While volunteering as a course marshal at a local trail race yesterday, I stood in the same spot in the woods for nearly three and a half hours. Much of that time was spent clapping and cheering and directing racers away from a detour where the path had naturally washed out near the river bank. But a lot of the rest of that time was me incidentally and casually investigating the condition of the local trails.
A few weeks ago I watched a mini-documentary video by Beau Miles called Run the Rock, wherein the filmmaker stepped out his front door in his running kit, loaded his wheelbarrow up with tools, and ran about ten klicks out to a remote trail to dig up a rock. The story is told much more thoroughly by Miles in the video but the short version is simply that after a friend tripped over an obstacle on their running path it only seemed right that someone go remove the obstacle.
He did just that.
The nine minute video runs the viewer through the story and motivation behind what turns out to be a kind of drive towards the moral stewardship of the spaces we share.
Miles ran the equivalent of a half marathon, out and back to where a small boulder was protruding from the path, and on the return trip he not only lugged the same boulder clear of the woods but did so knowing that he had done a bit of work to make the trail a safer place for himself, his friends and anyone who used it.
Standing in the woods for three and a half hours yesterday, minding a curve in the path where the intersection of five distinct trails (one of which had been part of the race course until it was washed out by rain last season) gave me a lot of opportunity to inspect the place thoroughly.
In roughly six square meters of trail intersection there was:
… an official survey brass marker the circumference of a tennis ball protruding nearly ten centimeters from the dirt in the middle of one of the paths
… the shards and remains of at least two broken bottles, crunched to bits the size resembling loose change scattered into the dust
… a pothole at the edge of, but still on, one of the paths large enough to place a car tire inside and clearly awkward enough to trip anyone who wasn’t paying attention as they strolled by
The park itself is a bit of reclaimed semi-industrial land that now lies fairly embedded in the southwest suburbs of the city. Remnants of strip mining that ended at least fifty years ago are shrouded like ancient ruins in young tree cover and meandering paths that sometimes lead past chunks of concrete footings. The area is now an off-leash dog park, boat launch, and recreation area snaked through with bike paths, hiking trails and open spaces (great for hosting trail races.)
It’s also well-used and only lightly serviced.
All of which means that if one stops to stare at one’s feet for any length of time it’s going to become obvious that the trail conditions in some of the highest traffic areas are lagging.
The answer, if there actually is one, is probably something to do with personal responsibility.
To be fair to the overall condition of the park, the spot where I was stood for the better part of my morning was not only a convergence of many trails and a highly travelled part of the deep trails of the park, but a particularly nice lookout and vantage point high up on the banks of the river looking north. In other words, a lot of people go this way and stop here for a rest or a photo.
Yet, that seems all the more reason that such a spot should be made safer.
Dogs could cut their paws on the broken glass.
Anyone could stumble in the pothole.
A cyclist who hit the protruding survey marker could easily find themselves ass over tea kettle and tumbling down a steep riverbank.
If only someone could find, say, a Friday afternoon later this week when he had the day off work to wander out there with a pair of gloves, a trash bag and maybe even a shovel.
I may need to check the weather forecast to see if that someone is me.