We bought our house in 1986. The house proper wasn’t anything special, but the location was private, nestled off a sparsely populated dead-end road and bordered by state forest on one side. A year or so after moving in I bought a horse and kept it at my neighbor’s farm. When my husband decided to get into the horse world we gamely cleared the only flat patch of land we owned, built a small barn, collected our horses and brought them home. That was April of ’89, and we’ve been riding some part of this trail regularly ever since.
Back then this path wasn’t a public park. It was available to those who knew of it’s existence, but the old abandoned rail bed wasn’t used by more than a handful of adventuresome folks and hunters who didn’t mind a bit of a trek and a challenge. Not that it was such tough going, but the sandy path was punctuated by two long expanses of trap rock that discouraged the passing of all but the most determined hiker or biker. By today’s standards I would think the trap rock would be a mountain biker’s dream, but from what I’ve seen they seem to want the experience of riding in the woods, but the ease of an uncluttered trail. Go figure.
I’d traversed this trail on foot, bike and horseback at least a thousand times when some lobbyist decided we should use our gas tax to “convert” this path into a public state Linear park, better known today as the Airline Trail. Oh goody. Literally overnight, the quiet little farm we worked tooth and nail to create was changed. The peace and quiet …. the sole reason we bought our home …. was gone. The remote location and deeply desired privacy vanished. Where we once marveled at our great fortune and foresight to live in such close proximity to a fabulous bridle and hiking path, we now cursed it’s nearby presence. And before you enthusiastically try to proclaim the obvious, which is to remind us of how lucky we are to have such easy access to this wonder of misspent tax dollars, please walk a mile in our shoes. Think for a few moments about what it’s like to suddenly have to live with a very public park in your back yard.
To combat my angst and frustration I use some part of the trail almost daily. I always used it before it was a state park and I refuse to punish myself by avoiding it now. I try my damnedest to pick a time when I think there will be a minimum of users about because frankly, I hate seeing anyone out there. I don’t want to nod a chipper “Hello,” or mutter a fake cheerful “Good morning!” each and every time I pass someone going the opposite way. I just want to mind my own business and enjoy the scenery, preferably one that’s not cluttered with bikes, dogs, baby carriages and loud, screaming children.
If I sound like a miserly curmudgeon, so be it. I feel an affection for this trail that borders on possessiveness. When people discard their litter on it, I’m appalled. When hikers let their dogs use it as a toilet, I’m annoyed. (And yes, should the inevitable happen I dismount and remove any road apples from the trail when I ride. Everyone in our small equine group does.) When the parks and trail committee decided this trail needed benches and bright blue metal picnic tables I was disgusted. So now one of the most rural, pristine sections of the old airline is peppered with man-made “improvements.”
I was out riding three weeks ago and took a detour off the main path to an area I hadn’t visited in a few years. It had changed little. It was comforting to find the huge boulders, sandy landscape and canopy of trees that hugged the rocky flowing stream remained unchanged. That’s what I like about nature; reliability. A week later as I traversed a nearby trail, I heard the sound of heavy equipment. A steady rumble of diesel echoed off the steep walls of the ravine. I rode a little farther before I realized the location of the commotion was the area I’d visited the week before. I rode to a higher vantage point and peered down. Many trees had been cut down, a road built and an erosion barrier had been erected. Obviously, a project of sizable proportion was underway.
As the week progressed I watched the slow progress. From my lofty perch it was hard to tell exactly what was going on, but I had my suspicions. Mostly, I saw a half dozen or so hard-hatted workers sitting around chatting, while one guy ran an excavator. Friday I rode in that direction only to discover the trail was closed. Sawhorses with signs that said “Road Closed” prevented my passage and ahead, parked in the very spot where I had been viewing the slow progress, sat the largest crane I’d ever seen. I could feel the bile rise in the back of my throat. My trail, my woods are being changed. Again. Undoubtedly, some fool will eventually say to me, “They’ve been improved!” and I’ll have to resist the urge to slap them.
I took this picture on a damp, blustery fall day … a day when nobody thought the weather fit for hiking or biking.
All the better for me.