As a pilot and outdoor enthusiast, there are few things more enjoyable than the combination of these two activities. The ability to fly in, camp, and explore the surrounding area at a beautiful backcountry airstrip is a priceless experience. Many of these airstrips that we know and love were built in years past when backcountry airstrips played a vital role in supporting industry and homesteading in remote areas. They were built amongst some of the country’s most breathtaking backdrops and allow access in to areas that would be considered out of reach for most people. With mounting regulations, liability concerns, and environmental opposition it is important that these special airstrips are maintained and protected for future use. Whether you live in Maine or California; your help is needed to ensure that backcountry airstrips remain for future generations.
There are already plenty of local, state, and national organizations that are established for maintenance and protection of backcountry airstrips. Most of these hard working organizations are comprised up of volunteers like you and I that donate time and resources. It is essential that backcountry and recreational aviation is a part of state and national organizations. I would strongly suggest that you take the time and see what your state is working on, and how you can help. The worst thing the backcountry pilot community can do is to sit idle and hope the next pilot will do something. The Recreational Aviation Foundation (RAF) always needs more support to tackle legal and liability issues in Washington D.C. and throughout the country. Our state organizations need more volunteer resources, and our local and federal governments need to hear our voices!
While some states have more formal pilot organizations than others, sometimes backcountry interests are not always at the forefront. For example, here in Colorado a small group of pilots have recently taken action to fight for backcountry and recreational aviation in our home state. Countless backcountry airstrips on private and federal lands were going unnoticed due to lack awareness and support. As part of our efforts to re-open and protect these airstrips, we had a member join the RAF as a state liaison, another joined the Colorado Pilots Association (CPA) as the backcountry director, and others have worked hard to document and increase awareness of abandoned and unknown backcountry airstrips.
One of our ongoing projects has been working with the BLM to revive airstrips and include airstrip terminology into the resource management plan (RMP). Combining forces with the CPA has allowed the group to use its resources and strength to bring aviation into the state’s Recreational Use Statute (RUS), fund many projects/efforts, and gain better access to state resources. Also, with the help of the RAF, the group has organized a Colorado Recreational Aviation Committee (CORAC) to direct our efforts. With only two years having gone by since we organized, the results have been rewarding. The CORAC is in the early stages of a revival to bring backcountry flying to Colorado!
Your state needs your help! Have you ever flown over what looked like a backcountry airstrip and asked yourself how nice it would be if you could land there, or what the history of it was? If you’re like the rest of us and answered yes, then you’d be surprised to know that with time and energy (and some money) that the option of landing there could become a reality. It's time to stop flying over unknown/unused airstrips and time we start landing at them.
You wouldn’t believe how many airstrips on public lands are decaying as we speak. Here in Colorado, the BLM had no idea backcountry airstrips existed or were be being used by STOL aircraft. After we informed them that almost a two dozen airstrips were in their districts, they became very cooperative in helping. In our state, dozens of airstrips remain to be fought for, and we need the manpower to do so.
Backcountry and recreational flying is the shining star in general aviation-- we must take advantage of this and use our resources for airstrip maintenance and protection. The worst thing we can do is fail to be proactive. Flying into backcountry airstrips is helpful (it shows they are being used), but that is only a small component of what it will take to ensure that they will be around for years to come.
Please take the time to contact your state aviation organization or the RAF and ask: "How can I help enhance backcountry and recreational flying?"
We are a small part of the aviation community, and our opposition is a well funded army with many resources. If we don't take a stand now, we will be reduced to telling our grandkids stories about these wonderful places instead of sharing the experience with them.