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Attackpoint - performance and training tools for orienteering athletes

Discussion: Passing the "no off trails" hurdle

in: Orienteering; General

Apr 16, 2024 4:04 AM # 
Next week I will be meeting with a park manager to introduce the idea of holding orienteering events at their park. I have a base map of the park, but prior to field checking it I would like to confirm that I can hold regular orienteering meets there that would specifically allow off trail running. Although the park’s website does not mention anything about not allowing hikers to go off trails, it seems as if they do not see the need to explicitly mention it, as people usually simply stay on trails. I have a couple of indications that getting permission to let orienteers go off trail may cause some backlash and would like to ask for suggestions on how to tackle the matter of requesting that we be allowed to run and compete off trail. A few ideas: suggesting that more particular areas will be defined as off limits by definition, presenting research that shows that the effects of orienteering is minimal (I would love to get references from anyone), offer to limit the number of participants…All in all I’m looking for solid arguments. Any help is welcomed!
Apr 16, 2024 6:18 AM # 
This article is a few years old, but I think it still is pertinent. Terry Farrah is now at Cascade, but she used to live in the Bay Area. She's Eric Bone's partner.
Apr 16, 2024 8:06 AM # 
Yes, gather all the information you can but I'd strongly advise not to raise the subject.
If they say stay on trails then agree to that for the first time and build their confidence. You are a stranger to them bringing a strange activity, No park manager in their right mind is going to throw a door wide open and face some backlash from above.
Keep in mind that the no off-trail rule is not always just about protecting the flora and fauna. They worry about people going off trail and getting lost or getting injured, snake-bitten or worse. Not only is that a problem for those injured, it means the park has to call out rescue personnel and fill out reports for their 'risk managers'.
Ski-O, Bike-O, Equestrian-O are prfectly enjoyable sports without ever leaving the trails. Foot-O on trails with well-set courses can be the same.
If it comes down to negotiating go and no-go off trail areas then you may find common ground with the park managers. They'll want wetlands protected. Your orienteers won't want to be trudging through wetlands. They'll want to protect sensitive escarpments. Your orienteers won't want to be falling off cliffs.
Apr 16, 2024 9:51 AM # 
Terje Mathisen:
This is a recurring theme, even though it has been proven numerous times at the largest orienteering events in the world (O-Ringen, Jukola, Tiomila) that even 10-25 thousand orienteers going cross-country in a relatively limited area, will still not leave any significant traces just a year or two later. For a US-style event with well under 1000 participants, this is a total non-issue.
Apr 16, 2024 9:57 AM # 
I think erosion can be quite different depending on the type of soil, so even if it is a non-issue in most scandi terrain types you can't rule out the possibility it being an issue elsewhere, even with just 1000 participants.
Apr 16, 2024 11:30 AM # 
We know that it is a non-issue, but the park staff don't know that. If pushed, ou might explain that a typical US event has about the impact of letting a herd of deer run around the woods all day.

To be fair, it does still amaze me that hundreds of thousands of orienteers run in terrain every week with hardly any personal injuries.

So, explain the nature of the sport and type of people who will come, but like gordhun says dont explicitly raise a non-issue. Once you run the first event, they'll have more confidence - try not to set legs where there's an obvious attackpoint where everyone will leave the trail into undergrowth or marsh.
Apr 16, 2024 2:06 PM # 
check out if they have Geocaches. It will at least give you a feel about how much they are inclined to make small exceptions for a much more impactful off-trail activity. nothing to raise with them, though , if many Geocaches present and allowed.
Apr 16, 2024 5:30 PM # 
try to understand if the park manager has specific concerns that you can address. At one or our local parks, a new park manager was concerned about ecologically sensitive spots, in particular smaller stream junctions. We agreed that we would pay particular attention to avoid these sensitive spots in our course designs, and that we would share course maps for the park manager review in advance. Ever since, we have had no issues with events at this park.
Apr 16, 2024 5:58 PM # 
First I'd ask if permission or a permit is required to host an activity in the Park for x expected participants.
If no, then all good.
If yes, then ask what is the process for permission or the permit. Get the paperwork and read it over before asking too many questions or opening to many other doors.

