trail use

Bikers should expect to encounter hikers and vice versa on shared-use trails, and committing acts of trail sabotage can be not only dangerous but illegal, according to the Telluride Mountain Club. (Bria Light/Telluride Daily Planet)

When it comes to avoiding conflicts on the trails this summer, perhaps we’d do well to take a leaf out of Aretha Franklin’s book: R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me.

With respect (oh, just a little bit) and open, early communication between trail users, hikers, mountain bikers, trail runners, and others on the region’s spectacular trails can avoid incidents between parties that may lead to feelings of ill will and even acts of trail sabotage.

Trail sabotage, the act of placing objects in trails or otherwise altering them with the intent to make passage more difficult for members of a particular user group, is often targeted at mountain bikers with the ostensible purpose of slowing them down on the trail. However, according to Telluride Mountain Club board member Nate Smith, acts of trail sabotage have the potential to result in severe injury or worse for mountain bikers.

“People should not be modifying trails in an effort to slow people down,” he said. “The consequences can be dire if somebody gets seriously injured by running into a log that they’re not expecting to be there. Mutual respect by both user groups can go a long way. What that means is if bike riders slow down and there’s proper yielding occurring, both trail users should certainly be able to coexist.”

While nobody likes to be startled by a fast-moving object while out on a peaceful hike, adherence to proper trail etiquette by all trail users will likely nip unpleasant conflicts in the bud before they have a chance to morph into the ugly, multi-headed monster of trail sabotage.

“Last summer we received multiple reports of large rocks purposely being placed in the middle of a straight section of the Wasatch Trail to slow down bikers,” Telluride Mountain Club Director Heidi Lauterbach said in a news release. “Additionally, there was an incident near the time of the Big Mountain Enduro bike race where people were placing sticks and tossing logs across Eider Trail to slow down riders who were practicing the course. It’s a bummer that sabotage was deemed necessary. Both cases show the importance of trail etiquette from all users, open communication, slowing down and educating other user groups. It’s my hope we can all be a little friendlier and cognizant on the trails this summer.”

Proper trail etiquette includes slowing down well before reaching other parties, communicating your presence in a friendly manner and letting the other group know how many people in your party they can expect to be approaching after you. While hikers and runners generally have the right of way over mountain bikers, it’s become much more common for hikers to move off the trail to allow for bikers to pass if it’s safe and easy to do so. While hikers should expect to encounter mountain bikers at some point on a multi-use trail, bikers should not automatically expect hikers to yield, should slow down drastically upon approaching a group of hikers, and should communicate courteously and early to avoid startling a party who may not have noticed your approach.

“Generally speaking, the last two summers have been a little bit of a tipping point in that our trail usage in the region has increased. With that, it has seemed to result in more user conflicts, mainly between hikers and mountain bikers, with some feeling the need to protect their experience on the trails they like to use, thus resulting in some kind of trail sabotage,” Smith observed, adding that if a conflict does arise on the trail, addressing it respectfully with the party concerned can be a good option.

“If you’re a bike rider or a hiker and you feel like the other user group isn’t being respectful, if you’re comfortable having a polite, educational discussion with that person on the trail, that’s always encouraged if everyone is feeling safe and comfortable having that conversation,” he said. “But under no circumstances are acts of trail sabotage or threats of violence appropriate for user conflicts.”

Smith also noted that Telluride’s trails often see a unique blend of highly experienced trail users and those who may have little to no experience on shared-used mountain trails, which can lead to a sense of entitlement for some highly experienced users and a sense of surprise or unease for those less accustomed to the trail experience. 

Dan Enright, an avid mountain biker, explained, “If I could tell just one thing to hikers it’s that we bikers are not trying to scare you, even if we unintentionally do so on occasion, but the last thing I want to do is hit a hiker on my bike.”

Ultimately, Smith said, trail sabotage can be avoided well before people think they need to resort to it.

“A kind ‘thank you, have a nice day’ goes a long way,” he said, emphasizing the importance of slowing down, remaining courteous and always remaining in control while mountain biking. “Telluride Mountain Club wants to ensure that folks are educated on trail etiquette and that we can get through what’s already a stressful, tense summer of 2020 without any additional conflicts.”