Joe Gibson is a Parks Content Specialist for Parks Project who works on and off the trails. Here are 7 tips from him on how to be a better trail user!
As a trail worker, trails are literally my office. I’m out in the field full-time, hiking, digging, hauling, and generally contemplating trails and how we can repair and improve them. While some of my worksites have been remote with few hikers coming through daily, I have also worked in extremely busy parks with constant interactions with the public. While most interactions are friendly and respectful, I have also had many frustrating and even unsafe interactions with the visitors. So, beyond the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace, here are my tips to be a superstar visitor next time you’re out on the trail.
1. Stay on the trail.
Going off-trail creates “rogue trails” that cause damage to plant life, animal habitat, and existing trails. As a trail worker, we spend countless hours working to remove and restore rogue trails created by people going off-trail. Be sure to follow local signage and maps to make sure you’re on an official trail.
2. Follow trail usage rules.
Please don’t take your bike or your horse on a pedestrian-only trail. Trails are designed and constructed with particular user groups in mind, and bikes and horses can severely damage trails that weren’t designed to handle them, and can be dangerous for the rider and other visitors. Pets may be prohibited on some trails if there is protected wildlife in the area.
3. Maintain awareness.
It’s easy to let our minds and attention wander while we are riding or hiking on a trail. For your own safety and that of others, be sure to maintain spatial awareness. Look behind you periodically for other folks who may need to pass you soon (perhaps a trail worker hiking with an armload of tools), and look ahead for any incoming traffic. If wearing headphones, keep volume low (or just use one earbud) and be sure to look around even more often than usual.
4. If trail work is happening, communicate.
All too often, people will walk into our worksites without any warning, which can be very dangerous if we are using equipment or swinging tools. If you come across a crew working on a trail, stop and announce yourself before entering the working area. This gives the crew a moment to make sure the work zone is safe, and they may communicate a particular way to walk through the worksite to avoid hazards.
5. Take the stairs.
If there are stairs on a trail, please use them! A rogue trail will often form next to a staircase because people don’t like walking up stairs. But stairs are crucial to managing water erosion on steep sections of trails, and rogue trails adjacent to steps can compromise the construction of the staircase itself.
6. Respect trail closures.
If a trail is closed, please do not use it. There may be hazards or active construction work that is dangerous for visitors. I was once working on a closed trail, partially through felling a hazard tree with a chainsaw, when I saw a pair of hikers emerge into our worksite unannounced. I nearly dropped a tree on their heads!
7. Keep Fido on a leash.
Off-leash dogs can cause resource damage, stress to wildlife, and frustration with other visitors and trail workers. Owners are less likely to notice if a dog is pooping if it is off-leash and thus will not clean it up. Leash laws may be in effect to protect wildlife in the area.
Want to learn more about Joe's work? Follow his story on Instagram at @joe_gbsn.