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Tread Lightly?  by Phil Howell
For many years, now, I've been worried about the Tread Lightly! organization. 4-Wheel Drive & Sport Utility magazine was one of the founding members of Tread Lightly! When I was the editor there, I removed us from the membership rolls of Tread Lightly! (they never took us off of their roster, though) because they were sending out brochures stating that the use of our public lands was a " . . . privilege, not a right." Now, that line of reasoning doesn't sit well with me, as it shouldn't with you. Using our property isn't a "privilege" to be doled out by a government agency or designate. Our public lands are OURS and should be open to reasonable multiple-use activities, such as four wheeling on existing roads and trails.

That's another thing. Tread Lightly! used to say stick to "existing" roads and trails. Later, they said stay on "DESIGNATED" roads and trails (although I can't find that particular slogan on their website, anymore, the government has adopted that line of reasoning). Who does the designating? The government agencies that seem to all belong to Tread Lightly!? The Sierra Club? The Tread Lightly! executives? WE should do the designating, with our maps and knowledge of the EXISTING roads and trails in the backcountry.

If you go to the Tread Lightly website www.treadlightly.org , you'll find the very first sentence of their own description on their homepage reads, "Tread Lightly! is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to protecting the great outdoors." (italics mine) Now, that sounds pretty dangerous to me.

Our very own vehicle manufacturers and 4x4 industries pour millions of dollars into Tread Lightly! each year. Many 4x4 clubs and organizations are also members. This is ironic, as it seems to me as if we're supporting an organization dedicated to removing the very vehicles we build and enjoy from public lands. Wait - I know they say they are EDUCATING the public, but it sure seems to me as if they're educating us to not want to be using our vehicles in the backcountry, and, educating the rest of the public to not like US.

I'm not the only one with this opinion. Brad Lark, publisher of Extreme 4x4.com recently sent me this E-mail. I thought you might be interested in this part of it:

. . . every time I see one of their ads it makes me sick, because it might as well read "Sierra Club" at the top of the page and it seems as if no one else sees that. Maybe I'm out to lunch, but Tread Lightly is just one of those organizations that seems like if you disagree with any of their dogma, then you must be a beer swilling 4x4 driver with nothing in mind but destroying fragile flora and causing tree frog extinction.

Well, I AM an environmentalist. I love the great outdoors. I love the environment. I'd also like to experience the most remote areas of said environment by arriving there safely my Jeep! I did a lot of backpacking in my youth. I enjoy a good hike. But I've SEEN and EXPERIENCED much more of our great outdoor resources while behind the wheel of my 4x4. The Tread Lightly dogma is so political, so restrictive. Do we REALLY know what they are doing or planning? What land closures does Tread Lightly endorse as a method of "proving" they really do want to tread lightly? What do they do with all the money they raise from all their corporate members?

They have certainly created a FAD of being politically correct outdoor enthusiasts by being a member of Tread Lightly.

Every off roader who is REALLY interested in nurturing and fighting for their beloved sport should join the Blue Ribbon Coalition or the ACTION program. The Action program is strictly a system designed to raise money, a proverbial war chest, to fight land closures and land access issues. The ACTION program is simple. You buy a really slick embossed ACTION sticker for your off-roader. The sticker costs $25. You buy a sticker for every Off-road vehicle you own. Every bike, Quad, Jeepů you get the idea. there are no renewals; it's a one-time fee. The dealers of new off-road vehicles are getting involved. When a new vehicle is sold, the price of the action sticker is built in. That is where the ongoing funds come from. If the dealer of your new 4x4 doesn't know about the ACTION program, then you need to tell him about it. The ACTION program was spearheaded by the owner of Weekend Warrior Trailers, in Perris California. I believe CORVA has taken the program under its wing now. It is growing in popularity and needs to be national, but still is dwarfed by the media steamroller of Tread Lightly.

Bottom line -- ACTION raises funds to fight land closures, to keep land open to the PUBLIC use. Tread Lightly raises funds to raise "awareness", educate and go four wheeling "responsibly". Awareness, Education and Responsibility are all political catchwords that translate into Restrict, Rely, and Reduce. Restrict the when and where you can drive. Cause you to rely on Environmental extremists to teach about the off-road. Reduce the opportunity for free outdoor experience.

The only personal experience that comes to mind doesn't really deal with Tread Lightly, but it is evidence of the environmental steamroller in action. About 20 years ago, when I was doing a great deal of backpacking, I made a trip with my Dad to the Kings Canyon National Park. We headed to a place called Roads End. From there, we hiked some miles into an area know as Paradise Valley. It was a great trip. Roads End was just that, the end of a long dirt road. The small turnaround offered limited parking. The hiking trail was a barely noticeable trail leading out of the turn around into the great outdoors.

Well, I made the trek back to Roads End last year. I wanted my family to experience what I had with my Dad 20 years earlier. We even brought Dad along, bum knee and all. Things have changed, my friends. Keep in mind these are the same mindset "tread lightly" environmentalist running things. The dirt road is now fully paved (wouldn't want to have to engage 4-wheel drive on that SUV now, would we?). The turn-around is now a good-sized parking lot. They've built a Ranger Station there and have provided a few picnic benches. Well, that's all good and well. "But what's so bad about that?" you might ask yourself. Maybe Brad's gone off the deep end here at Roads End! What really got to me was the FENCE. They constructed a lodge-pole fence around the perimeter of the area and even the first mile or so of the TRAIL. They even PAVED with ASPHALT the first several hundred feet of the trail. Yes there are now SIGNS that say Please Stay On Trail and Please Stay Behind Fence. AND, THIS IS FOR THE HIKERS!

This may sound simple but it really gets my blood pumping. Do you know what I mean?

Yes, Brad, many of us do.

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