The Trail That Dare Not Speak its Name

If you believe that pre-existing (ie prior to acquisition by the city) trails in the Blodgett Open Space area should not be referred to as ‘rogue’ in the master plan, please let the plan facilitators know before Feb 18 using this link.

No, Lord Voldemort is not a trail builder. But if he were, it is unlikely he would seek permission to build trails from land managers. And land managers would probably call his trails ‘rogue trails’. That sounds appropriate for a trail built by Voldemort since the Oxford English Dictionary defines a rogue as “a dishonest or unprincipled person” with suggested synonyms: scoundrel, villain, reprobate, rascal, good-for-nothing, wretch. 

Stark contrasts between good and evil is fun when reading the romance of epic fantasy fiction. When applied to trails and public lands, rogue is a negative, stigmatizing term often used to express anger and cause offense. Which raises the question, is this the best term for the land managers to use when labeling a category of trails, during master plan processes?

MedWheel has raised this issue in direct communication with our city’s Parks Department, including as a stakeholder to the current Blodgett OS Master Plan development process, which we joined at its inception last year. When communicating with the city, we have strenuously urged the use of language that is as accurate and unbiased as possible. Specifically, we suggested removing the terms ‘rogue’ and ‘illegal’ from the Blodgett draft master plan. We counted over 30 references to “rogue” and more than a dozen references to “illegal trails” when referring to trails that existed before the city acquired the property. 

We made this request for two primary reasons: 1) these terms are inaccurate and misleading, and 2) the emotions they evoke may create barriers to community collaboration. 

All three phases of the Blodgett property contained trails when they were acquired by the city. 

Some were game trails, some were neighborhood connections, some were user created, and some were designed and built by the previous owners. Phase 2 of Blodgett OS, the Slattery property, was transferred to the city with a conservation easement that contained maps showing several trails that were designed, constructed, maintained, and used for years by the Slattery family. Mr. Slattery has confirmed that these trails are not illegal. Moreover, he doesn’t consider himself a rogue or a villain for creating fun trails on his own property. The term rogue in this instance is not only inaccurate, but also potentially offensive.

MedWheel constantly works to reduce divisions and distrust between recreational outdoor users and land managers by analyzing and sharing accurate and realistic information (see the News section of our website). Inaccurate, emotional language used by land managers diminished this effort unnecessarily. 

This sign recently erected in Red Rock Canyon Open Space provides another example of unnecessarily negative language.. The ‘rogue’ trail highlighted here is actually a road that was constructed and used by the Bock family for decades prior to the city’s acquisition of Red Rock Canyon in 2003. It is not part of a ‘rogue network’, although it is not designated in the master plan and has rightly been decommissioned, to the benefit of this open space and its users.

A sign on a wall

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Instead of vague terms like ‘rogue’, ‘pirate’, ‘illegal’, and even ‘social’, MedWheel suggests adopting the terms ‘designated’ and ‘non-designated’ trails. First, ‘designated’ and ‘non-designated’ are accurate terms that refer to the legal status of a range of trails that might have human or non-human origin. Second, ‘designated’ and ‘non-designated’ do not express emotional content that can cause offense and create barriers to collaboration. 

MedWheel supports publicly developed master plans, including when appropriate, closure of unsustainable or redundant trails. Although, MedWheel’s mission is primarily focused on expanding our great trail network for mountain bikers and all trail users, we support a sustainable trail system, used for responsible recreation in balance with preservation of natural resources. Our published set of values lists ‘conservation’ immediately next to ‘recreation’ because we are dedicated to preserving inspiring trail experiences for the next seven generations. This is why we advocate for meaningful trails as a tool to enhance conservation (see our OPPI statement). Indeed, in the Blodgett master plan, MedWheel supports the thoughtful balance of recreation and conservation that led us to the proposal for decommissioning more miles of trails than will be shown in the final plan. 

We do not live in an epic fantasy of good versus evil, or unregulated recreation. Responsible land management is necessary to protect and expand the incredible trail system we have in the Pikes Peak area. MedWheel is excited to continue moving forward with land managers positively and in a spirit of collaboration. We will also continue advocating and providing a voice for mountain bikers and other trail users.

Reminder, use this link before Feb 18 to let city staff know what you think about the Blodgett OS master plan, now in final draft form and accepting comments. Review our comments so far here.