Thursday, September 16, 2010

Getting the Most Out of Public Land and Water, Part II

With all due respect to author / game warden Mike Bradshaw (RIP) and his colleagues everywhere, I have absolutely NO intention of spending my next day off by becoming the next edition, chapter, or even a footnote of your Chronicles
Alright, so you've read Part I, my most recent post. You've got a list of public properties in the area where you fish, hunt, kayak, birdwatch, or whatever. You've done a little homework and confirmed that they are more than municipal bus lots, or the school board's desk storage warehouse. I'm confident that you have not heard of or seen all of the properties on your list, and once you've looked at online mapping to see what the land use "might be," you might be getting excited. But you know disturbingly little about the property, whether or not it's truly public, what the access may be, and what activities are expressly prohibited, expressly encouraged, and all of the activities inbetween that are neither prohibited or encouraged (my coup de gras).
Let's review our goal: to identify high quality public access that allows us to have a safe, legal, high quality outdoor experience. And to go out and do it! So what does high quality really mean? Again, let's take a step back and look at the major reasons why people avoid using public land:
  1. Safety concerns (not knowing who's out there and where they are)
  2. Quality of facilities (neglect, vandalism, overuse vs. overly restrictive access)
  3. Quality of habitat (concerns about overuse, no funds for restoration/management)
  4. Concerns about other users' ethics & restraint
  5. Higher likelihood of getting ticketed for a minor infraction, i.e. trailer lights, PFDs
  6. Above factors make it difficult to plan an outting based on changing weather conditions (tides, winds, cold fronts, offshore winds, high flows, etc)
Does that about sum it up for you, when you choose to go to private land (or stay home), rather than try out the local state park or WMA? To give it a try anyway - to access these properties that your tax dollars helped pay for, you really have two options to deal with the 6 major bummers listed above:
  1. Accept it and plow through
  2. Accept it and find away around that issue

The first option really applies to things like facility quality/access quality and the likelihood of having a friendly encounter with a Conservation Officer. The second is really what I'd like to focus on - how can we plan public land outings based on variable conditions, unknown or high user pressure, safety concerns, and poor habitat (or the perception by other users that poor habitat exists)?

Get smart. That's the answer. First - and this could be a post unto itself - find out if your planned activity is expressly allowed, expressly prohibited, or something inbetween. I've surfed, fished, and hunted in many public places where the land manager had never conceived of seeing a surfer, angler, or hunter. Admittedly, I've had mixed results ranging from outstanding to debacle to pure rage. Many instances of the latter two types could have been avoided by a quick call ahead to confirm (or convince) that my activity is allowable. At this point, you should know what's legal and where the "gray area" is.....and whether you want to tread there. It gets easier after this point.

Do some additional research on the properties in which you have an interest - one of my key questions is always "Can I get public access to a sweet looking area where other people will be too lazy to go?" Successfully answering this question often eliminates the "safety" and "habitat quality" issues.

For instance, does accessing a public hunting area require you to wait out the tide to boat under a low road bridge? That's promising.

What about a public beach with miles of shoreline but only one parking lot? You got something against walking?

What about a county park where nobody fishes because you have to have an extra County fishing license for $5. Or because it costs $5 to get into the park. I guarantee you that such a place will have better fishing than the public spot with free access. My brother found that out for himself last year by paying $12/hour for a county boat rental. $25 got him the best 2 hours of fishing he had all summer.

All in all, folks, I'm talking about work. This is radically different than the way that outdoorsfolk usually consider public land, which is, "Hey we show up, load our guns/cameras/rods/etc in the parking lot, and walk down that well-signed gravel path into the field/water, right?"

Nope. At least not here on the east coast. Don't get me wrong - people - thousands of them - do just that. But do you really think that the best surfing, fishing, or hunting is in the first/closest spot to the parking lot/boat ramp, and always on saturdays? Apparently, many of us do!

If you want a high quality experience on public land, you'll need to put in some time before you ever show up, and you need to be prepared to go where others dare walk 3 miles down the beach, kayak upstream .75 miles to a duck hole everyone ignores, or to stalk 2 miles into a public property to find the perfect fallow field surrounded by giant oak trees.

In Part III, we'll talk about amplifying your efforts by going when others don't. See ya then!


Leigh, Andrea Leigh Gil said...

Many excellent points here!!!! I especially liked the one about the possibility being ticketed for minor infractions... seriously something that I am sure many people wouldn't have ever even considered... well that is at least until it happens to them. Which reminds me of certain public roads I tend to avoid. lol

Kirk Mantay said...

It's a real risk if you use public land at all, and there's no real way around it, no matter how deep you go into the public marsh or woods out here.

In MD and VA, wardens prefer to "police" by sitting at the boat ramp or parking lot all day and waiting for people to which point, every square inch of your belongings, your cooler, your gun, your ammo box, and less often, your vehicle, are searched.

IMHO the only way to deal with this is to acknowledge it might happen and make sure all your stuff is straight, from licenses to trailer lights, to the registration on your car not being expired (they love that one!), to making sure there's not an empty beer can to be found in your boat, ATV, or truck.

What did you think of the rest of the post? Useful at all?

Leigh, Andrea Leigh Gil said...

Been out of pocket for a few days, so I am playing catch up. Sorry. I found your post very informative.

As far as hunting I have to say I would still be pretty nervous hunting on public because ultimately it doesn't matter how careful I am, how many I's I dot and how many T's I cross, someone else maybe in the woods that doesn't give a crap about following the rules, whether it be rules of conduct or basic hunting laws. Which in some cases we have ran into the same issues when using private land trips. (but on a less reoccurring basis)

As far as public water use, for water recreations I feel better about fishing and boating on public water because the idiots aren't in camouflage. We always steer clear of other boaters, and follow the laws of the land and of safety. But thats also not to say that we haven't had issues but those have been very far and in between. My point here is, in public water... I participate in water recreation with very little worry. In the woods, it still unsettles me.

Ben G. said...

I totaly agree if you do the extra work you will typically have more sucess than others on public land. Just rember you arn't the only one who is willing to do the exta work so be prepaired b/c you may run into others.

Don't forget to hunt the stuff realy close to the parkinglot as well because others tend to all think the samething. Now way would there be any thing this close to the parking lot. From expirence I was amazed.

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