Protect Your Public Lands: A User’s Guide

We can’t hike trails without public lands, so I wrote this blog for Oboz about 5 things you can do!


by Renee Patrick

What Designations Does You Favorite Trail Have Photo By Renee Patrick

Image: Take some time to learn about public lands surrounding your favorite trails. Photo by Renee Patrick

After huffing up the 2,000-foot climb out of Big Indian Gorge, my sweat-dampened shirt quickly chilled in the sharp November wind. I was just days from finishing my Oregon Desert Trail section hike with the final 65 mile stretch up and over the monolithic Steens Mountain in eastern Oregon.

I surveyed the miles of alkaline playa 5,000 feet below Steens summit and the vast expanse of public land stretching far into the horizon. That early November morning was just days away from an election that would upset the nation, and jeopardize the future of the very land below my feet.

In the weeks that followed, one thing became clear: I need to act to protect what I love, and the question became: How can I advocate for public lands and have a real impact?

I am fortunate enough to work for a conservation organization, the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), which has been working for 30 years to protect, defend, and restore high desert landscapes in eastern Oregon. But after multiple conversations with friends who don’t directly work in the conservation field, I realized they too wanted guidance on how to be effective in advocating for the future of our public lands. So I surveyed a few of my colleagues and came up with these action points:

5 Tips on How YOU Can Advocate for Public Lands Protection

1. Focus on public lands close to home

One of the best ways to participate in the public lands debate is to become educated about some of your favorite places. Is your go-to hike on public land? If so, which agency manages it, and does it currently have any protections or designations? We often form personal connections with our favorite places, and those connections can be powerful when a place you love is at risk. Visit your Forest Service, BLM, or State Parks office. Learn more about how they steward your favorite places, ask how you can participate in trail maintenance, or in any upcoming planning processes.

Even the youngest volunteers can make a difference in a conservation organization. Photo by Allison Crotty

2. Join a local conservation organization

Most communities have a variety of nonprofit conservation organizations that work to protect important landscapes and watersheds. Each of these groups may have a specific focus, whether it is sustainability, climate change, river health, or supporting the stewardship of a specific wilderness area. These organizations give a powerful voice to important local and national public land issues, and rely on their members to help support advocacy for restoration activities in the places we all cherish. Consider becoming a member of one conservation organization in your area. Start volunteering, or join them on a hike or stewardship trip. Your donation, membership, volunteer time, or voice can make a difference.

3. Get to know your senators and representatives

Your senators and representatives represent you on the state and national level, so it’s important to let them know where you stand on public lands issues. There is a lot of debate these days about the most effective ways to reach out to your elected officials, but any action is better than no action. Call their offices, write postcards, attend town hall meetings…and make it personal. You don’t have to be an expert on public lands to have a powerful pull. It can be very meaningful for our officials to hear from everyday people who care about public lands, so share your stories, share your concerns, and if they have been supportive of keeping public lands public, thank them!

Get creative with your signs at the next town hall event in your area. Photo by Heidi Hagemeier

4. Hold small gatherings with friends/family

Since so many people take access to public lands for granted, we need as many folks as possible to simply be out talking with their friends/neighbors/family about why public lands are important. Invite some friends over, and over dinner or beers talk about a few of the current threats. One of the main issues you may want to discuss involves proposals to hand over American public lands to the states. Because most state governments can’t afford to manage millions of acres of land, a likely scenario would result in raising taxes or selling our land to the highest bidder in order to pay for costs like firefighting and management. Come up with a list of your legislators’ addresses, and then have everyone write a few postcards and make a night of it! (find more here: https://www.congress.gov/state…, https://www.congress.gov/ -search legislation).

5. Vote

Start local. City, county, state and even school boards have elections between the presidential election years, and we can build a strong voice from the bottom up. Do some research and find out where your local candidates stand on public lands issues. Then make your voice heard on Election Day.

Renee “She-ra” Patrick is the trail coordinator for the Oregon Desert Trail in Bend, OR, and a triple crown hiker, having completed the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail in addition to 6 other long distance trails. When not backpacking, she can be found packrafting, skiing or napping in the backcountry. You can read about her adventures on her blog,www.sherahikes.wordpress.com.

