Something nagged me throughout our recent ride around northern Nevada. In 74 days, through eight counties, over 1,100 miles, the only people we met on the trail were hunters. Don't get me wrong -they were always incredibly friendly and extremely interested in my ride. Time and time again we bonded over a shared love of Nevada, its beauty and wildness, and yes, even the animals. I can't count how many times I heard hunters say, "We're so lucky to have this," as they gestured to the land around us. But it really began to bother me that I never encountered a hiker, a cyclist, a camper, or even another equestrian. This became a regular topic of conversation between Ryan and I. Why aren't people out here using this incredible resource? we'd ask each other.
It takes a long time to plan a long ride. There are so many logistics to work out -- feed, water, gear, etc. But, even when I was planning my first ride, the one thing that didn't take long for me to decide was where to ride. I could have gone to any state, to any number of designated trails. But, it was obvious to me from the very beginning that I should take advantage of what was right outside my door.
This is one of my favorite maps. The areas in red are public lands. Ponder it for a second if you will...
Every state has some public land, though the vast majority of it is in the West. Nevada has more than any other in the contiguous 48 states (>80%). By comparison, look at Texas, which has <5% federal land. Essentially what that means is that if you were trying to do a long ride in Texas, you would be restricted to public roads because most of the state is private property.
But all those areas in red -- with a few exceptions -- are free and open for use by anyone. For me, this means I can create my own long ride routes, choose my own trails and roads from millions of acres of land, and never have to worry about getting permission from a landowner for access. I couldn't do what I do without public lands. Likewise, that opportunity is available for every other American who is interested in hiking, biking, hunting, camping, or any other recreational activity.
Unfortunately, that freedom is under threat from people who think they have more of a right to the land than others. There is a movement underway to transfer federally-managed public lands to state ownership. Proponents readily admit that under their plan, millions of acres of public land would then be sold off to help states pay for the management of their remaining lands. Make no mistake, the privatization of public lands would be the end of open access for the rest of us. I saw very real evidence of this on my recent ride.
Incidents such as these will only increase with the transfer of public lands. You may not like the federal agencies managing public lands, but do not be fooled into thinking the land would be better off under state control or on the auction block. It most certainly would not be better off for wild horses and other wildlife. This issue is only going to grow more contentious over time, especially following the recent court ruling regarding the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Public lands belong to all of us, not just those who make the most noise. I encourage you to get to know the public land in your state (every state has some!) and discover why it is worth preserving if not for you, then for others. And please make your voice heard. There are a number of organizations who are working hard to keep public lands in public hands.
If you are an equestrian, please check out Backcountry Horsemen of America here: https://www.bcha.org/
If you are a hiker, skiier, cyclist, etc., please check out Outdoor Alliance here: http://www.outdooralliance.org/.
If you are a hunter or angler, please check out Backcountry Hunters & Anglers here: http://www.backcountryhunters.org/
Also check out:
The Wilderness Society
The Public Lands Foundation
High Country News
My experiences with The Nevada Discovery Ride have very much reinforced the value of public lands for me. That's why I love long riding in Nevada so much and will do all my future long rides on public lands. I wish I had seen more people out enjoying public lands during my previous rides, particularly equestrians who have a stake in keeping trails open. But no matter your interest: If you don't use it, you could lose it.
The latest updates from Samantha on the Nevada Discovery Ride.