prepare well before you set out.
4. Avoid sensitive areas such as meadows, lakeshores, wetlands and streams, unless on designated routes. This protects wildlife habitat and sensitive soils from damage. Do not operate your watercraft in shallow waters or near shorelines at high speeds.
Much like we discussed Point #1, the idea is to minimize destruction to native habitat. Numerous birds, fish, mammals, and amphibians live in the areas where we take our boats and vehicles. We must operate our equipment to minimize the impact it has on the environment.
5. Do your part by leaving the area better than you found it. This involves properly disposing of waste, minimizing the use of fire, avoiding the spread of invasive species, restoring degraded areas, and joining a local enthusiast organization.
I like to apply the Golden Rule: Treat the land and waterways as you would like your own property to be treated. Do you allow guests to dump garbage and tear up your front yard when they stop by? Of course not. So avoid that kind of behavior when you’re on public lands.
As you can see, these are simple and common-sense principles. Unfortunately, we don’t always follow them. We may not be intentionally violating them; more likely just getting a bit lazy. Recommit yourself to following these principles, and you’ll have a more enjoyable and rewarding time outdoors.