Monday, June 27, 2016

MNBackcountry1: The Green Rider

More often than not when I am on bike patrol, whether I’m on the Chequamegon National Forest or in Isanti County Parks, I will wear green. You will find me wearing a green shirt and tan shorts rather than the standard red NMBP bicycle jersey and black shorts. This isn’t because of some sort of rebelliousness, (okay, well maybe a little) but for a couple of good reasons. First, I have never looked good in a bicycle jersey. It doesn’t matter if it is a club jersey, a patrol jersey, or my commemorative Lewis and Clark Trail jersey; I end up looking like a stuffed sausage. I don’t like that look. The second is that my background is in emergency medical services and as a Park Ranger, so I am more comfortable with a more “uniform-type” appearance.  

Initially, when we started the Backcountry Trail Patrol we wore USFS work shirts with Forest Service volunteer patches on the right sleeve. In time, we had our own shoulder patches made up, but still wore them on tan shirts with green shorts. Somewhere along the way, I was trained and qualified as a volunteer Backcountry Ranger with the Forest Service (a title they have abandoned in favor of “aide” or “assistant” in recent years) and my duties included not just riding mountain bike trails, but also spending time on equestrian and hiking pathways, checking campgrounds, swimming areas and trailhead parking lots. Even today, I can and do ride singletrack, but I also ride forest roads and visit areas not necessarily frequented by mountain bikers.

Since taking on the advocacy role of Habitat Watch for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers in Minnesota, the bright red jersey of the mountain bike patrol doesn’t really seem to be appropriate for the areas I am “patrolling” in the backcountry. Just yesterday on the Chequamegon National Forest the fisherman approached me and asked about trout fishing opportunities on the forest. He must have felt I was approachable in my green shirt, and the white truck with “Backcountry” on the side. Would he have come up to me with that question if I was in a mountain bike patrol jersey? Of course one cannot know for sure, but I kind of doubt it. The previous day, we hiked up the trail to a local waterfall, and I was wearing my green shirt, my green patrol pack, and carrying a trash picker and litter bag. Bikes were not allowed on that trail, so wearing a red jersey might have looked, shall we say, out of place?

When we started the Backcountry Trail Patrol in 2000, we anticipated just that kind of interaction. In fact when we were working on Chippewa National Forest, it was fairly common. But the role of the Backcountry Patrol has always gone beyond just the mountain bike trails. We still “educate, assist, and inform”, but the mission, as stated on the website, has always been that we are, “dedicated to protecting (all) trail users and forest resources through service and backcountry safety education.” So, more often than not, if you encounter me in the backcountry during the spring summer or fall (before hunting season) I will wear green.

Proceeding on…