During my three month tenure as the Intern at the Big Sky Community Organization, I’ve learned about committees, meetings, grants, fundraising, asset management, trails and facilities maintenance—the list goes on and on. The time I’ve spent using the park facilities and hiking our various trails has widened my eyes to a specific practice that usually comes naturally to most people, but often falls short of what is right: the recreational Code of Ethics. Whether you’re watching a softball game, shredding the skate park, playing a round of disc golf, or hiking or biking a trail, there are a set of spoken and unspoken standards that exist to maximize satisfaction and minimize conflict with one’s recreational experience. I could write for days on methods of mitigating general recreational experience conflict, but I’ll give a short refresher course on trails etiquette instead.
BSCO’s trails are non-motorized multi-use, meaning we allow bikers, hikers, and horseback riders to use and enjoy them. These three means of trail recreation can exist in harmony, and have been proven to do so through decades of recreation conflict research. However, this harmonious existence hinges on trail etiquette. The proven yield order, hikers to horses and bikers to both, is the safest, least conflictual system developed for multi-use trails. This system works by giving the respective trail user a right-of-way, just as in motor traffic. When a biker or hiker approaches a horse, they should move off to the lower side of the trail, dismount, take their helmet off, smile, and give a “Hey there!” to keep from intimidating or startling the horse. When a biker encounters a hiker, proper etiquette is to move off the trail and come to a stop. A fast moving, metal object with a person riding on it can be intimidating to come close to, so by yielding to hikers, bikers can mitigate this source of conflict and handle the encounter in a painless, collision-free manner.
Take my experience on the new Hummocks Trail last night—my friend and I were on a particularly fun, curvy stretch when I heard voices ahead. I started slowing down immediately, looking forward to where the voices were coming from. After identifying two hikers a short distance down the trail, I came to a stop at a convenient flat spot following a short uphill rise, allowing them to continue on their way and let them know another biker was not far behind.
Exceptions to the code of ethics are inevitable, some caused by a lack of understanding, others simply by situational convenience. Regardless, the moral of this article, applicable to all trail users, is to be aware you’re not the only one on the trail. Knowing a Code of Ethics exists is the first step to enjoying trails to their most fun and safe potential, but knowing to keep an eye forward and an ear open for other users, always finding the safest and quickest spot to pull off the trail, and being polite and friendly to other users is what it takes to successfully implement the code of ethics. Enjoying public trails is a privilege, and with this privilege comes responsibility and respect for the other users.