Hikers mobilize to prevent the disappearance of small rural paths

Hikers mobilize to prevent the disappearance of small rural paths

Due to lack of passage or maintenance, small paths are threatened with disappearance. Hikers, through their associative commitment or their simple practice, are the first defenders of a natural heritage with high environmental and tourist value.

Philippe Clément would not leave his region for anything in the world. “I’m stuck here, in Châtillon-en-Bazois,” confides this retiree from Nivernais, a walking enthusiast, with a laugh. Happy to be able to hike freely around his home, his blood boiled when, a few years ago, he came face to face with a sign indicating the sale of nine rural paths at the entrance to the forest. neighbor. “The woods are private but the paths should remain public. If I didn’t mobilize to defend its access, who was going to do it? » With the help of the Tous en chemin rural association, the sixty-year-old won his case.

The sale or disappearance of rural paths is a phenomenon that associations and hikers continue to denounce. In forty years, some 250,000 kilometers (out of approximately 750,000) have disappeared in France according to the Collective for the Defense of Green Leisure (Codever). An estimate to be taken with caution, due to lack of recent and exhaustive inventory. The causes appear numerous: the land consolidation implemented from the 1950s onwards transformed the landscapes of the French countryside. Plots of land are therefore brought together to facilitate the mechanization of agricultural activity. Many small paths are absorbed by the new properties. Less accessible, these routes are also less used by a population which is increasingly concentrated near cities. Even today, the monopolization by certain local residents contributes to the disappearance of those that the writer Sylvain Tesson called the black paths 1in reference to the color of their layout on IGN maps.

Legislation often overlooked

Since 1986, the departments must, however, establish and keep up to date the Departmental Plan for walking and hiking routes (PDIPR). This registration theoretically constitutes legal protection, the deletion of a path must systematically be accompanied by a proposal for an alternative route. But the application of the text fails, and the mobilization of local hikers has become essential. “The walkers act like a group of lobbyists, they defend their field of practice as would be the case in other economic activities”, analyzes Luc Florent, geographer, author of a thesis on pedestrian activity and the sustainable development of territories.

Motivated, the members of hiking clubs roll up their sleeves to clear the sunken paths and also put on their glasses: the aim is to learn to read a land register, understand the regulations linked to property and the duty of maintenance, and question elected officials… This is how the Tous en chemin rural association has to its credit the reopening of 130 rural roads and the cleaning of 60 others since its creation, in 2019, in Nièvre. “Thanks to the investigations of residents and the memory of elders, these forgotten paths are being reborn. They make it possible to create new variations for walkers and also to connect the hamlets together,” says its president and founder, Benoist Grangier.

For the needs of her walking club, Françoise Leboulanger also participates in the preservation of these small routes in Val-de-Marne, by regularly going on reconnaissance trips on the neighboring paths. “We often come across abandoned paths or, on the contrary, find new routes: having pruning shears with you is always useful! » slips mischievously this retired professor. To encourage passage, marking is essential. In Bazois, Michel Bertin works on it all year round with his association, Les raie-savates. “By marking 150 kilometers per year, we confirm the existence of these trails and protect them,” explains this former elected official of the community of communes who participated in the development of the Bazois topoguide, a reference like all descriptions of routes from the collection published by the French Hiking Federation.

Positive publicity

Away from the main walking trails, more intimate circuits are developing. On the Facebook page dedicated to the Via Ligeria, a pilgrimage linking Nantes to Rome via Bourges, Vierzon or Vézelay, photos and anecdotes are shared daily. Anthony Grouard, co-founder of this route and initiator of the Forum des chemins nantais, recalls: “It is by highlighting their beauty that they will survive and be used. » His partner, Anne-Laure Timmel, rejoices: “France is full of magnificent paths which make us aware of the preservation of the environment. » A nature which is the subject of particular attention. Motorized practices on the black paths contribute to this environmental preservation, with exceptions when the protection of fauna and flora requires specific measures, such as near Pierre-Perthuis, in Yonne. A prefectural decree prohibits the passage of motor vehicles in order to guarantee the balance necessary for the survival of the peregrine falcons of the Cure valley.

Respecting the specificities of the territories should go without saying. When he arrived at the town hall of Saint-Mesmin (Dordogne) in 2008, Guy Bouchaud, retired soldier and former head of his regiment’s triathlon team, was already convinced of this. Taking care not to disturb the tranquility of the mouflons present in the region, Guy and the only municipal employee cleared and marked 46 km of paths around the town of 330 inhabitants. New routes have been opened, the Auvézère gorges trail has even been created. “This year, 400 runners and walkers are preparing to tread the small paths in this remote corner of Périgord. Some even come to scout during the year,” says the councilor with pride. The action and support of elected officials are thus crucial, but due to lack of means, time, and sometimes desire, their mobilization remains uneven. In order to engage the greatest number of stakeholders in the region, the deputy for Haute-Vienne Stéphane Delautrette aims to table, at the beginning of March, a bill on the defense of rural roads. A text impatiently awaited by hiking associations.

1) On the black paths, Ed. Gallimard, 142 p. ; €15.50, brought to the screen in 2023 (read Pilgrim No. 7320).

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