Preventive measures on the trail

My turn

Posted: Friday, March 02, 2001

Although the motors are noisy once they get to you, surprisingly one can come around a bend and suddenly encounter one without any warning. Now that ORV use has increased, I have had to give up using my neighborhood trail on a regular basis in the winter. I am not willing to put myself or dogs in danger.

I am a family physician and have cared for trauma victims with devastating injuries, but my special interest is in preventive medicine. I am concerned about off-road vehicles (ORV's) using our hiking trails. ORV's create hazards that could be prevented by providing totally separate recreational use areas. I am grateful that a steering committee is looking at how we can develop safe year-round trail use for ORV's.

One reason I live in Alaska is the access to the wilderness in my own neighborhood. I live in the neighborhood below the Dan Moller trailhead and have enjoyed walking that trail on a year-round basis at least three times a week with my family and dogs.

In the last year we have had near collisions with ORV's on multiple occasions. Although the motors are noisy once they get to you, surprisingly one can come around a bend and suddenly encounter one without any warning. Now that ORV use has increased, I have had to give up using my neighborhood trail on a regular basis in the winter. I am not willing to put myself or dogs in danger.

I worry about the innocent hiker or cross country skier who might unknowingly collide with a motorized vehicle sharing the same space. There is no enforcement of speed limits or traffic control in the wilderness. Although some drivers are cautious, others are not. Regardless of caution, the mix of motor vehicle and pedestrian is a dangerous one, and the reason stop signs and cross walks are used. With the committee review of ORV year-round access, we have an opportunity to put prevention into practice, as we say in medicine.

There is also increased environmental impact from motorized vehicles. There are multiple boards broken every season by the impact of the machines. The muskeg will no longer have protection, and hikers will have no good footing until the boards are replaced. The large bare areas that gradually fill in over the summer with new vegetation are sad reminders of winter's destruction.

As a physician, the environmental concern I have about the motorized vehicles is their known heavy exhaust emissions. The contaminated air lingers in the area and spreads to adjacent areas long after the vehicle has passed through. I have no lung disease but have been impressed by the effect on my lungs while hiking when snow machines are present. Patients have told me they no longer take their children skiing on Mendenhall Lake to avoid the fumes from the ORV's there. An innocent asthmatic could have an asthma attack and even a full respiratory arrest and die from such an exposure. Otherwise young healthy people still die of asthma attacks even in these days of modern medicine. Another opportunity for prevention.

With our large wilderness, there is no reason to consider addition of motorized vehicles to already existing pedestrian and ski trails. Motorized vehicles have to be transported to the place of entry. It makes more sense to construct motorized trails in a completely separate area, distant from existing pedestrian trails, and certainly not add them to well-used neighborhood trails.

Construction of new trails specifically for ORV's would also be more ecological. Trails could be constructed not in fragile ecosystems like muskeg and pygmy forest, but in hardy areas where gravel tracks can be laid. Engineers could provide specifics on how to address the environmental concerns.

Let's plan carefully as we know the effects of ORV's are far-reaching. I recommend ORV trails be no where adjacent or intersecting with existing pedestrian use or living areas.

Pedestrians and motorized vehicles should not be sharing the same trails period. It is not the smart thing to do. And it is not the safe or healthy thing to do.

Let's work together to find a place to make trails that ORV's can enjoy year-round. And let's keep our pedestrian trails for pedestrians only. Let's be healthy and safe.

Please join me in asking that the committee recommend new ORV trails be constructed and ORV's be disallowed on or adjacent to existing trails and neighborhoods in Juneau, for the health and safety of our community.



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