Public Lands Are Under Siege. Here’s What Trail Runners Need to Know.

Morgan Sjogren - Running in Bears Ears

Morgan Sjogren - Running in Bears Ears

Original Article in Trail Runner Here

In a leaked memo obtained by the Washington Post on September 17th, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended that President Trump modify or reduce 10 national monuments. The report is the culmination of a months-long review of 27 U.S. national monuments (the review was limited specifically to national monuments created under the 1906 Antiquities Act since January 1996, and only those of at least 100,000 acres).

If these proposed reductions come to fruition, they would be the largest elimination of land protections in U.S. history.

Even if they don’t, there are numerous other threats mounting against public lands, any one of which could set new precedents for the way those lands are managed and funded.

What are all these threats, and what can we trail runners do about it?


Zinke’s national monuments proposal

Zinke’s 19-page memo suggests the Trump administration “protect objects and prioritize public access; infrastructure upgrades, repair and maintenance; traditional use; tribal cultural use; and hunting and fishing rights.”

Some of these things sound promising – “protecting objects and prioritizing public access,” maintaining “tribal cultural use.” But there are threats mixed in, too—namely, prioritizing “traditional uses.” This means, essentially, opening monuments to grazing, logging, coal mining, oil-and-gas extraction and commercial fishing in marine monuments.

While the memo was scant on specifics, and the White House has declined to comment on the leaked papers, experts like Mark Squillace, a professor of law who served as assistant to former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, believe that the changes could be drastic.

“We do not yet have specific details regarding the scope of the likely reductions, but the early indications are that they will be substantial,” Squillance says.

Bears Ears National Monument, Utah

Perhaps no other monument has become so symbolic of the fight to protect public lands than Bears Ears, an expanse of desert red rock, canyons and mountains in Southeastern Utah designated as a national monument by President Obama in 2016. Zinke recommended shrinking Bears Ears from its original 1.35 million acres down to just 160,000 acres, the “smallest area compatible” with management of the over 100,000 archeological sites within the monument’s current boundaries.

Runner Luke Nelson spent four days running through Bears Ears National Monument in April. “In the roughly 150 miles that I traveled on foot, I learned that [Bears Ears] contains more cultural heritage than I could have ever imagined,” he says. “Around nearly every corner in the canyons there were petroglyphs, pictographs or nearly intact structures. It was simply astounding.”

The proposed reduction has been applauded by farmers, ranchers and the oil industry as it opens previously protected lands to expanded development. However, in reality, the region’s relative remoteness makes energy extraction an unattractive option.

Bears Ears contains hundreds of miles of runnable slickrock trail, and many worry that these reductions will hinder access to those trails. (For trail beta, check out The Best Bears Ears National Monument Hikes, by Morgan Sjogren.)

Zinke’s memo does suggest that acerage taken out of national monuments could be turned into national recreation areas. This designation, reserved for areas that attract a high volume of users, are usually designated by congress and include a land-management plan prepared by the land agency that is responsible for it—typically either the National Forest Service or National Park Service. However, designation as a national recreation area won’t protect those lands from budget cuts, which could halt trail maintenance and park law enforcement.

Golde Butte National Monument. Creative Commons 2.0 / Bureau of Land Management.

Gold Butte National Monument, Nevada

Zinke’s memo also recommends downsizing Gold Butte National Monument, 296,9337 acres of rugged red-rock desert less than 100 miles from Las Vegas. Gold Butte, which contains historic dwellings, ancient petroglyphs, mountains and sections of the Mojave desert, was designated a national monument in December of 2016 under President Obama. The given objective behind Zinke’s proposed cuts is to “protect historic water rights,” though he has proposed no new specific borders.

These cuts would leave open Gold Butte to potential drilling, mining and increase grazing, though the primary concern is that potential boundaries would leave archeological sites and artifacts as well as historic water sources vulnerable.

“These are fabulous running trails that offer incredible views, scenery, flora and fauna,” says Terri Rylander, a trail runner and board member of conservation group Friends of Gold Butte. Rylander is primarily worried that reductions to the national monument boundaries could result in reductions in funding. Gold Butte relies on its designation as a national monument to fund everything from staffing to adequate signage and trail maintenance.

“Anything that’s done to take away those protections threatens those benefits,” she says. 


Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Creative Commons 2.0 / Bureau of Land Management.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

America’s largest national monument, Grand Staircase-Escalante (1,700,000 acres) was designated by Bill Clinton in 1996 and sits in south-central Utah. At the time of its designation, Grand Staircase-Escalante was contentious for halting a coal-mine project. The monument remains divisive, as Utah Governor Gary Herbert remains a staunch opponent to what he considered a federal land grab.

