Clare Gallagher is a professional trail runner sponsored by The North Face and a passionate advocate for public lands. This piece was originally published by Trail Sisters and is excerpted here with permission.

Our ability, err right, to run on wild public trails across the country is more at risk than ever before. This due to the risk of privatization (think “NO TRESPASSING” signs), and due to the risk of land development or allowance of many uses (like logging and vehicle use) in wilderness areas. Why?

You can guess why. The man that lives in a white house. But more insidious, serious trail threats began before Trump’s election. From 2013 to 2016, a group of lawmakers dubbed the “Anti-Parks Caucus” formed and they’ve made significant progress in stopping public land protections from passing in Congress, in addition to introducing anti-wilderness bills that would destroy acts as fundamental as the Wilderness Act of 1964. More to come on this later.

A Quick But Necessary Lashing

I’m well aware that for many of us, trail time is our worry-free time, our airplane-mode time, and the last thing we want to think about is politics. But, if we are not engaging with the politics of public land protections, we are freeloading. 

We’re all guilty of it. I could do way more. But I can no longer say that it’s okay to freeload off others’ efforts to protect public trails without doing something to ensure they’re protected. This is as simple as informed voting.

Clare Gallagher crosses the finish line victoriously at the CCC 100K in Chamonix, France.. Photo Credit: The North Face/Kristen Kortebein

I’m not the first person, nor professional trail runner, to bring this topic up. Mike Foote, public lands activist and second place finisher at this year’s Hardrock 100, says in Trail Runner Magazine that we are zoning out.

Foote provocatively inquires, “While we [trail runners] blissfully tackle miles of singletrack, are we ignorant to movements currently working hard to sell off the trails from under our feet?”

Montana Governor Steve Bullock told Foote: “I hear from snowmobilers more than I hear from trail runners. The less positive way to perceive [this] is that [trail runners] are freeloading off of everybody that is actually working on a daily basis to protect our public lands and public spaces.”

This should be a stark wakeup call to our community. As Foote also details: anglers, hunters, mountain bikers and rock climbers all have unified organizations that address the fight to protect public lands. Run Wild is the first attempt at unifying our community to show support to and act on public land issues. Yet there’s no doubt that it pales in comparison to the conservation efforts of sportsmen and sportswomen’s Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, mountain bikers’ International Mountain Biking Association and climbers’ Access Fund.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, it’s clear we runners need to review the basics, to step out of our endorphin stupor and understand what exactly is going on.

The Basics

What are public lands?

What’s currently at risk?

  • National Monuments (part of the National Park System)
  • Wilderness Areas

What can we do?

  • Incessantly read, ask questions, and voice your opinion to your State’s representatives. And vote like you give a shit.

READ MORE: Trail Sisters