I stand, taking notes, on the Medicine Bow Rail Trail. I’m about a mile south of Lake Owen on this 21-mile nonmotorized path that winds through the Medicine Bow National Forest.
First I check my GPS receiver to get my coordinates. I jot the numbers in my notebook, add a comment, then pick up my camera to take a picture.
Once completed, I hop back on my bicycle, much to the delight of my companion, Dobby. My Australian shepherd loves nothing better than to trot alongside as I pedal down the Rail Trail.
I don’t get far before I stop and repeat the process. The goal of my efforts on this outing is to note conditions on the trail where I and other volunteers might return to make repairs or improvements.
Most of the stops identify areas where off-road vehicles, or OHVs, came onto the nonmotorized Rail Trail, creating a distinct path for others to follow. I also note signs that have been damaged and run over.
I’ve been volunteering on the Rail Trail for most of a decade. In that time, I have put up more barricades and “No Motorized Use” signs than I care to count. I put them up, motorized users take them down or run them over.
A couple years ago, U.S. Forest Service personnel erected a number of split rail-fences to block illegal access. Now many of those are dismantled and even moved so OHV drivers could get on the Rail Trail.
On this day, as I’m writing notes I hear the loud rumble of an OHV. Instead of coming along the Forest Road paralleling the Rail Trail where motorized use is legal, it is roaring down the nonmotorized path, straight at me. I remain in the middle of the trail, forcing the driver to stop.
The four riders in this souped-up side-by-side wear high-performance protective clothing and aerodynamic helmets. They look dressed for speed and dust.
“This is a nonmotorized trail,” I tell the driver. I have to shout to be heard over the sound of the vehicle.
To his credit, the driver apologizes and explains he was unaware the route was nonmotorized. He turns around and goes back. Alas, going back means continuing back down the Rail Trail, but it is the best I can hope for at this point.
I continue with my note-taking and hear another OHV. This one is on the legal road about 20 feet away, but the driver pauses and peers at me, as if contemplating coming onto the Rail Trail. I shout to him that I am standing on a nonmotorized route.
“I know,” he shouts back. “I wasn’t going to go there.”
Instead, he and his wife, along with the dog sitting between them, continue down the rough forest road.
About a minute later, I prepare to hop back on my bike when, much to my delight, I spot a black bear crossing the Rail Trail. I quickly grab Dobby’s collar and tell him to sit. He sees the bear, but just sits and watches it amble across the trail and back into the trees. It is a small bear, though, so I am wary that mama bear is nearby.
I hear barking and realize the people in the OHV are stopped and their dog likely spotted the bear. Once there is silence, I walk down the road to ask the people if they saw it. They said they had and, like me, were pretty excited.
They were stopped at a particularly bad spot on the road. They told me they would be foolish to continue and instead would turn around and go back. We had a very amiable conversation. They told me they also are frustrated by the OHV drivers speeding all over the place.
“They pass us like we’re standing still,” the man said. “They make us all look bad.”
This particular forest road is in such poor shape that it is impassible in many spots. I’m sure that’s the main reason drivers opt to go onto the Rail Trail instead. I’ve been told for more than five years the road will be repaired, but that has yet to happen; instead, motorized use of the Rail Trail only increases.
I go back on the Rail Trail to continue my efforts. Just a minute later another OHV comes roaring down the trail. This driver is much less polite, blaming me for the Rail Trail not being well marked.
I explain that people tear down or run over the signs about as fast as we can put them up. He threatens to run over my bicycle if I don’t move it and sue me for taking his photograph. I took a picture of his vehicle, not him, to document the illegal use.
To my relief, he and the next OHV pulling up behind him actually followed my request that they go back the 10 feet on the Rail Trail to turn onto the appropriate forest road.
I realize my efforts on this section of the Rail Trail are futile, yet I persist.
The impassible forest road should be closed until repairs can be made. After that rude encounter I am disheartened and depressed. What I thought would be a pleasant outing turned into nothing but a frustrating experience.
I sure enjoyed seeing the bear, but not all the loud OHVs.