In his memo, Zinke points out that Grand Staircase-Escalante has “an estimated several billion tons of coal and large oil deposits,” an observation that has many conservationists worried that proposed cuts would spur unprecedented oil-and-gas development in the area. Zinke’s recommendation would also remove limits on motorized vehicle use in the monument.

There is much for trail runners to lose if Grand Staircase-Escalante’s borders are reduced. Miles of trail and quiet wilderness could fall prey to energy development or encroachment by roads.

Nelson has fond memories of sharing Grand Staircase-Escalante with his family. “Seeing my young children having an incredible adventure exploring slot canyons and streams of the monument still brings a smile to my soul,” he says. “It was during that trip that I think they started to gain an appreciation for wild and protected places, and it a lit a fire in me to protect these spaces.”

Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Creative Commons 2.0 / Bureau of Land Management.


Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, Oregon

The expansive Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument rests on Oregon’s southern border, and is a favorite of Pacific Northwest trail runners. The 86,774-acre monument was designated by President Clinton in 2000.

Zinke recommends removing an unspecified amount of land, citing logging as the primary reason. (The current management plan allows for controlled logging to help maintain a healthy forest ecosystem.) The expansion of logging practices not directly associated with forest health could hinder access to some of the monument’s 50 miles of trails—including a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.


Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Creative Commons 2.0 / U.S. Department of Interior.

While the previous four monuments have gotten the most attention—and are, perhaps, the most consequential to trail runners—six other monuments face management changes that could threaten local ecosystems.

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Maine

The 87,563-acre expanse of Katahdin Woods and Waters was acquired privately by Burst Bees founder Roxanne Quimby, who bought the land in chunks after years of unsuccessfully lobbying the state to buy it. She donated it to the federal government just last year, when it got its official designation from President Obama. The monument features a network of trails through old-growth forests, including a section of the Appalachian Trail. After voicing support for the monument in June, Zinke is now recommending changing the land’s management to allow for future logging.


Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. Creative Commons 2.0 / Bureau of Land Management.

Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, New Mexico

Designated by Obama in 2014, this monument lies just north of the border with Mexico. The mountains sprawl for 496,330 acres, towering above a desert that is home to numerous animal species as well as Native American rock art and ancient dwellings. Zinke’s memo points to a modification in management plan that would allow for livestock running and cattle grazing in the area.


Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Creative Commons 2.0 / Bureau of Land Management.

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, New Mexico

Obama designated Rio Grande del Norte in 2013, setting aside 242,555 acres of northern New Mexico high desert. Zinke’s memo notes that ranchers have been discouraged from renewing area grazing permits and aims to protect “traditional use” that would likely include cattle running and grazing, as well as authorizing tribal management in designated areas of the monument.

Zinke’s memo also recommends reinstating commerical fishing in these three marine national monuments:

Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, Massachusetts

Just over 100 miles southeast of Cape Cod, this monument protects abundant and diverse coral species and deep-sea ecosystems.

Pacific Remote Island National Monument

Located south and west of Hawaii, this chain of islands and atolls comprises one of the largest and most biodiverse areas within U.S. jurisdiction, including coral reefs and marine wildlife. The monument was established by George W. Bush in 2009 and expanded by Obama in 2014. 

Rose Atoll Marine National Monument, South Pacific Ocean

Created by George Bush in 2009, Rose Atoll is home to many threatened and endangered marine species.


How likely is it that these management changes and boundary reductions will come to pass?  

According to Squillace, it would take an Act of Congress to shrink or abolish these monuments, which seems unlikely as this proposal would likely lack sufficient support. “Zinke and presumably Trump believe that the President has the authority to modify monuments by presidential proclamation,” says Squillace. “If Trump moves forward as expected, this will almost certainly end up in court.”

Even without reducing the size of national monuments, there are plenty of other plausible threats. Namely: budget cuts.

“Cuts to federal funding can mean parks don’t have the resources to maintain trails, ensure places are safe and allow access,” says Hallie Fox, co-founder of Run Wild, a group that engages and informs trail runners about protecting public lands.


Other public-lands threats

In February the House and Senate both voted to reverse a rule called Planning 2.0, which gave citizens an avenue for participating in the decision-making process for how all Bureau of Land Management public lands are managed.

In March, Secretary Zinke reversed the Obama-era freeze on leases for coal extraction on public lands.

