Tread Lightly: Environmentally Friendly Off-Roading

Tread Lightly: Environmentally Friendly Off-Roading

Story by Stefanie Galeano-Zalutko

Talk about poking the bear…the blatant disregard, or perhaps unsettling ignorance, of the human race has environmentalists up in arms about topics like climate change, emissions control, recycling, recreational disturbance, and habitat conservation—and rightfully so. Failure to obey proper trail etiquette (be respectful to everyone and everything you come across and remember to use marked trails, keep right, slow down when passing people or animals, yield to uphill traffic, etc.) and leave Mother Nature in a better state than what she was found, has these groups eying up the wheeling community.

The writing is on the wall for recreationalists: clean up your act, or we’ll clean it up for you. And it’ll come at the cost of closing off public lands to enthusiasts such as yourselves. After all, it’s not nature’s responsibility to dispose of the mess after we’re gone. As the Tread Lightly! foundation teaches us, every impression counts and a little consideration goes a long way. Take the Eastern Ontario Trail Blazers, for example, who pride themselves on being an environmentally-responsible club that adheres as much as possible to the Tread Lightly! philosophy. As for the pressure being applied from activists, “we’ve certainly felt that crunch locally, with some areas being closed-off to motorized vehicles, but we’ve taken steps to present a more positive outlook of the sport,” said club member Paul Dufresne.


Taking Charge

Over the years, groups like The Ontario Federation of 4 Wheel Drive (OF4WD) have formed “to represent the interests of the 4×4 community and ensure the long-term sustainability of four-wheel drive recreation in the province of Ontario. We work to achieve this through user education, advocacy work, and cooperative trail management and maintenance programs.” The provincial umbrella organization—comprised of nearly 30 4×4 clubs such as Lake Simcoe 4x4s and individual members—promotes safe and responsible wheeling, protects access to Crown Land under the free-use policy of the Public Lands Act (Ontario), and maintains an inventory of the 4×4/multi-use trails.

“As a recognized public land use stakeholder, we actively participate in trails and land use consultations. An increasingly important area of activity for us is in the area of trail maintenance and use management. We have ongoing trail maintenance programs running with other trail organizations (including OFSC member clubs, Haliburton ATV Association, Kawartha ATV Association, and others). Trail and community land clean-ups have been a mainstay activity of our organization,” says OF4WD.

Name brands like Rugged Ridge are doing their part as well to preserve off-road trails for generations to come, and it starts with a message of respect—for the Great Outdoors and each other. The accompanying list includes a comprehensive collection of suggestions from Tread Lightly!, OF4WD, Central Ontario Off Road Jeep Club, and Manitoba Public Insurance.

  • Properly equipping a vehicle and practicing responsible driving techniques are important to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience, as well as protect the area(s) being explored
  • Be mindful of natural habitats—avoid environmentally-sensitive areas such as wetlands and nesting grounds, and be sure to yield to any wildlife on the trail
  • Never trespass private property to wheel, and when doing so on public lands, always ensure you’re on an approved marked trail
  • Remain on the trail and away from areas that are easily damaged by churning wheels
  • Travel at speeds appropriate for the terrain and always maintain visibility
  • Constantly scan the path ahead of you to pick the safest route around large holes, ruts, bumps, guy wires, railway tracks, culverts, fences, posts, debris, and other obstacles or hazards
  • Avoid dangerous terrain such as steep slopes, marshes, and swamps
  • Drive over, not around, obstacles to avoid widening the trail
  • Straddle ruts, gullies, and washouts even if they are wider than your vehicle
  • Cross streams only at designated fording points, where the road crosses the stream
  • When conditions are dry in areas where you’re riding, use caution because sparks from your off-road vehicle can ignite grass, branches, or other combustible material
  • In soft terrain, go easy on the gas to avoid wheel spin, which can cause rutting and disturb the surrounding area
  • Stop frequently to check areas around the engine and exhaust for debris, and carefully dispose of any debris found
  • Practice minimum impact camping by using established sites and camping 200 feet from water resources and trails
  • Carry out what you bring in—observe proper sanitary waste disposal or pack your waste out and bring a trash bag on your vehicle to pick up any litter (left by you or others)
  • Protect the sound-scape by preventing unnecessary noise created by a poorly tuned vehicle or revving the engine
  • Before and after a ride, wash your vehicle to reduce the spread of invasive species


Still, there is even more that can be done to ensure the sustainability of both Mother Nature and the four-wheeling community who adores her. Tread Trainer, an extension of the Tread Lightly! movement, is:

“A monumental step towards successfully increasing the public’s awareness and encouraging responsible recreation practices across the nation, even around the world. The Tread Trainer program provides training opportunities to a multitude of champions willing to spread the message of ethical and responsible recreation. The champions that will be empowered with the Tread Lightly! message include, but are not limited to, federal and state resource managers, club representatives, certified safety instructors of off-highway vehicles, and other conservation groups. These volunteers are empowered with useful techniques and skills in presenting Tread Lightly!’s principles, and information on how to incorporate Tread Lightly! into their own programs. All participants in the Tread Trainer program will have the ability to present Tread Lightly!’s message to groups of individuals at enthusiast and community events, schools, and other appropriate venues throughout the country.”

The program was created on the premise of teaching 10 to pay it forward to 10 in order to reach 100. “Based on this theory, if 100 individuals are trained to be Tread Trainers every year for five years, then Tread Lightly! will make relevant contact with approximately one million people during that time,” continued Tread Trainer.

Countless four-wheelers are engaged in the international debate about whether 4×4 activities should be allowed to continue or not, and they’re fighting with all they have to maintain those rights. Are you pulling your weight?

Categories: Features, Off-Road Plus