‘Just be respectful’: Keys to keeping multiuse trails in decent shape this spring

Fat bikers and skiers recreate peacefully together on Orton Trail on a cold morning in March. Notice the fat bike is gliding over the surface, rather than pressing into the snow. (Photo by Shelby Reardon)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Throughout our lives, it’s hard to anticipate exactly how our actions will affect the lives of others around us. How will this decision alter the day of someone else?

Well, this time of year, it’s very obvious how our every step affects others. When out on a trail, look behind you and look at the literal impact you’re having. Are you leaving a rut? Are you leaving holes or digging up the trail?

As the weather warms and the snow softens, the evidence we leave of our time on trails gets more obvious. The idea is to pass by with little impact. Otherwise, the next person to come that way won’t have as good an experience as they were hoping.

“Some people just aren’t aware of the impacts they might be having,” said Jenny Carey, Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Open Space and Trails supervisor. “I think it’s important to be respectful of everybody. I don’t think people are trying to create bad conditions for other users. Just try to be respectful.”

Blackmer, a very popular multiuse road, is of course, open to any and all. Most people choose to walk or run with shoes and that’s just fine. The single track, particularly the groomed single track, is where people can do damage. In order to keep the trails in the best shape possible through the spring, users should keep in mind a few common courtesies.

The biggest thing to know when embarking up Emerald, is that the trails are open to everyone. There are two expectations. NPR is a downhill only bike trail and T-Bar is a foot traffic only trail, which gave other users a space where they didn’t have to watch for bicycles. The rest of the mountain is free to explore regardless of mode of transportation.

A volunteer with Routt County Riders spends a few hours a week grooming trails with fat bikes in mind, but that doesn’t limit the groomed spots to just bikes.

These fat bike tire tracks are barely visible and therefore, perfectly executed. If tracks are obvious and sinking into the snow, it's probably best to turn around and go home. (Photo by Shelby Reardon)

“The trails are still open to everybody,” said Carey. “Generally, the trail etiquette on those groomed trails, the idea is that whatever your mode of transportation is, skiing, running, biking, the trail should set up. Give it some time to set and not be creating negative impacts.”

Damage to groomed trails, whether at Emerald or Nordic areas around town, typically prompts a Facebook post complaining about holes in the trail. Those should not be interpreted as bikers or classic skiers claiming the trail as their own, but rather, asking people be more conscious of how they’re leaving the trail.

Keys to courteous trail use

Use the trails when the temperature is colder

Be especially aware not to destroy groomed surfaces or classic ski grooms

If you’re sinking in, it’s best to go home

Pick up dog poop

“People have been like, ‘Is this really that big of a deal?'” said Laraine Martin, executive director of Routt County Riders. “The answer is no. It’s cool to be considerate to all users. We’re not trying to take over part of Emerald.”

Routt County Riders have installed signs across Emerald asking people to “Think before you sink,” but Martin doesn’t expect that to fix every issue. Far too often, people overestimate what a sign can accomplish.

Routt County Riders has posted signs around Emerald reminding users of proper trail etiquette. (Photo by Shelby Reardon)

The best way to spread the word on the common courtesies and unspoken rules, is by word of mouth. Don’t be afraid to politely point out to someone that they could be making a better decision with their mode of transportation, or what trail they are on.

It’s easy to avoid damaging a trail. With days above freezing more frequent than those below, the best time to hit the trail is in the morning. Getting off by 10 or 11 a.m. can help avoid damaging the trail surface.

When it’s cold enough, running on a groomed trail won’t cause damage, but any other time of day, using just shoes on groomed surfaces isn’t considerate.

“The weather is changing, it’s going to be tough to find those times of day,” said Carey. “Pretty soon, we’re not even going to be worried about this. We’re going to be talking about spring conditions and muddy conditions.”

Mud season will certainly bring on its own set of challenges, but until then, trail users should do their best to keep the soft snow on the trails in the best condition as everyone tries to log a few more days on the hill.

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