Snowmass trail talks: Relearning how to share
July 4, 2017
Editor's note: The Snowmass Sun and the town of Snowmass Parks, Recreation and Trails Department have partnered to launch "Trail Talks," a biweekly series that will explore trail issues, etiquette and rules for shared trail use in the village.
Users of multiuse, non-motorized trails can include slow walkers, fast runners, fast cyclists, slow bicyclist, tricycles, trailers, strollers, etc. There is some confusion on how everyone can have his or her use most amicably. Regardless of your mode of travel, speed or level of skill, all trail users should be respectful of other users.
Learning to ride a mountain bike 17 years ago in Gunnison Valley, our neighbors to the south, few signs existed on the trails; no trail names and definitely not a triangle with a hiker, biker and equestrian displayed. Shared use was the only use. Mountain bikers were using trails that dirt bikers built and hikers using trails that horse packers created. The norm was everyone said "hi," slowed down to ask "do you need help or look at those flowers." I've lived and visited many towns and cities with "trail destinations" and have found no place with the same trail etiquette as Gunnison Valley.
As a trails manager, I've struggled to figure out how to reach users, to respect each other and natural resources. The reality is we live in an increasingly crowded planet and trails, whether we hike or ride them, are a refuge from the daily grind. And while these wonderful strips of bare ground in our open spaces help us escape from civilization, it often seems like the rest of civilization is escaping on them at the same time, creating the possibility of less-than-civilized encounters. When someone tells me this story or I encounter something like this, it makes me squeal with frustration.
You are out on your favorite trail. The one that has the steep rocky climb you and your buddies have spent hours mastering. The trail you rely on to get your daily single-track fix. You're feeling stronger than you have ever felt before and this very well could be the best ride you have ever had.
Then while climbing, that most technical and cardio intensive part you've been trying to clean, some Strav-A-Hole comes blasting down the trail completely unannounced. He yells at you to get out of his way as he barrels down the trail, killing all of your momentum and forcing you to walk the rest of the way up that climb. At the top you see a family hiking along and talking among themselves about how mountain bikers are so rude and are ruining these trails.
An interaction like that can ruin even the best of rides. You were not even the offending rider, yet you feel guilty just for participating in the same sport as him. That whole family for the rest of their hike would be on the watch out for "those inconsiderate and dangerous bike riders" and worse yet, they may just tell their friends all about how their little child almost "got run over and killed!" One bad rider makes us all look bad.
How do I bring that relaxed Gunnison Valley vibe to every trail I manage, build or recreate on?
First attempt, put up a Share the Trail sign, you know the sign with the triangle, arrows and the three happy users. As a manager, I think we've become immune to these signs, and more people are on the trails, and trails are not just for the weekend getaway with the family. They are more like an after-work workout at a 24-hour fitness gym.
We need a big hearty reminder to think beyond our needs and practice sharing like we did in preschool. Here are a few suggestions to try.
1. Smile, take one ear bud out, and say HI!
After work heading out to the trails means checking out, I get it, but nothing gets me more out of the work zone than having a good conversation with a stranger. My coach, a long time professional mountain bike racer, told me, "smiling releases endorphins and endorphins are responsible for making us feel happy, and they also help lower stress levels."
2. Look at the landscape, the trees, and the flowers
Remember why you live here or are visiting? Look at all the things that surround you and maybe even watch someone else enjoy the trail.
3. Have You Outgrown Trails?
Trails have engineering and design limits. If your speed or style endangers other users, check for alternative routes better suited to your needs. Selecting the right location is safer and more enjoyable for all concerned.
4. Treat private property like it's your neighbor
We all like to be amicable with our neighbors because, well, we have to live next to them. Be respectful of private property. This means read the sign, be quiet when asked, and please don't deviate from the trail. Many trail easements were graciously given to us here at the town by private landowners. We don't want to jeopardize our privilege.
5. Let go of your entitlement
Colorado is a melting pot. Very few people were born here, most of us pay taxes, and we are all out there to play. As Mahatma Gandhi once said: "Be the change you wish to see in the world."