In my case, I need to get a permit.
When they ask for the nature or objective of the event I write, participants use a map and a compass to find checkpoints.
When they ask for the proposed area, I mention park areas that are identified on the Park map such as the trailhead and trail network areas by name. When they also ask for a map of the area to be used, I include their park map with the area circled or highlighted by colour.
When the ask how can participants be identified, I write participants will be using maps to navigate, while walking and running.
When they ask why should the event take place in the park, I write that the Park has excellent orienteering terrain and there are accurate orienteering maps of it.
When they ask, about structures or equipment will be used/erected for this event I state orienteering control flags will be temporally displayed at various locations and maybe some tables, chairs and pop up tents near the parking area at each location if we aren't using an area that already has Park picnic tables.
Whey they ask about how the park environment or park visitors be affected about what efforts be taken to mitigate the effects I state things like, usually in (x month) there are not many other park visitors, x locations have large parking lots, the environmental impact of orienteering is very minimal, other park visitors may see participants with maps, participants start at different times and choose their routes between checkpoints so there is no large groupings of people outside to the staging area.
When they ask about rules and regulations I state, that the participants must respect the environment and not damage any property, that participants must respect other park visitors and that participants must return to the finish before course closing time.
On risks, I write the likes of loose footing, falling, animals, weather exposure, ticks, etc. and that participants are advised of risks, sign waivers and must carry whistles and that the orienteering controls are not placed in dangerous locations.
I state someone will be present during the event at the staging area, first aid kit on site, cellphone for emergencies.
If there is other comment section I write positive comments such as we will supply garbage and recycling bags and take them away.
Apr 16, 2024 6:04 PM # 

Just a hint. Park rangers are typically simple people who like dogs, being outdoor, hunting, fishing etc. They tend to dislike uptight individuals who speak like paralegals.
If you try that, they may become nervous and suspicious, and as a result find a reason to deny, just because. Good luck
Apr 16, 2024 6:45 PM # 
Pink Socks:
The park manager likely doesn't know anything about the sport of orienteering, or if they do, it might not be an accurate understanding (eg: only straightline compass bearings from Boy Scout days). Some of this stuff is basic to us, but completely unknown to them.

Things to mention, or at least have "in your back pocket" depending on how the conversation goes:

-- Orienteering is done off-trail all over the world, in tens of thousands of locations, and in all sorts of environments. List some nearby or similar venues that allow orienteering.

-- Bring a control flag/stand. Show that it will be easily visible and that participants won't need to disturb anything to find it.

-- Orienteering is a sport about independent navigation and route-finding, and that participants start at intervals, to prevent a line of people all taking the same exact routes.

-- Legs between control sites are unique to one particular event, so there's no recurring impact over time. Specific control sites are not used multiple times per year (and likely more infrequent than that). Specific control sites are often uninteresting to non-orienteers (ie: we're not creating a new path to a waterfall).

-- Acknowledge that sensitive areas can be marked out-of-bounds on the map and that participants are not allowed to go there.

-- See if there are any geocaches in the park. If so, those have a recurring impact over time. Also see if other off-trail activities are allowed (eg: mushroom foraging).

-- Insurance covers the event, waivers are signed, participants are required to carry whistles, event staff ensures that everyone makes it back.
Apr 16, 2024 7:12 PM # 
There are some really good stratregies coming forward here. Would be a great idea for someone to collect and organize all and file with OUSA.

When you are going to go to the park authorities find someone on the 'inside' to help be your champion. In my case it has been as simple as asking a ranger 'what can we do to get this event approved?' In his strange way, Yurets is somewhat correct.

