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Trail Etiquette for All Trail Users

By: John Fiore, PT

One of the most unique and treasured benefits of living in Missoula is easy access to trails in every direction from downtown. Spring in Montana draws Missoula residents out of home, cubicle, and gym hibernation in increasing numbers. As a community, however, our individual trail experiences are proportional to our trail respect and stewardship as a community.

I began exploring local trails in 1983 as a twenty-one year old. Local trail maps were limited, trail use was light, and I often traveled miles in complete solitude. The open space, National Forests, and Wilderness Areas were my backyard. While I still have what is arguably the most incredible backyard in America, I now share it with 69,000 people. The population of Missoula and the surrounding area has nearly doubled since 1983 which is starting to manifest itself on our local trails.

In the past three months I have seen a mountain biker descending the North Ridge trail of Mount Sentinel, mountain bike tracks on the Smokejumper trail, multiple hiking/running trails (to avoid ice, mud) on the Pengelly Ridge trail, “forgotten” doggie bags strewn along Rattlesnake and Pattee Canyon trails, and hikers/runners three abreast on single track trails. Long-term use and enjoyment of our trails by multiple user groups hinges on an understanding of basic trail use etiquette.

Yielding right of way: Horses are huge, so yield to horses, period. Step off the downhill side of the trail, stop, and speak calmly. Generally, uphill traffic should be given the right of way. If a convenient spot is available, pull over and allow the uphill hiker, runner, or cyclist to pass. Do not continue to move forward once off the trail as this leads to the creation of multiple trails.

Announce yourself: Say “hello” to fellow trail users. Be courteous, respectful, and announce your presence if approaching someone from behind. If they have ear buds and music blaring, then you may be out of luck!

Slow down: The most important tip for the survival of a trail is traveling at a safe and appropriate speed. Both foot and bicycle users must travel at a speed conducive to the trail design. Washboard trails and extra wide or multiple parallel trails are caused by poor speed control. Negative encounters with fellow trail users can be reduced by simply knowing your safe speed and being aware of your surroundings.

Leave no trace: Pack out what you pack in. If you see trash on a trail, pick it up.

Respect trail closures: Trail closures apply to everyone and are mandated for a reason. Avoid giving your user group a bad name by abiding by and being aware of the local trail closures. Most of the trails with user group restrictions are narrow, steep, and inherently dangerous for high volume use. Please respect trail closures.

Stay on the trail: If the trail is snowy or icy, wear traction devices. If your shoes or mountain bike tires sink deeply into the mud, you should not ride that particular trail until it dries out. Do not create a new trail by avoiding mud, puddles, or other trail users.

Support our trails: Give back to our local trail network. The Montana Trail Crew hosts trail maintenance work days, and Mountain Bike Missoula schedules trail work days as well. Get involved in local and National Forest decisions regarding trail maintenance, use, and support. As an educated, involved community, we can work together to improve our individual trail experiences in and around Missoula.