Many of us hit the trails to escape the rules and regulations of our daily lives. There is freedom to be found in our open space. When immersed in nature, we feel that connection to our core being, our obligations are far away, and suddenly we find ourselves untethered and unrestrained. It’s a beautiful thing.
With that freedom, however, comes responsibility. As stewards of our open space, we are responsible for ensuring that it can be enjoyed by all – not just for today, but for years to come. We owe it to ourselves, to the land, and to the plants and animals that inhabit it.
Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks receives 5.3 million visits per year. That’s more than any national park. With that many pairs of boots coming through annually, trail etiquette is a must. Practicing basic trail etiquette protects the environment, keeps you safe, and enhances everyone’s good time. In a nutshell, it all comes down to respect. Let’s break it down together.
Respect Your Fellow Hikers
What are you seeking when you venture into open space? You may be seeking solitude or perhaps quality time with a friend. You may be aiming for a good workout. You may be hoping for wildlife watching opportunities. We are all unique individuals and every moment in nature is equally unique. It’s important to remember that your purpose on the trails on any given day may vary drastically from someone else’s purpose. As long as you pursue what you’re seeking without interfering with anyone else’s journey, it’s all good.
With that in mind, here’s a list of ways to respectfully share the trail with others:
- Do make room for hikers who need to pass (this is easily done by consistently staying on the right when the trail is wide enough)
- Do warn someone with an “On your left” or “Excuse me” if you’re about to pass them from behind (no one likes being startled!)
- Do yield to those who are ascending, whenever possible
- Do yield to horses. It’s commonly accepted that hikers yield to horses while bikers yield to hikers and horses.
- Do keep the music to yourself. Wear ear buds if you like to hike with tunes.
- Do keep conversations at a reasonable level (this includes phone use)
- Do smile and say “Hi!” to those you encounter, particularly if you’re in a remote area. It makes people feel safe (especially solo hikers) and it’s just plain nice.
- Don’t allow your dog to approach anyone who may be uncomfortable or fearful. This means keeping your dog on a leash or having them under voice and sight control. A simple “Is it OK with you if my dog says hi?” makes all the difference.
Respect the Land
Boulder was the first city in the country to join the national Leave No Trace movement in 1998. Now our program is used as a model for other towns and cities across the country. Practicing the tenets of Leave No Trace can greatly reduce the impact of recreation on our local wilderness. So let’s show them how it’s done, Boulderites!
- Do pick up your dog’s poop. Domestic dog poop is NOT a natural part of the environment. Not only is it unpleasant for fellow hikers and dogs that may step in it, but it contaminates the land and waterways.
- Do stay on the trail and heed signs regarding habitat restoration and trail maintenance.
- Don’t litter or leave trash behind (yes, this includes toilet paper! Bring a baggie and pack it out, please!)
- Do leave it as you find it. Don’t collect plants, rocks, or anything else from open space.
Respect the Plants and Animals
Boulder’s open space is one of the most bio-diverse ecosystems in the country. It is this very spot where the Great Plains rise up dramatically to meet the Rocky Mountains. This sudden change in landscape, with all its nooks and crannies, creates numerous microhabitats that support an astounding array of plants and animals. This is what makes our open space such a fantastic place to watch and study wildlife. But with so many of us hiking, biking, and running through it, we must take care not to disturb those who live here. Here are some tips for coexisting out on the trails:
- Do keep dogs away from wildlife and out of protected areas
- Do stay on trail to avoid killing plants or destroying animals’ homes
- Don’t feed or interact with wildlife
Respect the People Who Work Here
Building and maintaining trails is hard work. Protecting land and wildlife is no easy feat. Rescuing people who are lost or injured is risky business. Thousands of people from various organizations (many of them volunteers) work together to get these jobs done. Let’s not make their jobs any harder. Enjoying the trails safely and respectfully is a great way to thank these folks for all they do.
Happy trails, Boulderites!