Be prepared: I know a club that went before the park authorities. They had a successful history of decades of orienteering in that park. They were well versed on all the studies but the authorities had a simple question: "If we say yes to you how do we say no to everyone else?" Everything they needed for an answer was in their report about a controlled activity with site approval by the park having been taking place for several years, insurance, safety procedures all the things that set orienteering events apart from everyone from MTBers to mushroom foragers. You say no to the others until they can come up with orienteering level procedures.
What is that park's most serious stated concern? Sensitive plants and some rare frogs and turtles that MIGHT be there.. Well come the first frost the life force of the plants and those cold blooded reptiles are well ensconsed under ground and under the marshes. Will the club go back and ask at least for a cold weather exemption? Nope. To them no means no. Well it is true that if you give up asking then the no will always stay a no.
Apr 16, 2024 7:35 PM # 
You do have to be aware that lots of our popular areas really are overused and overstressed. This is especially in the western US, where space is plentiful but private land ownership pushes everyone to the same handful of high-use areas. The key feature that can make orienteering less impactful is that we disperse our impact in atypical ways. Typical park visitors tend to cut off trails consistantly in the same areas, which causes cummulative damage faster than the landscape can recover, especially in some of the more fragile alpine and desert terrains. We can mitigate this concerns by choosing unique checkpoints far that are far off the beaten paths, choosing new checkpoints each year, and changing up the directions of attack for different courses. But we should strive to minimize environmental damage in our course-setting. Make sure that starts and finishes occur on durable surfaces that can tolerate the high density of traffic. Avoid legs that cut across sensitive features. Don't tempt people to cut-corners at switchbacks. Set legs with multiple alternate routes to disperse the impact. The intermediate level courses and permenant courses are probably the most difficult to set in a low-impact fashion.
Apr 16, 2024 7:39 PM # 
BTW, many of those points were raised in the link by origamiguy. If you can't open that link, it's because the wiki-address finishes with an elipses... which doesn't transfer when you click the link.

You can find it by clicking the hyperlink from their FAQ.
Apr 16, 2024 10:29 PM # 
In our part of the world public officials have partially grasped the notion that the "green gym" concept is good for the whole of the population. Public health benefits, both physical and mental, can be had by encouraging the taxpayers who fund public land management to get out there into the natural landscape. The land mangers get to demonstrate that their work has public value.

Here is a list of bullet points that I have collected from past correspondence with public officials, in no particular order.

Orienteering is the only sport which is simultaneously a cognitive and physical challenge.

Orienteering is a pastime which encourages greater development of attention and perception.

Orienteering improves spatial awareness and the ability to visualize outcomes and actively exercises and expands the hippocampus.

Orienteering is a game in which all ages and standards compete simultaneously, making it fun for families.

Orienteering is an egalitarian sport where spectators and helpers are also able to enter the event alongside the elite.

Orienteering encourages an ability to problem solve while under pressure.

Orienteering encourages resilience within individuals.

Orienteering has flexible formats which can entertain both individuals and teams.

Orienteering attracts people who haven’t thrived at “traditional” sports.

Orienteering competitions require group and community cooperation.

Orienteering is a participation sport not a spectator sport.

Orienteering increases an appreciation of nature.

Orienteering is a fun way of living in the moment.

Orienteering has no antisocial behavior history connected with it, unlike mainstream sports.

Orienteering teaches and practices skills which are important to the whole of society in times of national emergency.

