EP34 | How to Take Care of the Trails and Places We Love: Matt Caldwell, Executive Director of Tread Lightly

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Episode Description

With the increased popularity of overlanding and vehicle-based adventures of all kinds, our campsites and trails on public lands are experiencing unprecedented use.

While increased use of public lands creates issues, it also creates opportunities for more support directed toward their conservation, restoration, and enhancement.

In this episode of the X Overland Podcast, we sit down with Executive Director of Tread Lightly!, Matt Caldwell, to explore the issues, solutions, and opportunities surrounding the use of our public lands, trails, and camping areas.

Tread Lightly! is a non-profit organization with the mission of educating the public on how to enjoy their public lands in a way that keeps access open to the trails and campsites we love.

Tread Lightly! teaches practices that involve all forms of recreational use on our public lands but is especially focused on those of us who enjoy motorized recreation: vehicles, motorcycles, ATVs/UTVs, and even electric bicycles.

Executive Director of Tread Lightly!, Matt Caldwell, joins today’s podcast to share insight and information into issues currently affecting our public lands while providing us with the tools we need to address these problems so we can keep the doors to our favorite recreational areas open and leave lands we love looking better than we found them.

Detailed Episode Summary

Part 1 (1:30-4:27) Intro and Welcome Matt Caldwell! Clay and Jimmy welcome Matt Caldwell to the podcast and get a detailed description of Tread Lightly! and Matt’s role there. Matt explains how Tread Lightly! began as an arm within the U.S. Forest Service and emerged into a thriving non-profit.

Part 2 (4:27-10:10) #protecttheadventure: Matt explains Tread Lightly!’s new hashtag: #protecttheadventure, and how the Tread Lightly message speaks to a wide variety of users beyond overlanders and off-roaders per se. For example, if you’re a rock climber and you need to use a Forest Service road to access your climbing area, you benefit from the work of Tread Lightly!

Part 3 (10:10-15:45) The Role of Education within the Tread Lightly! And the Tread Lightly! “Master Tread Trainer” Program: Clay explains X Overland’s experience in taking the Master Tread Trainer program, focusing on training that involves how to speak to and educate other users on the trail. Matt explains how Tread Lightly! Has shifted from “Don’t” to a new form of rhetoric to educate public lands users.

Part 4 (15:45-20:38) The Need for Reasonable Compromise in the Use and Management of our Trails and Recreation Areas: Jimmy explains the need for compromise when using public lands and Matt and Clay weigh in on what this looks like in practice. In particular, Clay shares his own experience growing up on a large Montana Ranch and how stewardship practices on private lands can resemble those on public.

Part 5 (20:38-26:25) The “T.R.E.A.D.” Principles of Tread Lightly explained: Matt explains what the “T.R.E.A.D.” acronym stands for, how these principles get put into practice, and why they are still relevant. Clay shares his own personal stories of regret from his youth and how he learned and grew from his experiences, sharing the importance of setting good examples for today’s youth.

Part 6 (26:25-36:00) “Travel Responsibly”: The “T” in T.R.E.A.D., Clay, Jimmy, and Matt explore what traveling responsibly looks like, especially when it comes to overlanding. Matt explains the established hierarchy of trail use: horses, hikers, bicyclists, and motorized use.

Part 7 (36:01- 40:00) Why do uphill travelers have the right-of-way on the trail? Matt explains why uphill travelers have the right-of-way and it’s not what most people would suspect. In fact, why uphill travelers have the right-of-way has everything to do with preserving the trail.

Part 8 (40:01-47:30) The “E” in the T.R.E.A.D. Principles Stand for “Educate”: Matt explains the importance for all users to educate themselves on their legal rights when it comes to trail use and public lands recreation, where to go for the best sources of information, and the potential pitfalls and errant information that may come from apps and GPS-based platforms.

Part 9 (47:35-55:18) The “A” in the T.R.E.A.D. Principles: The “A” in the T.R.E.A.D. principles stands for “Avoid sensitive areas.” Matt explains what these areas look like, why they are designated as “sensitive” and why they are best avoided. Clay discusses the current controversy around water-crossings and his perspective on best practices when it comes to water-crossings, including his experiences in Iceland.

Part 10 (55:18-105:50) The Need to Consider the Numbers When it Comes to Trail Use and Recreation on Public Lands: Jimmy, Clay, and Matt explain why it’s so important to consider the high numbers of people using public trails and lands and the potentially adverse effects that come from improper use and practices around campsites and on trails. The trio explore the increasing problem of human waste (feces and urine) on public lands today and how to best address this issue. Finally, Jimmy and Clay explore the mind-shift of going from enjoying and interacting with the outdoors as an “individual” to that of being part of a “community” of recreators who need to work together to take care of the places we recreate.

Part 11 (105:51-1:13:08) The “D” in the T.R.E.A.D. Principles: The D” in the T.R.E.A.D. principles stands for “Do your part.” Matt explains the T.R.E.A.D. principle of “Do your part” and what this looks like, providing examples of Tread Lightly! volunteer-based activities as well as what individuals can do in the field. Clay discusses the value of volunteering, how volunteering links with leadership, and how you can organize a group of volunteers to do work on your local trails.

Part 12 (113:09-End) Tread Lightly! Membership: Matt explains how to become a member of Tread Lightly! and how becoming a member benefits public land and trails. Matt further explains how membership dollars are used by Tread Lightly!

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