This morning was maybe my second or third visit of the summer to what used to be the bread and butter of my trail running existence: the mountain bike trails at Memorial Park, aka, the Ho Chi Minh trails, aka, The Ho. By this time last summer, in the middle of the worst drought in the city's modern history, it was becoming clear that trees would be lost. By fall, as I looked out over vast swaths of brown, dead pines from my office window, the extent of the devastation was painfully obvious. Running through the Ho now is almost unbearably sad. Roads as wide as freeways have been carved deep into the woods, leading to multiple acre-sized clear cuts where dead pines are stacked and industrial-sized wood chippers process anything that can't be sold off.
The trails that ran through these sections (Yellow, Purple, Roller Coaster, Log Road) are still there, more or less, but what they ran through is not. The trails further to the east (Renegade and Green) are largely untouched, but their time is coming. The group is planning trail work for Renegade, in my book once the finest trail out there - an isolated cruiser, with enough ups and downs to keep things fun, and a couple of spots that were objectively beautiful. It's a laudable impulse, but I have to wonder what's the point? Its fate is visible half a mile to the west and it's not good.
Once all the dead trees and snags are cleared, replanting will begin. At that point, one suspects that the trails will be cleared of a lot of the debris that currently makes running them so tedious. It's just that there won't be much in the way of woods to run through. Not for a very long time. As the crew continued to run through there this morning, I couldn't help feel as if everyone was in a state of denial. That no one could quite bring themselves to accept that our Saturday morning home for so many years had been gutted.
Some people say it's useless to look for blame in situations like this. And they may be correct. After all, it won't make the forest reappear. Still, one has to ask who was responsible for minding the store all these years. Years when invasive species proliferated unchecked, slowly weakening the native pines and hardwoods, leaving them open to disease. Sure, some tree loss was inevitable in a once-in-a-lifetime drought like last year. But not this. Huntsville State Park endured the same summer as Memorial Park, and it definitely lost some trees, but nothing remotely approaching the loss in the Ho. Then again, Huntsville has been managed as a forest. Invasives kept in check, undergrowth cleared regularly. Memorial? Well, in a moniker rich in irony, Memorial Park has a "Living Bridge." And an outer loop around the golf course that has to rank as one of the single biggest wastes of money in the park. And a running center is just around the corner! Great.
Meanwhile, I have little interest in running there anymore. I admit it, a big reason I enjoy trail running is to be immersed in peaceful, sometimes beautiful places. That kind of place doesn't exist anymore at the park. R.I.P., Ho. It was fun while it lasted.