Trail Talk – October 2017

Our friends, the trails. We can see them romantically—fantastically leading us away on adventures. Or consider them purely utilitarian—a way to get from point A to point B. Sometimes, we find them a challenge to be conquered. And yet there they are: paths leading away, to be followed if we are so inclined, ignored if not, maybe saved for another day. Just a few inches of cleared tread, going there.

We trail folks would prefer our trails to be unencumbered by brush and trees. We enjoy a smooth path not littered with loose rocks and branches. It’s important that trails go somewhere, yet we also like to loop around when possible, to see new things as we travel, instead of simply heading out-and-back.

We are not fond of folks who abuse trail integrity by cow-pathing, (creating unauthorized trails) often to cut across switchbacks. Nor are we amused by inconsiderate folks whose vices spoil our otherwise enjoyable walks through nature, be it cigarette butts, beverage cans, candy wrappers, or what have you. We shouldn’t expect to encounter bicycles on hiking trails any more than we’d expect ATVs or dirt bikes on bicycle trails or snow machines on ski trails.

Good trail etiquette asks that we be respectful of others as well as respectful of the trails we use. Much work and care goes into trail maintenance and upkeep, often done by volunteers. As trail folks, we should endeavoar to help keep our trails friendly—that loose rock that fell onto the path? Roll it aside. That tree branch that fell in last night’s storm? Set it aside. That wrapper left by a litterbug? Pick it up.

Our responsibility is to use our trails wisely. Common sense tells us not to attempt a challenging trail or a lengthy trail if we’re not up to it. We should travel prepared for unseen circumstances. Things happen in the natural world that we don’t control. It may be a flash flood from a sudden storm that washes out part of our path. It may be a yellow jacket nest that turns us around, or a wild animal that makes us uncomfortable. A skunk on your path won’t yield the right-of-way and arguing the point is futile.

Those who choose to bring bicycles onto trails have additional responsibilities. Besides keeping themselves safe, they are also to yield to other trail folks. If their skill level is inadequate to safely maintain a route of travel that protects the trail’s integrity, they should find easier trails to use. As in golf, those who come behind are not anxious to replace the ‘divots’ of careless usage.

Sustainable trails do not happen by accident. Careless and uncaring trail ‘renegades’ damage tread, creating washouts, landslides, and other erosive features. Misuse of trails leads to closed or unmaintained trails. One rotten tomato spoils the whole batch. Let’s discard that rotten tomato.

With fall upon us, trails will soon soften. Puddles will form. Dust will disappear. And our feet will point forward again, making tracks. Use care, going there with a gracious heart, wherever your trail may lead.