Public Lands: A Human and Dog’s Outdoor Playground
Story and Photos Contributed by Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa
For more than two decades, I have had the great pleasure and opportunity to explore America’s public lands and wild places in the company of my dogs. In 1996, I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. I found a dog along the way in Tennessee and spent the next four months walking north along the green corridor of public land that makes up the Appalachian Trail. Over the summers during college I helped protect the Appalachian Trail with my dog Erwin. After graduation, I took a cross-country road trip with Erwin while we moved to Oregon, and we stopped at iconic places including the Badlands National Park, where we were awoken at night with a small herd of buffalo grazing outside our tent — a moment I will never forget.
Since that trip, I have explored the West with Erwin before his passing and now with my dog Karluk. We have spent countless days and numerous miles walking through wild areas in states such as Idaho, Montana, Washington, Oregon, and California.
What I love most about public lands and going backpacking with Karluk is the escape it allows us from our everyday life and routine. For me it’s an escape from our ever increasingly busy world of emails, social media, and commitments to organizations. For Karluk, it’s an escape from city life. This is where he can walk beside me off a leash, smell nature’s glorious scents, swim in a lake when he gets too hot, and sleep out under the stars. Karluk is getting older and doesn’t hike the long miles like when he was young, but get him out on the trail and he acts and moves like he is 2 years old again. I can see the change in his smile as we set off into the woods.
All one must do these days is skim the news to see how much our public lands are coming under threat of no longer being public. In the last nine months, we have seen a variety of bills introduced in Washington, D.C. that propose everything from removing federal enforcement officers on Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service lands to the sale of certain public lands – neither of which have so far come to pass. Most recently came the review period of our national monuments to see if they should remain, be shrunk or just be eliminated altogether.
What does this mean for all of us? It could mean a loss of access to these pristine and wild lands and an increase in ways people and industries will try to exploit them. For Karluk it could mean losing his outdoor playground and fresh crystal spring water he likes to lap up on a warm summer day while hiking. For me it means a loss of treasures we can never regain.
There are many reasons why I care about keeping public lands in public hands. Public lands are open for everyone to use, no matter their socioeconomic status. It’s these spaces that everyone can enjoy in their own way and provide a low-cost way for families to spend time together.
America’s public lands are also unlike anything else in the world. Last year I hiked with many Europeans along the Continental Divide Trail. When we would come along a pristine mountain lake, they would stare in awe. “Where we come from,” they said, “any spot like this would be developed with numerous houses and resorts. Your wilderness is so vast and pristine.”
I enjoy knowing we have these wild places. Even when I am sitting at my desk working or living in a city and dealing with the daily grind, I find solace in the fact that we as a nation have had the foresight to preserve public lands for all future generations to enjoy. This fact alone often brings a smile to my face when I reflect on the true wild spaces I have walked through such as the Bob Marshall Wilderness or the Sierra Mountain Range.
Over the past nine months I have personally had a vested interest in fighting the good fight to preserve our wild places and ensure that future generations of Americans have the same opportunity I have had to see wilderness on its own unspoiled terms. As the president of the American Long Distance Hiking Association-West, I encouraged my members to make their voices heard. During our annual Rucks (weekend workshops for new people to learn about long-distance hiking) we ran a campaign for our members to write postcards to their representatives in D.C. letting them know they want their public places kept public forever.
There is hope. I encourage each one of you to write your representatives in D.C. and let them know how you feel. Tell them about a trip you took and about the experience you had in a small town enjoying a meal and a shower after a week in the woods. These economic impacts from recreation are helping save small-town America, and that speaks to those in D.C. making decisions.
I know Karluk and I are still going to get out as much as we can to enjoy the public lands of the Northwest and savor every day we are lucky enough to walk upon pristine wilderness, sleeping under the stars at night watching the Milky Way overhead.
Portland, Oregon resident and Ruffwear ambassador Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa has hiked over 6,000 miles with his canine companions over the years. He is a sought-after speaker, teaching people about responsible backcountry use with their dog, ultra-light hiking and a variety of hiking-related topics. You can find out more about his adventures with his dog on his website, https://www.allgoodsk9adventures.com/.