We all know what is happening. For a while now, there has been a big push to get healthier by eating right, getting exercise and going outdoors to enjoy nature. All of these suggestions are good for mind, body and soul. But with this increased activity outdoors has come the reality that our trails are becoming increasingly busier with hikers, horses, bicycles and motorized use.
Local trails, which were historically used for traveling to mining destinations, have now become pathways for recreationists. Our trails are being managed for multiuse, and at any given time, you may be encountering any of the above user groups on your outing. Sharing the use of the trails is important for your experience but also for the safety of other users.
Here are some useful tips for sharing the trails:
Smiling and being polite goes a long ways in having pleasant safe encounters. Communication is the key to any successful encounter. Everyone should expect an encounter around a blind corner and be prepared by slowing down and speaking. Ask what the best way is to pass another visitor. Listening on the trail is important, too, as you can usually hear another user approaching. If you are wearing headphones and listening to music, it greatly diminishes your ability to hear what may be in front of you around a corner or behind you. Having control of your pets is important, too. Your loose dog can be injured by a horse, bicycle or motorize vehicle or cause a wreck by spooking the animal or getting in the way of a moving bike. Above all, know what your limitations are on the trail and be aware of your surroundings, watching for all potential encounters. Be aware that on a multiuse trail, horses have the right of way. When you see horses approaching, yield the trail by stepping to the downhill side if it is safe. Horses only see peripherally and are a prey animal. This means that a horse cannot see directly in front or in back of them, and when spooked by something can put the rider or you in danger. The normal reaction for a horse is to move away from something that frightens them, sometimes very quickly. Not every horse behaves the same in these situations, so it is important to ask the rider how you should proceed. When encountering horses on the trail, the recommendation is to stop, speak and smile. When a horse hears a human voice, they tend to understand that whatever they are seeing is a human and non-threatening. If you are coming up behind a horse, the same rule applies. The worst thing you can do is sneak up on a horse, so announce your presence at a safe distance and ask how to proceed. Slowing down and yielding the trail may not always be fun, but it is necessary for everyone’s safety. The bottom line is respect gets respect. Treat other users how you would like to be treated on the trail. Smiling and being polite goes a long ways in having pleasant encounters and enjoying the trails.
Remember that maintenance of trails and public lands is a shared responsibility, and this year, with the increased moisture, trails can easily be damaged when wet. Creating postholes or ruts on a trail is not cool.
There are local trail groups that provide current trail conditions so you can plan ahead and prepare for your trip. Your conscientious use of the trails will be appreciated by everyone.
Kathe Hayes is volunteer program director for San Juan Mountains Association.