Spring hasnt yet sprung, but outdoors enthusiasts are already trickling out onto Durango area trails and roads.
Because the rules and etiquette of both our well-trodden thoroughfares and remote backcountry trails may be a bit hazy after the long winter, The Durango Herald consulted with some local experts to offer this primer.
First and foremost, remember the Golden Rule.
Theres just an awful lot of people that enjoy the trails and like to be out there, and just being courteous of other users, I think that goes really far, said Cathy Metz, director of the citys Parks and Recreation Department.
But there are some more nuanced guidelines to be aware of, too.
The river trail
When cyclists pass pedestrians from behind, the proper etiquette is to alert the pedestrian, either verbally or with a bell, then tell the pedestrian how many cyclists are in the passing group, said Cindy Dunbar, a former Trails 2000 board member.
Although it can be effective, the on your left alert has its own dangers, Dunbar said. Pedestrians caught off-guard often tend to move into the line of fire.
I think just blasting up to somebody can give them a heart attack, Dunbar said.
Instead, the best thing for cyclists to do when passing other trail users is to slow down, communicate their intention to pass and, before overtaking, make sure the intention is understood, Dunbar said.
This applies to the Animas River Trail as well as other area trails.
Cyclists, the fastest folks on the river trail, should also be the most cautious and responsible, she said.
Its important to not cruise down the center of the trail and to treat it with the same respect and apply the same rules one would to a busy road or a highway, she said.
Audio devices such as iPods disable many users from listening for approaching cyclists, Dunbar said. Using only one ear-bud or a low volume is a good alternative.
Metz said the high level of activity on the river trail is cause for extra caution while using it.
The last user count on the trail was in 2009 and projected an average of 1,085 users per day during summer months, Metz said.
The projection counted only users who were within Durangos central business district, Metz said.
This year, using $644,000 in state and federal grants, the city plans to extend the trail from the southern end of Memorial Park to 32nd Street and make improvements to the 32nd Street bridge for pedestrians.
We have a fairly extensive network of trails, and a lot of people enjoy the trail system in our community, Metz said. I do believe that certainly the share-the-trail ethic is important to our community and how we all get along.
Traffic Officer Rob Haukeness with the Durango Police Department said following the rules is key to safety when it comes to cyclists and motorists sharing area roads.
Haukeness said new state legislation requires motorists to give cyclists a minimum of 3 feet of clearance, including the mirror, when overtaking cyclists on the left.
Violation of the new law is a four-point traffic infraction that will result in a $65 fine.
Cyclists must employ caution, too, obeying the same rules of the road as motorists, Haukeness said. Cyclists will pay the same fines for violations but will not receive penalty points on their driving record.
Cyclists are required by law to have a white light visible 500 feet to the front from dusk until dawn, as well as rear reflector, visible 600 feet to the rear, Haukeness said.
Backcountry, dirt trails
During mud season, which goes through March and April, cyclists should consider hiking instead of biking in the backcountry to avoid unnecessary trail damage, Dunbar said. Walking a muddy trail is less harmful and will necessitate fewer repairs.
Jed Botsford, San Juan Public Lands recreation specialist, said all motorized trail use should yield to all nonmotorized use in areas where motor vehicles are allowed, such as Bureau of Land Management land and national forests.
Motorists are not allowed on any city trails, Botsford said.
Its all just respect and courtesy and ethics in the backcountry, said Dunbar.
Dunbar, who served on the Trails 2000 board for seven years, said proper trail etiquette helps preserve multiuse trail systems.
Metz said courtesy calls for yielding to those traveling uphill.
If Im on the trail and youre riding up, and I can see its a steep uphill, Im probably going to step off the trail as a pedestrian on foot and let you pass because I know youre working hard to get up that hill, she said.
The exception is with horseback riders, who are at the top of the right-of-way chain, Dunbar said.
It is the responsibility of the hiker, cyclist or motorist to ask the horseback rider how he or she would like to proceed, Dunbar said.
A calm, low voice also is important so the horse does not get startled, she said.
Pedestrians receive the right of way in all other cases not involving a steep grade, Dunbar said.