Also in March, Nevada representative Mark Amodei brought a bill to the floor which would empower the Nevada state government to sell parcels of local public land to private citizens. The bill has not been voted on.

As recently as September, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was pressured by fossil-fuel industry lobbyists to formally propose a rollback of regulations for fracking on public land (the public comment period has closed, but an official decision has not yet been announced).


What can we do?

In the face of these threats, trail runners as well as other outdoor special-interest groups are mobilizing to protect public lands.

Call your local representatives.

“Trail runners should save their senators’ phone numbers and, whenever compelled, call and leave a message … urging them to speak out against Secretary Zinke’s recommendation to shrink 10 National Monuments,” says Clare Gallagher, ultrarunner and public-lands advocate. “Trail runners can read more. We can talk about the politics of public lands and climate change.”

Get informed.

Take a moment to look up your local trail network online and find out who manages it. What kind of protections allow it to exist, free of roads, buildings or commercial operations? What, if any, are the threats?

Connect with other land users.

When it comes to protecting public lands, trail runners, hunters, anglers and other seemingly disparate user groups want the same thing.

“Trail runners should connect with anglers and hunters who fork over a lot of money to maintain public lands,” says Gallagher. Contact your local chapter of hunting and fishing organizations like Backcountry Hunters and Anglers or Ducks Unlimited, and start a conversation about how trail runners and other outdoor users can work together.

Nelson agrees. “We can’t simply watch other groups do all the work. That may mean joining and participating in [advocacy] groups or at the very minimum actively working in our local communities to stand up for the public lands we love to run on.”


Ken Chlouber in his office in Leadville - Photo - Zoë Rom

Ken Chlouber in his office in Leadville - Photo - Zoë Rom

Read the original piece on REI Co-op Blog

When Ken Chlouber dreamed up one of the country’s most challenging trail races, the town of Leadville, Colorado, went from a struggling mining town to a bona fide adventure destination.

It was December 14th, just one week before Christmas of 1981, and Ken Chlouber was preparing to work the swing shift at the Climax mine. He pulled on a heavy pair of overalls and gloves and donned his helmet in preparation for work as a crusher, using dynamite to break up large rocks in the mine. A call came out over the intercom summoning all the shift bosses to the mine’s office.

Chlouber, along with the other bosses, shifted nervously in their boots, eyeing each other as whispers of cuts and layoffs filled the room.

“Boys, we’re shutting her down.”

Overnight, the town of Leadville was unemployed. Three-thousand people out of a population of 5,000 were without work. “That morning burns in my mind every day,” said Chlouber.


Ken Chlouber in his office | Photo: Zoë Rom

All the typical ills that accompany unemployment began to plague Leadville. The bars filled up with jobless miners. Families grew hungry or packed up and left. Not only had the town lost its primary source of revenue, but community identity was also at stake in a place literally named for that silvery, molybdenum ore pulled from deep within the earth.

It seemed dangerous. What if someone died?

Leadville knew it needed to find a way to save itself, and fast. Community leaders put their heads together in search of a way to draw in tourists. The idea of a fair was floated. Or a 10K race. They knew they needed something big—something that would convince people to stay the night in town, rent hotels and buy food.

That’s when Chlouber had an idea, one potentially grand enough to put Leadville on the map: “What about a 100-mile race?”

Several people, a prominent hospital administrator included, objected. Who would want to run 100 miles? It seemed dangerous. What if someone died?

“Well, then we will be famous, won’t we?” responded Chlouber.


Leadville 100 finish line, 2016 | Photo: Glen Delman Photography

As a sport, ultra-running was still in its infancy. Ultramarathons like the Western States Endurance Run existed but were far from the mainstream. One-hundred-mile runs were not the norm, particularly not those across rugged and mountainous trails following ridges and passes that rise up to elevations just below 13,000 feet. In Leadville, the nation’s highest incorporated town at 10,152 feet, the air is thin and the weather is unpredictable—not ideal, dreamy race conditions.

Nonetheless, in a town running out of options, Leadville decided to give it a shot. The town’s lone travel agent, Merilee Maupin, was hired on as the race director due to her experience organizing the ever popular burro races during Leadville’s Boom Days festival.

Chlouber and other members of the community went to work promoting the new event, distributing pamphlets at running stores along the Front Range in the hopes that a handful of runners would choose to brave the long and technical route.

“I never wanted to ask anybody to do anything that I wouldn’t do, that I was afraid to do.”

