Coalition works to teach trail ethics to young off-road vehicle riders
CORVALLIS - Monty Monroe and company had many pearls of wisdom for young off-highway vehicle enthusiasts but none more common sense than "know how to use the breaks before you hit the gas."
Monroe laughed at the anecdote that came from the memory of his sister's first ride, though had she been seriously hurt it would have been no laughing matter.
Monroe, the Bitterroot National Forest's off-highway vehicle (OHV) ranger, and several members of the Ravalli County Off-Road Users Association (RCORUA) teamed up Thursday for an Earth Stewardship Program presentation at Corvallis Middle School.
Safety was the watch word.
"When I start, I ask them ‘What's the first thing you think about when you are going to go for a ride on an off-highway vehicle?'" Monroe said. "And they say ‘jumps and mudding and having fun.' And by the end of this session they're saying ‘safety.'"
Janeen Curtis, field coordinator with the Healthy Kids, Healthy Forests and Earth Stewardship programs, said the remarkable thing is that, as seventh graders, most of the Bitterroot kids she sees have already driven an OHV.
"This is something they are really interested in," Curtis said.
The Forest Service employee, along with Mike Jeffords and Jim and Marcia Walliser, representing RCORUA, talked students in one of David Chimo's seventh grade science classes through a common sense approach to the safety, trail etiquette and environmental ethics of riding machines in the forest.
There was talk of the need to travel on legal roads and trails rather than trail-blazing.
The damage done by "mudding," or thrashing back and forth through boggy, wetland areas, was laid out in stark terms not just by Monroe, but also by the three RCORUA members.
"It takes a long time to repair that damage," Marcia Walliser said.
Students were cautioned to take along first-aid and basic repair kits, a flashlight and extra batteries, a length of rope and duct tape.
The scared-straight story of the day came from Jim Walliser, who told about a day of off-roading when things went bad after he carelessly attempted to descend a steep section of trail: a result of the often deadly combination of "I left my common sense at home" and "machismo."
"I looked way down there where I was going to land and I do remember thinking ‘This is going to hurt,'" Jim Walliser said, describing the moment before he tumbled off his machine and landed in a heap with a broken jaw and ankle and a dislocated knee.
He'd been convinced that he'd suffered a compound fracture of the leg, and kept asking his wife to check for bleeding.
In fact, he was bleeding, but not from the leg.
"You know where all that blood was coming from?" Jim Walliser asked. "It was coming from my head, because I didn't wear a helmet. I'm lucky I wasn't killed."
Monroe said the collaboration with the off-road users group was key.
"I work a lot with the Ravalli County Off Road Users and they've been really good about helping us out and they work to police themselves and they give time and energy to conservation projects," Monroe said. "They want the right message to come out and that's why they are giving up a week of their time to come talk to middle school students. It really helps with my job to educate."
And with the Bitterroot National Forest's travel plan set for final release this spring or early summer, the collaboration taps into the need to teach all users to ride responsibly.
"If we're responsible, they're not likely to take trails away from us," Monroe said. "I say ‘us' because I'm a user too. It's not just my job."
But ultimately the work with school kids comes down to teaching safety and that's why the group has spent the week visiting schools up and down the valley.
It's about sending the next generation of users onto the trail in a way that will keep them alive, Monroe said.
"If you can save one kid's life, out of all these kids, it would be worth it."
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Reporter Sepp Jannotta can be reached at email@example.com.