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10 Ways Thru-hiking is like the Peace Corps

I first learned about long distance backpacking while living in my village of Zogore in Burkina Faso, West Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer over a decade ago. When someone joins the Peace Corps and has to decide what to bring with them, books are high on the list. Surely there will be time to read the complete works of Shakespeare or War and Peace, right?

And it’s true, I read well over 200 books during the 2 years I was there, but the book that made the most impact was There are Mountains to Climb. Not for the prose, or riveting story line, but it was the first time I learned about a trail that crosses the country, and the people who set out to hike it in just a few months.

It was September, 1999, I had just arrived in the Burkina 3 months earlier, but I already knew what I was doing in 2 years when my service was over. Hiking the Appalachian Trail!

When I finally made it to the trail in 2002 I realized there were LOTS of similarities.

Here are my top 10 ways thru-hiking is like the Peace Corps:

1. You will be covered in dirt almost all the time.

2. You will think about food non-stop.

3. People think you are crazy.

4. You have changed way more in a short amount of time than your friends and family at home.

5. You curse the postal system.

6. You talk about poop a lot.

7. You get giardia.

8. You make deeper connections with people faster than you ever thought possible.

9. When you return people always ask about getting attacked by bears/lions, but the wildest thing you saw was a porcupine eating someone’s shoe/a chicken tied to a bicycle.

10. You will never be the same again.

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So after I posted this fellow thru-hiker and Peace Corps Volunteer, Lisa, posted her list. Wow! She must have had a lot of time on her hands Thru-hiking will do that. Wait, so will Peace Corps.

More of the 1000 ways in which PCT hiking and Peace Corps are the EXACT SAME THING:
1. You meticulously plan your next town meal at least 4 days in advance.

2. Then you dream big about the first meal you’ll eat after finishing.
3. You look forward to maildrops and cry if they are late, particularly if they contain something delicious.
4. You lick the melted chocolate out of every wrapper crevasse, then suck on the inside corners for trace remnants.
5. If you’re vegetarian, you turn carnivorous after the second encounter with an outside barbeque and charred meat.
6. You wear one outfit every day until only bleached, soft shreds remain.
7. It’s bizarre to see your comrades in normal clothing.
8. You suffer from the half-way blues, daydreaming about the things you would do and eat if you went home now.
9. Intestinal parasites, diseases, and associated smells are the hot topic of conversation, especially during meals.
10. You are perpetually sweaty and dirty and the locals are clean.
11. Your toenails take on bizarre shapes and co-exist with semi-permanent layers of funk.
12. When you emerge into a new town, friendly and curious locals find you bizarre or interesting or exciting.
13. Kids stare at you and think you’re odd.
13. Random strangers invite you into their house to eat.
14. You consume things you would never touch under normal circumstances.
15. Kind tourists feel sorry for you and give you soda pop and toiletries.
16. The small pleasures in life are so wonderful and you are filled with gratitude.
17. You have too many ups and downs to count, but feel extremely lucky to be alive.
18. People think you’re crazy.
19. You start with a filter, then switch to bleach, then just drink the water straight.
20. You start with toilet paper, then switch to rocks and sticks, then switch to the water method. It’s just so refreshing.
21. You have weird-sounding nicknames and insert trail/local speech into your everyday language. e.g. “i didn’t mean to take a nero – it just happened” or “the prefect bouffed all the money”
22. You are elated when you spy edible fruit along your walk.
23. Ice is SO very exciting.
24. During siesta, you end up chasing the shade even though you tried yet again to strategically place yourself in the likeliest continual-shade-spot.
25. You become great friends with unusual and magical people.
26. You watch terrible TV programs whenever you have the opportunity.
27. You talk to yourself and practice rolling your r’s as you walk.
28. You give up on flossing.
146. You notice every phase of the moon.
147. You smell like mildew.
148. Your body loses the ability to digest dairy products in a smooth and elegant fashion.
149. You think you’re tan, then take a shower and realize that half of it’s dirt.
361. You finally come to the realization that your gastrointestinal issues are not just a “phase”.
362. Though you’ve never bought a copy of “People” and never will, you devour it at any free opportunity.
363. Local, tiny libraries are the best.
364. Ice cream is amazing, no matter how cold it is outside and how much it gives you the runs.
365. You either love or hate the postal service.
366. Large ungulates casually walk past your sleeping pad.
367. You hitch rides no matter how sketchy the driver or vehicle and sometimes sit with farm animals on your lap.