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Attackpoint - performance and training tools for orienteering athletes

Discussion: Intro, and getting permission from property owners

in: Orienteering; General

Jun 9, 2017 1:26 PM # 
Hi, all, my name is Chris Gkikas and I am new here.

Nikolay said I wasn't a real orienteer until I had an Attackpoint account, so here I am. I do have a question, after some background about myself.

I have been running trail ultras for a few years, and live with my family in beautiful, mountainous Asheville, NC. I picked up interest in off trail bushwhacking and navigation when I was in the Barkley Marathons in 2015 (same year as Nikolay, hence the reconnection.) I recently attended a local Carolina Orienteering Klubb meet down in SC and was immediately hooked.

I am in computers for a living, and fell completely in love with the awesome technology in orienteering, and quickly began mapping using a workflow around karttapullautin, OOM, purple pen, and the Android app GPS Orienteering. This tech is overwhelming and rather intoxicating.

I've gone so deeply overboard that I've formed the Western North Carolina Orienteering Club ( and installed RG1 and RG2 and the new live GPS tracking goodies from Jagge. I lose a lot of sleep nowadays, making maps and setting courses for my rapidly growing number of friends who are catching the orienteering bug through me.

So, my question for you experienced folks ---

Can y'all offer me some advice, and ideally some sample letters or verbiage, on how to ask for permission from a property owner to do some orienteering?

So far, we have been just going guerrill-O (if this isn't a term, it should be) and assuming forgiveness will be easier than permission. We've been only "GPS points courses" with no actual controls placed, and will obviously want to change that and implement some electronic timing when we raise the funds.

My dreams and plans are growing, though, and doing legit events as a legit club will require going above board with parks, schools, forest areas, etc.

Thanks in advance. I hate to reinvent the wheel, and want to maximize my baby club's chances of getting off the ground in a sustainable way.

Gkikas (pronounced GEEK-us) in Asheville
Jun 9, 2017 1:49 PM # 
I only have a little bit of experience with this and I'm sure others will have concrete suggestions (letters, example requests, data, etc.) but my first suggestion for dealing with public land managers is to go meet with the gatekeepers in person if possible and develop a friendly relationship with them. Bring maps and your enthusiasm and be prepared with a lot of reasons why having an orienteering event on their land is good for them. (i.e., they get a cool map, more park awareness/entrance fees paid, orienteers are conscientious users of nature and will leave the place cleaner than when they arrived, yadda yadda)
Jun 9, 2017 2:18 PM # 
In the national forests, permits are often not required if not collecting money (on or off site), no signage, and limited attendance (under 75 I recall in some cases). That could be a fine way to go for a while. When approaching land managers, I'd bring examples of other clubs hosting events through that same landowner (state park system, national forest, etc.), and letters from that club vouching for you. For national forest permits, my local club found it best to get one permit for all events for the year, due to the large permit charge. National forest permits take lots of advance work. Here they have to be submitted very early in the year for the whole year, due to the public comments period and when the USFS considers such permits. Our state parks need less advance time for issuing a permit. USOF (former name of OUSA) used to have a good booklet of positive references from various land managers throughout the country. Land manners will almost certainly want hefty insurance, such as that clubs obtain through OUSA.
Jun 9, 2017 6:18 PM # 
If you haven't already, read Orienteering USA's page on Land Access. In particular, you may want to read and print out Terry Farrah's paper called "But I Was Always Taught to Stay On the Trail". Then share it with the land manager.
Going guerrilla has risks; you can loose access to future events. We had an event at a state park a while back, with proper permit and all, but then a few people got together for a small training run using the same maps. The rangers didn't like that at all.
If you encounter reluctance, try to find out what the specific issue is. It could be sensitive vegetation, nesting birds, archaeology, or whatever. Once you know what they are concerned about, you can work with them using out of bounds mapping, different scheduling, etc.
Jun 9, 2017 7:50 PM # 
Note that going permitless in national forest can be 100% legit, as long as you meet some standards about not collecting money, no signage, number of participants fewer than the limit. State parks and other landowners can be different.
Jun 9, 2017 11:22 PM # 
Meeting in person and getting to know people is definitely important. Also, be aware that many times the person responsible for permits is not the ranger with ultimate authority. We've had a lot of permit people who try to implement restrictions because they don't understand our map and they're just trying to follow the regs and make sure they don't screw up. Sometimes meeting the boss and copying them on your correspondence can yield different results.

And, be nice and say thank you.
Jun 10, 2017 2:10 PM # 
I have nothing to add re. land access -- I just want to say *welcome* to the orienteering community! You're doing an awesome job starting up a new club and getting things going. Very exciting. Keep it up!
Jun 10, 2017 2:44 PM # 
I do not have any more input but wanted to say Welcome as well. You are in a great location and a club in Western Carolina helps in filling a large geographic gap near Tennessee. You are close to two very active clubs (BOK and COK) and not too awfully far from our very active region in the Ohio Valley with ICO, OLOU, OCIN, OBLUE, COO and MVOC. Hopefully we can make it over there and see some of that region, Thanks for starting this club and I know the Orienteering community will be very supportive
Jun 10, 2017 3:10 PM # 
Yes, welcome!

