A healthy nation requires a healthy population, and we need venues where people can do trail runs or leisurely walks for free (actually not really for free; we are also paying for it by way of taxes).
In the past, easy mountains like Manalmon, Maculot and Batulao have fulfilled this role, but now guides are being required. I reiterate my appeal to LGUs to stop requiring guides for all hikers in easy mountains – maybe except for first timers, solo hikers, and other special cases. But not for everyone. I repeat: my appeal is for easy mountains like Maculot and not for all mountains.
Safety concerns are understandable but there are other solutions, like having rangers to watch over campsites, proper briefing and orientation, and closing the mountain judiciously i.e. during the months or weeks with heavy rains, before a typhoon – not the knee-jerk reactionary closure we see in the past whenever something bad happens. We must also have the maturity to accept that accidents do happen, even in places where utmost care has been done to prevent them.
There are many ways to help locals that don’t impinge on the freedom of hikers, and that don’t add to the unnecessary financial burden for hikers. These include patronizing products and services at the trailhead. Also, there will always be a demand for guides – a voluntary, not a compulsory one.
Those who will point to other countries as an argument for compulsory guideship are way off the mark: in fact in a vast majority of trails in many parts of the world, like the Appalachian Trail or even Mt. Fuji, you can hike for free, and I say this from experience. Obviously this doesn’t include high-altitude mountains, or technical trails. But I repeat: we are discussing easy mountains like Maculot.
Consultations must be done with the local community and the hiking community before implementing any changes in policy. Our demand for accountability and transparency in registration fees, among other issues, should be listened to by LGUs.
Most importantly, we need a national government that recognizes the importance of the outdoors, as a venue for making the people healthy, as a home for various communities, and as an important treasure that we must protect.
This recognition must lead to the identification of free outdoor areas for every city, and a well-regulated, well-supported, properly-managed system of National Parks where the people can be encouraged to enjoy the outdoors responsibly.
October 5, 2015