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Trails are OK, but people aren't
Jack Balshaw 10/1/01

Let me set the tone with the lead paragraphs from a recent Press Democrat editorial item.

"A proposal to build a trail through the Mayacmas Mountains in southeastern Sonoma County is encountering a familiar obstacle: unsubstantiated fear of hikers.

Sonoma County seems to be unique in this phobia. Countless other counties, states and countries have gone to great lengths in this age of environmental enlightenment to create new trails and offer greater opportunities for people to appreciate open space.

But in Sonoma County, trail blazing often gets bogged down by fears of people in hiking boots."

I got to thinking about who are these people who want trails and who are the people who don't want trails on their land.

Surprise! The people who want trails on other peoples land are the same people who don't want to let anyone else into Sonoma County because that might "spoil it". The most vocal group favoring trails is the same group that does everything possible to make it more difficult for anyone else to move to Sonoma County.

These people believe they have found their slice of heaven and don't want it spoiled. If Sonoma County is allowed to grow, they feel it will ruin the ambiance they have grown to love. And, in order to love it and appreciate it more, they want to be able to hike to those places that have remained natural over time or which have open areas from which grand vistas of the county can be seen and admired. Great!

But what about these selfish landowners who don't want others tramping all over their land? Well, they also have found their own little piece of heaven and want to preserve it. The idea of strangers wandering around their land at any time doesn't appeal to them.

I can appreciate that. If only one or two strangers a day had the right to pass through my backyard to get to the adjacent creek, that would spoil my enjoyment of my private space. It might also be a little scary in that there is no way to know which random member of the general public is some kind of a nut.

So, what we have is one group of people who have found a nice place to live but don't want anyone else to move here. Also, they think others who own scenic lands should let them have access so that they can enjoy the county even more.

The other group, the owners of the scenic land, feel they have bought and paid for their land and safety and privacy and see no reason to diminish their enjoyment of their land by allowing others to freely use it.

This issue just highlights one situation where we seem unaware that we don't practice what we preach when we want two conflicting things. I'm sure the drivers of the SUV's that disturb me when I'm in a small car can be just as disturbed themselves when boxed in by large trucks. But I'll bet they never think that their choice of vehicles bothers someone else. I'm sure they feel that if people want to drive around in small cars, that's their choice.

But, back to the trail issue. The argument is often made that only a few people will actually use these trails so the property owners don't have to worry too much about being disturbed. If this is truly the case, then we are being asked to spend significant public monies to open trails for only a few dedicated hikers.

This reminds me of the Lafferty issue from several years ago (and still continuing). We could have had a south county regional park on the Moon Ranch, which would have been open to a large cross section of the public. Instead, because a few people wanted to preserve the Lafferty location for a trail across Sonoma Mt., a few nature lovers may eventually have access to Lafferty.

I'll go back to my favorite definition of democracy - Democracy is what is best for the most, not what is desired by the few.


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