Trail etiquette in the desert |

Trail etiquette in the desert

Sarah Mah Withers
Cycling Correspondent
Courtesy | Sarah Mah Withers
Staff Photo |

Trail etiquette is important, it keeps the trails in good shape and provides a pleasurable experience for everyone. Soil on and around many Grand Valley trails is fragile, and when there’s lack of moisture, they become even more fragile.

These fragile soils in the desert are actually growing organisms, called cryptobiotic soils. They consist of algae and lichen and essentially stabilize the soil for plant life to take seed. Without it, much of the sand and soil would blow away. There are simple actions that all trail users can do to help preserve the trails and great outdoor experience.

First of all, one of the biggest trail-widening issues is the passing and yielding practices of the trail users. Mountain bikers are to yield to all other trail users and the rider headed downhill yields to the rider climbing. When passing or yielding, the object is to stay on the trail; to yield one must only move the tires to the outside portion of the trail tread and lean the bike to the outside of the trail, so that the handle bars are well away from blocking the trail.

To pass, please stay on the trail, while it might seem “courteous” to cut out and around the hiker/biker to allow for a lot of space, it widens the trail and disturbs the fragile soils. And remember, when encountering horses, communicating with the riders is important to know if you will need to dismount or simply ride slowly, either way, talking also lets the animal know that you are a person and not a predator.

Widening of the trails also happens when hikers and bikers cut the corners or go around an obstacle. Trail in this area has been built and planned to be sustainable and to offer different experiences. Sustainable trails are those that are built in such a way that they can withstand years of use and rain with minimal maintenance. Cutting the corners will create detours that can create water damage with the next rain, making the trail unsustainable. Going around obstacles is another way to widen the trail, but it also changes the nature of the trail itself. Think of it this way, if a black diamond mogul ski hill is groomed to a green, the experience for the expert skier has been destroyed. Of course, the next year or storm offers the chance for the moguls to resurface, but it’s not the case of the black diamond features of mountain bike trails, once they are gone, they’re gone. If you cannot ride an obstacle, it is far more noble to walk it than to ride around it, you are keeping the integrity of the trail intact and preserving the fragile soils.

Finally, a smile or wave to other trail users is a great way to keep our trails friendly. We all use the trails to escape the hustle and bustle of the world, and if we keep that in mind then we can keep the stress at the trailhead and off the trails.

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