Last night I was browsing online for a trail to run today and since I just moved to Louisiana, why not try the National Forests. Sure enough, one of the units, about an hour west of where I am, had lots of multi-use trails. Among all those trails was the Wild Azalea Trail, a national recreation trail. ‘Cool’, I thought to my self, ‘what better way to go explore my surroundings than a national recreation trail.
The Wild Azalea Trail is a little over 28 miles in length from end to end and has easyaccess along many spots, ideal for running it in segments over a period of time. Even the trail brochure plays up how perfect the trail is for this type of activity. I read some reviews online about the trail and how it was well maintained, wide single track trail, and very user friendly. A perfect trail to run.
So, woke myself up early on Sunday morning to make the drive and go run the first segment of the trail. When I arrived at the trail head on the eastern end of the trail, I found myself to be the only one in the parking lot. This should have been my first clue.
This trail is in bad shape for being deemed a national recreation trail, I don’t know if you would even want to hike it, considering how overgrown it is in spots. And forget about running or mountain biking, the trail is really rutted in spots and has many trees across it. Parts of the trail have been washed out and need to be regraded. As for the actual trail bed its self, it is covered in leaves and needles, making good footing almost impossible. I got in a much better run on the old logging roads and other forest roads. The trail never seems like it gets much use and that could be a part of the problem.
I would go on about how not user friendly this trail is, but that is not my main point here. After I was done running, I called my mom to complain about my run but she so nicely reminded me that the Forest Service has no money to perform trail maintenance and it is up to volunteer groups to help provided funds and labor to maintain the trail. She reminded me that these groups are vital to any good trail system and it doesn’t have to be limited to just runners and bikers, but can include ATV groups, horse riders, anyone who uses the trail system. The groups often put together events to showcase the trails and annual days of service to help maintain and improve the trails. The work that goes in keeps the trail and its surroundings in pristine shape for those who visit. These groups are the life, blood, and soul of the trails.
So if you are part of such a group, thank you for what you do. You are the ones who make others recreational experiences enjoyable. You make repeat trail users. You make lovers of the outdoors.
Back to the Wild Azalea Trail, with a little work this trail would be a world class trail to hike bike and run on and I would probably frequent it many times.
If anyone can put me in touch with a group that does such in Central Louisiana, it would be much appreciated. I need to start paying back what I have taken for granted for the past 10 years.