Community Agriculture Alliance: Rules for rural riding

Laraine Martin
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

This time of year is perfect for cruising many miles of gravel county roads in the Yampa Valley — the sun is out, the greater Sandhill cranes are crooning that distinct song, and newborn calves are trotting around, creating a bit of entertainment along the way.

There is a certain spot on Routt County Road 44 where you can pull over and watch a pair of bald eagles nesting up high in the cottonwood trees and the Elk River tumbling beneath into shimmering eddies.

Over the past few years, recreation on county roads has been on the steady increase. Gravel riding is one of the more popular pursuits, along with e-biking, running and dog walking. The fabulous scenery and the wide-open nature of our county roads make them a popular choice for people escaping the bustle of downtown and the relative busyness of Emerald Mountain on a weekend.

These county roads are also utilitarian — ranchers need to move cattle to different grazing pastures, large farming and ranching equipment is often on the roads, and commuters are all vying for space while they accomplish their day’s work.

We all need to be aware and work together to improve the way we interact with each other out there. For drivers, it’s unacceptable to cultivate an attitude that would jeopardize the safety of a cyclist in favor of your convenience.

You may feel annoyed at waiting a few extra seconds around a blind corner to safely pass a cyclist with 3 feet of clearance, but this does not entitle you to put a life in danger in order to assert your dominance from behind a steering wheel.

On the other hand, cyclists and county road enthusiasts, take note — there are many ways to ensure you “Respect the Rural” while coasting along a bit of gravel this summer. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Respect the road rules: You can ride two abreast (only when it does not impede the flow of traffic). Ride single file, along the right shoulder, to allow drivers to pass. Take out your ear buds; it’s not safe to block out one of your senses when you need to know who’s coming up behind you. When riding tighter curving roads without bike lanes or shoulders, play it safe and ride single file. If a person driving a motor vehicle behaves aggressively or dangerously, dial *CSP (*277) from your phone to reach the Colorado State Patrol.

Yield to livestock and open range: Cows, sheep and horses all have the right of way. Whether you are on foot, bike or in a vehicle, yield to animals, and keep your pets leashed. You may see cattle or sheep on the roads. Keep your distance, allow them the opportunity to move to the side, and be patient. Enjoy a different kind of rush hour traffic.

Respect private property: Routt County Riders has a small fleet of road rider portable toilets placed along popular routes around the county. Pull well off the road to make a stop (especially in a larger group or on a tight/blind corner) and stick to the county right of way without trespassing onto private property. If you don’t know if it’s private or public access, don’t go. On a related note, always leave livestock gates as you find them. If the gate is open, leave it open. If it’s closed, leave it closed.

Be aware of farm and ranch equipment and guard dogs: Remember, tractors do not stop or maneuver like cars. Give them lots of time, space and patience. Smile, wave and be polite. Do not walk or ride into animal herds, keep your distance and walk bikes around working dogs if possible.

The temperatures may be rising out there as the summer heats up, but we can all stand to play it cool; slow down, treat all road users as fellow human beings, enjoy the scenery and take a deep breath. Enjoy the ride.

Laraine Martin is executive director of Routt County Riders.

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