By Sara Marino
EBS Contributor

Whether we lace up our hiking boots, saddle our horses, or put air in our mountain bike tires, there’s something we should all have in common when we hit the trails: respect. It’s easy to sometimes forget our manners, but here are a few reminders to help everyone have a positive day on the trails.

Respect Trail Users

There’s a horse on the trail, what do you do? Or maybe a trail runner is coming up the hill while you’re on your mountain bike coming down?

The etiquette is simple for mixed-use trails:

– Hikers, runners and bikers should always yield to horses.
– Bikers should yield to hikers and runners.
– Downhill traffic should yield to uphill traffic.

There may be a gray area where a biker riding uphill meets a hiker coming downhill. Use common sense and be polite. In a case like this, it may be easier for the hiker to step aside for a moment to let the biker continue their uphill momentum.

When encountering horses, step off the trail on the downhill side if possible. Speak to the rider in a relaxed tone so the horse knows you’re not a threat and be sure you aren’t hidden by bushes or trees, as this can appear particularly threatening to a horse.

Remember to be friendly. A simple “Hello” can make everyone feel good, and as a safety precaution, if something happens to you on your hike, it’s helpful to have other people remember seeing you.

Respect Landowners

Big Sky is fortunate to have landowners who appreciate the fact that we choose to live here to enjoy the outdoor opportunities at our doorstep.

Ralph’s Pass is a prime example. This moderate, 2.7-mile connector trail between BSCO’s Uplands Trail and Ousel Falls Trail opened in June 2017, made possible by private landowner easements.

This multi-use trail is open seasonally from June 15 to Oct. 15, so be sure to get out there before it closes to protect sensitive wildlife habitat. Show the landowners your gratitude by staying on the trail and keeping your dog on a leash.

Respect the Trail

Keep it clean. Make sure to pack out any garbage you have, and pick up litter, even if it’s not yours. This goes for your dog, too. Many trailheads have pet waste stations and bags if you forgot one. Pick your dog’s waste up and throw it away. If you bag it and leave it on the side of the trail, you’re not done.

Stay on the trail. Cutting switchbacks can be tempting, but it kills vegetation and causes erosion.

Stop the spread of invasive plants. Many invasive non-native plants grow aggressively and choke out native plants and overrun wildlife habitat. You can help by educating yourself on noxious weeds that need to be controlled, staying on the trail, and checking for seeds and burrs that like to hitchhike on your shoes, bike tires or your pet’s fur.

Visit bscomt.org for more information about Big Sky’s parks, trails and recreation programs. The Big Sky Community Organization is a local nonprofit that connects people to recreational opportunities by acquiring, promoting and preserving sustainable places and programs for all.

Sara Marino is the new community development manager for the Big Sky Community Organization. She comes to Big Sky with 17 years of nonprofit experience from the Montana Environmental Information Center.