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Be A Good Sport: Tread Lightly Be A Good Sport: Tread Lightly
The nation (and world) continues to bounce back from the from the pandemic. A sure sign of that can be found in the large... Be A Good Sport: Tread Lightly

The nation (and world) continues to bounce back from the from the pandemic. A sure sign of that can be found in the large crowds that visit our parks, national forests and other public lands. While it’s nice to see so many people enjoying the outdoors, there is greater potential for adverse effects on the environment.

Visitors generally don’t begin a vacation intending to do harm. But through carelessness or lack of awareness, the environment and land can take a beating. This is a good time to revisit the principles of tread lightly.

I first addressed tread lightly in the July 2008 article. As part of an update, I’d like to include some thoughts from Brian Higgins, marketing manager of Tread Lightly! (the nonprofit organization).

In 1985, the US Forest Service launched a campaign to educate visitors on the effects off-road vehicles and to provide a code of ethics for people to follow. The nonprofit organization Tread Lightly! was founded in 1990 to expand upon the Forest Services’ efforts. Under this new arrangement, efforts spread to other land management organizations, including the Bureau of Land Management and state parks. Treat Lightly! also developed partnerships with manufacturers and other groups interested in protecting the environment.

Tread Lightly! focuses on high-impact activity, Higgins says. As such, educational efforts are geared to those who use 4x4s, ATVs, UTVs, side-by-sides, snowmobiles and even e-bikes.

People who buy these types of vehicles naturally want to take them off-road. But it’s important that they stay on the trail, Higgins explains. Leaving the trail can damage vegetation, animal habitat, and other sensitive areas.

Responsible use protects the land for future generations. “Because if people are irresponsible,” Higgins warns, “it leads to the areas and trails being closed. And when trails close, everybody loses.”

Even so, we can still enjoy ourselves outdoors. “The main thing is: Being responsible isn’t being boring,” Higgins says. “Go out and have fun.”

For more on Tread Lightly!, go to

With that in mind, let’s review the core rules or principles of tread lightly. I added some thoughts to each principle.

  • 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.

  •  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 outdoors enthusiasts. They have as much right to the land and water as you do.

  • 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 straits because they took their skills for granted. Even experienced drivers encounter difficult situations on occasion. Prepare well before you set out.

  • 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 in 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.

  • 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 help ensure that future generations can enjoy that beautiful area.

Each and every time you enter public land think tread lightly. If you can support the organization, great. If not, you’ll still do wonders for the environment simply by following those valuable principles and encouraging others to do the same.


Tom Severin

Tom Severin is an International 4-Wheel Drive Trainers Association© certified professional 4WD Trainer and a Wilderness First Responder (WFR), and President, Badlands Off Road Adventures.