Thanks, origamiguy, for sharing the Land Access link on the OUSA website.

Note that (unless you're getting your own liability insurance) for your club to have official liability insurance coverage under OUSA's umbrella you should apply to be an associate (fewer than 8 members) or regular club (greater than the minimum). There may be non-profit hoops to jump through in the future too, or you can apply to the OUSA president to be a supporting association to receive insurance coverage.

JanetT, OUSA website content manager
Jun 10, 2017 3:37 PM # 
Chris Gkikas what a great start to orienteering! Inspirational really.
Love the term guerrill-O but it has its risks and if you happen to be in charge when someone gets a snake bite or gets impaled on a stick watch out!! Their insurance company's lawyers may be coming after you.
I formed a club from scratch down in the Sarasota/ Bradenton area of Florida. One of the things I learned was that things went better with landowners when I had the map in hand and they could better visualize things. So shoot first (make the map) and ask permission later. Also it helped that 1) the Florida state parks have a mandate to encourage and increase public participation in THEIR parks. and 2) with the large amount of JROTC participation in Florida I could frame it as asking for permission to do something for youth activity.
Finally, chase down a guy named Jim Hall. He is a long time orienteer who lives in the Asheville area and travels the country looking for O events.
Jun 11, 2017 12:22 AM # 
Holy cow, what an amazing response. Thanks so much for all this information, and maybe most importantly to me, the warm welcome!

Sounds like the takeaways here are showing up in person, with map(s) and references, seeking to establish the club with OUSA for numerous benefits, a big one being liability insurance. It's all great advice and I will follow it.

@Platterpus -- it was one of Walter Siegenthaler's COK events that I attended! It was all the Kool-Aid I needed.

@gordhun -- small world, we moved to Asheville from Sarasota after spending 10 years there. I used to run at a great park right on the bay overlooking the Skyway Bridge, its name is escaping me. I will put my O-curious friends down there in touch with you. What's your club's name?

Again, thanks all for the advice and warm welcome. Have a great day!
Jun 11, 2017 7:22 AM # 
@Gkikas: The club in Sarasota is called Suncoast Orienteering. We do not have a web page but we are on facebook.
Would the park be Ft de Soto in Pinellas County? We have two maps there.
Jun 12, 2017 3:49 AM # 
Welcome, Chris. I believe folks here have covered the benefits of under-the-radar orienteering, where no infrastructure exists and no money owed. I'd like to address the next level, where you're collecting $, paying for maps, getting insurance, etc..

There are benefits to showing up with a $2 million insurance policy indemnifying the landowner against anything that might happen to any attendee at an official event. It's the first level of credibility.

The second level is to listen to the landowner's concerns. Are there areas with new plantings? Ecologically sensitive areas? Areas of concern, such as social trails that pop up like weeds that they're trying to eradicate? Even going off trail, you can still be an asset here because every participant has a map that can include out of bound areas with DQ ramifications if violated.

This adaptive approach minimizes the downside of having you on the land and possibly even off-trail. What's the upside? In COC, we've identified three:
1) Park connection. Outdoor people support outdoor activities at bond time. This builds a connection with the public that may even go as far as volunteering on their projects in a quid pro quo way.
2) Money. Permit costs are going up, due to reduced govt funding everywhere, so it's up to legit paying events like this to make up the difference.
3) Creativity. No everybody runs. Some hike, and are perfectly happy to carry a club ECObag for picking up trash. If we can go off trail, we can pick up trash off trail. How else is this going to happen? Orienteering IMPROVES the park.

This is just the beginning. OUSA has ideas about how to document best practices across clubs, and we'll be starting a discussion about that on Attackpoint...

Jun 12, 2017 9:50 AM # 
One note when meeting with park rangers is to have the park map that they are familiar with. Yes, it's less precise, but it has things like trail names and gate numbers that can help clarify your plans.
Jun 12, 2017 12:11 PM # 
I always also mention how orienteering benefits the land manager. We give them very detailed maps that may be more detailed than anything they currently have. Mappers and orienteers have found and reported such things as boundary encroachments (illegal structures, wood cutting, dumping), mis-marked property boundaries, poaching, marijuana growing, unauthorized camping and campfires, and more. Orienteers can also sometimes identify rare species, or provide an early tip about a new infestation of invasives. Managers have also used our maps as management tools, for example to remove old ruined fences that the mapper showed.

In the most extreme case, a mapper discovered a body, resulting eventually in an arrest and murder conviction. I usually don't mention the last; only the more mundane, unless they seem really curious and ask what's the most unusual or extreme thing we've found.
Jun 12, 2017 3:43 PM # 
The environmental director at Pacheco State Park was delighted to get our map. Pacheco is open oak grassland, so single trees were mapped. It gave her a good basis for a tree survey.

This discussion thread is closed.