The first race in 1983 had 49 entrants, 10 of whom managed to cross the finish line. Among them was Chlouber himself, who traded his shovel and dynamite for sneakers and trail shoes. “In mining, as a boss, I never wanted to ask anybody to do anything that I wouldn’t do, that I was afraid to do,” said Chlouber.

So Chlouber began training, spending days and nights running through Leadville’s rough and rowdy trails. He fell in love with the mountain tops that he had spent so much time beneath as a miner, enjoying the new perspective and freedom that running granted him. Before the advent of GU, Chlouber chomped on Snickers bars for energy. He was determined to finish to prove to the skeptical that it could be done and that running 100 miles in this gritty, oxygen-deprived place just might save it.

Now, he’s completed the race 14 times, earning the prestigious 1,000 Mile belt buckle. Aside from being a miner, Chlouber had been a successful burro racer, where his endurance, grit and “ability to deal with asses,” he chuckles, served him well.


Chlouber’s 1,000 Mile belt buckle | Photo: Zoë Rom

The next year, 100 runners toed the starting line. Then, in 1985, it was featured on the TV series Wide World of Sports. “From there, it just kind of blew up,” said Chlouber.

While ultrarunning remained a fringe sport, it garnered a cult-like following of devoted practitioners. The Leadville 100 gained in popularity, partially due to the beautiful mountain vistas offered from the Collegiate Peaks and the challenge of the course’s elevation, which starts at 10,000 feet and rises to heights of 12,527 feet at Hope Pass. Less than half of participants finish and earn the much coveted Leadville 100 Buckle. The 18,168 total feet of elevation gain make this one of the most harrowing races in the country as runners struggle to traverse technical ridges late into the night. Many runners are pulled off the trail at checkpoints along the way if they fail to meet the 30-hour cutoff time. Others succumb to exhaustion, hypothermia, heat stroke, dehydration and other threats posed by the unpredictable alpine summer weather.


Leadville 2016 | Photo: Glen Delman Photography

Surprised but unphased by the popularity of his event, Chlouber saw an opportunity. In 1994, he added a mountain bike event, challenging bikers to race, yes, 100 miles over rugged mountain terrain.

This year, Leadville expects around 800 runners to bring in approximately $15 million in revenue for Lake County.

Today, both races are so popular that getting an entry is a challenge in and of itself. About 100 spots are reserved for runners who qualify through another Leadville Race Series event: 25 spots each for the Leadville Marathon, Silver Rush 50 and other events held outside of Leadville. Gold coins are distributed to runners who place well within their gender and age category, giving more coins to the more competitive categories. Otherwise, would-be 100-milers must apply for Leadville’s lottery, a system where one in three participants gains entry to the race. While Lifetime Fitness, the company that now owns the Leadville 100, does not disclose the exact number of lottery entrants, its reputation as such an iconic and difficult race has made it one of the most popular lotteries to enter.

This year, Leadville expects around 800 runners to bring in approximately $15 million in revenue for Lake County. “It’s tremendous. The influx of racers is so positive for us. It really helps us pay bills into the year,” said Adam Schuknecht, owner of City on a Hill coffee shop in Leadville. “It brings a lot of people in from all over. Throughout the year, we see people who remember us and they order our coffee online, and it’s overwhelmingly positive for us, and for Leadville.”

Outside of the money that runners spend on hotels and food, the race itself funds a scholarship fund for Leadville High School’s seniors, all of whom receive $1,000 upon graduation to pursue secondary education.

“The community is incredibly supportive,” said Chlouber. “Ninety-five percent are either out there at an aid station or cheering on the runners at the finish line.”


The race course acts as a self-guided tour that winds around wooden mine shafts and buildings that bear witness to Leadville’s past. While many are in disrepair, several look well-kept, as if they could suddenly spring back into production. The colorful soil of the trail, too, hints at the mineral wealth just beneath runners’ feet— bright yellows and deep oranges reveal Lake County’s geologic diversity.

Leadville has retained a stable population that hovers around 5,000, 300 of which are still employed in mining. Though it maintains its identity as a working class mountain town, it is now a bedroom community for ski resorts and a destination for adventure seekers. The historic downtown is lined with cheerful and eclectic cottages decorated with ski-fences and steam-punk mining paraphernalia. It’s home to the National Mining Museum and more than one old-school western saloon, just dusty enough that you can imagine it filling up with dungaree-clad miners at the end of the day.

“I love seeing new people, new businesses coming in,” said Chlouber. “It’s the strength, grit, guts and determination that’s inherent in Leadville. We’re not just going to survive, we’re thriving.”