Jeff Prince is a landscape architect and has designed
multi-use trail systems and ecotourism/economic development projects in the U.S., Mexico
and Costa Rica.
He is also a lifelong explorer of Arizona's
backcountry on two wheels, four wheels and no wheels (hiking, kayaking). Last
October, Prince took a job as the Statewide OHV Program Coordinator with
Arizona State Parks, and the OHV community has been benefiting from his
experience and insights ever since.
"As a landscape architect, I design solutions and draw
pictures of environments, whether it's a trail, park or someone's backyard,"
said Prince. "With this job with State Parks, it's really about solving people
problems and social issues. I have an interest in OHV recreation. Okay, what
are the problems out there and how do we create programs that address those
problems to reach meaningful solutions?"
One of the first problems Prince tackled was low attendance
by the public at agency meetings. He knew from experience-and countless chats
around backcountry campfires-that it's tough for the working public to get to
meetings held on weekday evenings. So after his first well-advertised but
poorly attended meeting as a state employee, he moved them to Saturdays at
places people ride and changed the format from meetings to "Trail Talks."
"It's a free-form format," explains Prince. "The purpose is
to get our motorized public connected to the various agencies and people who
have a stake in OHV recreation while promoting riding opportunities funded by
the Arizona State Parks Statewide OHV Fund. It's more conversational than a
government employee standing in front of a PowerPoint and going through an
agenda." If the Trail Talk is on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, Prince
asks one of the BLM's local staff members to participate, allowing user groups
to express their concerns and get answers to their questions, as Prince puts
it, "right from the horse's mouth."
"It's interesting, because people are more candid on a Trail
Talk than in a formal setting," said Prince. "Introverted people are less
likely to talk in a room of 100 people, with maybe 25 percent against OHV for
one reason or another. And you have a lot of vocal OHV people, too. The voices
of the middle or moderate ground are less likely to speak up, because they get
intimidated by the polarized sides. But if you do it out on a trail ride, out
in the field, they're more likely to talk. And I've noticed we get more
participation from women too."
Prince held his first Trail Talk on a Saturday in January at
the Table Mesa Recreation Area, just before a local 4x4 club held an
introductory class on rock crawling. About 100 people showed up. He did a short
presentation for those attending the club event, talking about the area and how
it relates to the Arizona State Parks OHV program. He then visited with a dozen
people from other user groups. Some had ridden their ATVs from local towns and
had questions about trail issues, including accessing trails from their homes, working
with land managers, trail improvements for mountain bikers and hikers on the
multi-use system and concerns about target shooting (legal in designated
The second Trail Talk was held in February, a few miles northeast
of the historic town of Florence,
AZ. "It's incredibly scenic, with awesome geologic features, a fun riding area,
with Jeep trails, technical routes, areas where stock 4x4 vehicles can travel,
as well as ATVs and motorcycles," said Prince. This time, he held the event in
conjunction with a work day by some of the state's OHV Ambassadors. They were
in the area to install an informational kiosk on BLM land, which gave Prince
the opportunity to introduce them to local user groups.
"The public came out in side-by-sides and ATVs from a local
club in Florence,"
said Prince. "We had an informal conversation. It went really well. We got new
perspectives from clubs, mostly older, retired folks this time, who had
different concerns. They do a lot of trail cleanups out there, told me about
those efforts and wanting to do more."
Prince sees his new role as a conduit for positive change,
getting trail users organized to work with land managers in order to develop
"When you build a community of people, they are more likely
to participate in the community," he said. "That's what I'm trying to do on a
state level. By getting them involved and paying attention to what's happening,
it fosters better understanding and we'll get to a better place. People say I'm
a little idealistic when I say that, but I know it works."
In fact, Prince's informal approach and Trail Talks are
working. In just two months, the number of subscriptions to the State Park OHV
newsletter jumped by several hundred, more than a professional media company
was able to produce in a year.
Prince would like to see more enthusiasts take the jump to
agency jobs related to OHV recreation. In his first newsletter, he introduced
himself as "the new guy" at Arizona State Parks. "Fasten your seat belts or
secure that chin strap because you are in for an exciting ride this year," he
We don't doubt that for a minute. Congratulations to an OHV
rider who took the leap to an agency position, and is helping create a positive
future for OHV recreation in Arizona.