What orienteering is not is some kind of treasure hunt game, with random wandering.
Apr 16, 2024 11:15 PM # 
might want to rephrase that first one without using the word "only"
Apr 17, 2024 3:17 AM # 
Re what David communicated to the authorities about orienteering, it is all correct.
And that is precisely why this sport is doomed, and may soon be outlawed. The rulers of the world do not want to see a large group of physically strong, independently and critically thinking problem solvers capable to challenge their Agenda. It is a clear danger for them. They much prefer sheeple who ask no questions, just consume “news” and form “opinions” by listening to NPR, watching PBS, and reading the Guardian.
Apr 17, 2024 9:33 PM # 
Thank you everyone - great comments! I do intend to facilitate that meeting in a manner that would introduce the sport in its most "minimal impact" aspects but the off trails issue will need to be discussed as I do not want to sweep it under the rug and just hope for the best. In fact - if I get a hard no to go off trails then this would mean a no-go for field checking and holding events there. There are other potential venues that we are eyeing with no restrictions in sight. Having said that, I do believe that we will be able to find a common ground and negotiate something that would be a win-win to all sides. Stay tuned - I will let you know how it goes and what insights I come up with. Any other recommendations are welcomed!
Apr 17, 2024 10:15 PM # 
I recently asked for and received permission to map and host an orienteering event at an area that I'd been told by many people would never allow off-trail activities. My approach was to write up a proposal that explained what we wanted to do and tried to address all possible concerns in advance. Based on feedback from the land manager I am fairly positive the written document was a large factor in receiving permission. Happy to share it with you if you'd like, but of course this is n=1 and YMMV.
Apr 22, 2024 2:39 PM # 
You might want to mention the benefits of having a detailed map of the area that the park can use for their benefit.
Apr 23, 2024 4:38 AM # 
Cristina - I tried to email you a few days ago. I am not sure that I got your email right though. Feel free to send me what you have, this sounds helpful. You should have my email from SWSW 2024. Thanks.
Apr 24, 2024 1:20 AM # 
Adding to dofishman - mappers and course setters find and report to the park managers things that they want to know about - such as boundary encroachments, poaching, illegal logging or growing, unauthorized campers and fires, etc. A couple of my more unusual reports to park managers included the dumping of dead hogs from an adjacent farm, and the theft of a large boulder (equipment tracks from a leased agricultural field). One of the more exciting was when I led a ranger to an illegal bait station and hunting stand, and we surprised the poacher just as he was climbing over the park fence!
May 2, 2024 5:04 PM # 
Aviad, how did your meeting turn out?
May 2, 2024 10:58 PM # 
Aviad, I am also curious about the outcome.

PS: I hope you are doing well and staying safe.
May 4, 2024 3:24 AM # 
I met with the executive director of the park today. As I expected, off-trailing was his main concern, given past experience that he had. We spent the good part of the hour discussing that however the outcome was that we got approved for mapping, off-trailing and holding events there, all under reasonable limitations.'s a go!

So what did I do? I came up with a very elaborative presentation on multiple issues related to organizing O-events and the interface with the parks' management. Regarding off-trailing - 90% of the content on those slides came from this thread, so I can't be grateful enough to everyone who chipped in. This is a great example of how this community of orienteers help each other and helps the sport. I had two slides on off-trailing, below is the content from those, hoping that others can use that in the future.

PS - For various reasons I am not mentioning the exact location of this venue, at least not until we have a fully field-checked map, but I will do so in the future.

[Slide 1] Off-trailing
- Orienteering is done off-trail all over the world, in tens of thousands of locations, and in all sorts of environments. Various studies indicate of minimal to no harm to the environment
- Orienteers are an environmentally conscious group
- Geocaching is similar in off-trailing requirements and is already happening here
- Insurance covers the event, waivers are signed, event staff ensures that everyone finishes the event
- Mappers and course setters occasionally identify and report to the park managers things they may want to be alerted to - such as boundary encroachments, poaching, illegal logging or growing, unauthorized campers and fires, etc.
- [ A list of venues within 100 miles that are similar in characteristics and hold regular orienteering events]

[Slide 2] Off-Trailing – Mitigation by Course Design
- Participants are distributed between several different courses
- Runners are not following the same route as each other through the terrain so most of the competition area sees only a few participants over the course of the day
- Starts and finishes occur on durable surfaces that can tolerate the high density of traffic
- Legs between control sites are unique to each particular event, so there's no recurring impact over time
- Specific control sites are rarely used multiple times between events
- Specific control sites are often uninteresting to non-orienteers
- Prohibited areas can be marked out-of-bounds on the map so participants avoid those areas
- Avoid legs that cut across sensitive features
- Set legs with multiple alternate routes to disperse the impact
- We would share course maps, waivers, insurance certificates, etc. in advance for the park manager review
May 6, 2024 6:33 PM # 
Thank you for sharing. It is very useful, for some of us here. I feel the meeting might have been a bit intimidating for the executive director.

Next time during a dispute in Walmart at a register I will ask for an executive director
May 9, 2024 10:31 AM # 
It's great to hear about your slides, and that your presentation worked! We have been thinking of creating something similar for our club, and this is all really helpful.
May 17, 2024 12:26 PM # 
Very useful, thanks!

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