Enjoy, play, protect: Our work to make recreation sustainable

Each year millions of visitors recreate on public lands, places within our national forests and national parks, and untold more on Bureau of Land Management lands. They hike, bike, swim, fish and canoe across the hundreds of millions of acres we are lucky to call every American’s birthright. In fact, recreation is the main reason a lot of us get out on our public lands.

People get inspired to care for wild places when they directly experience them, and recreation is an important way in which that critical connection is established. That is why The Wilderness Society wants to engage everyone who visits and cherishes our public lands.

We envision deep, broad, and varied constituencies — traditional and new together — working to promote widespread and sustainable enjoyment of natural places. Only by doing so can we ensure broad public support for protecting America’s public lands for all time to come — and at the same time ensure that future generations of Americans will also be able to enjoy these experiences that we hold so dear.

When The Wilderness Society launched its Recreation Program last year, it was apparent that we needed to define a set of principles to guide our work because recreation activities, while providing enjoyment and lasting memories of a successful adventure, also bring impacts on the land.

After numerous discussions, both internal and external, we developed our principles of sustainable recreation. Those principles include encouraging Americans to visit and play on public lands, while protecting those lands from being loved to death by encouraging responsible and sustainable recreation management. The principles not only apply to remote wilderness areas set aside by Congress for more primitive recreation, but also to our most popular parks visited by people from around the world in cars and campers.

Our sustainable recreation principles:

Connect to nature through public lands

Embrace outdoor recreation and encourage a connection to nature in a variety of ways for people with different interests and skill levels.

Conserve and respect our natural, historic and cultural heritage

Respect the land and America’s rich natural, historic and cultural heritage by preserving the integrity, health and resilience of these unique ecosystems, and cultural and historic assets. Encourage use of and access to public lands that inspires respect for and pride in their beauty, health, diversity and special value to the nation and to the world.

Promote enjoyable and safe recreation

Ensure enjoyable, safe and sustainable recreation through sound land use planning.

The art of making these principles work is to balance meeting recreation needs with ensuring that public lands are sustainably managed to protect the quality of experiences for generations to come.

Bringing sustainable recreation to life, a case study in Washington

A child enjoying the Roslyn Urban Forest in Washington. Photo by Cynthia Wilkerson.One area where The Wilderness Society is bringing its principles of sustainable recreation to life is in the rural community of Roslyn, Washington. Nestled in the foothills of the North Cascades, this charming town is rich in both history and beauty. Once known for its logging and coal mining businesses, Roslyn is now known as a gateway to a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities. The town boasts access to the spectacular Alpine Lakes Wilderness, one of the most-visited wilderness areas in the United States.

The town of Roslyn also owns 300 acres of land within its boundaries that must be managed to enhance recreation opportunities while protecting forests, wildlife, fisheries, and historical and cultural assets.

The Wilderness Society is working with the city’s Citizens’ Advisory Committee to develop a recreation and trails plan for the Roslyn Urban Forest that will balance conservation with recreation opportunities for hikers, bikers and horseback riders. One of our goals is to create a more functional trail network that will better serve everyone’s needs. Right now, the existing trails are a haphazard collection of old road remnants connected by user-created routes.

To ensure the new systems meet local needs, The Wilderness Society and the Citizens' Advisory Committee sent a survey to the citizens of Roslyn through their monthly water bill to learn more about how people use the forest and to gather their thoughts on a future vision for the forest. We’ve also contacted local, regional and national conservation and recreation groups to engage their interest in the project and to understand how their work might intersect with the forest. We also submitted a grant to the National Park Service’s Rivers Trails and Conservation Assistance Program for support on the project. We are planning workshops in the fall and winter to develop a regional assessment of recreation opportunities and to map out the layout of the desired trail network and supporting infrastructure.

Ultimately we see the work in Roslyn as creating a model for the application of our principles of sustainable recreation that can inspire and inform similar efforts in gateway communities throughout Washington’s North Cascades and the rest of the country.

We are excited to be working with a local gateway community to explore new ground balancing conservation and recreation. We look forward to reporting back on our progress to secure the conservation values and recreation opportunities for future generations in this beautiful part of Washington State and to share the lessons learned so they can be applied elsewhere.

Update: We are excited to announce that the City of Roslyn was awarded a grant through the National Park Service’s Rivers Trails and Conservation Assistance Program. The grant will provide technical assistance to the Recreation and Trails Plan and we expect that these resources will focus on youth involvement and engagement by the Washington Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects during 2011.

Hikers at Three Sisters in Oregon. Photo by Jeff L. Fox.
A child enjoying the Roslyn Urban Forest in Washington. Photo by Cynthia Wilkerson.