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On the Trail: Trail Ethics

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By Ciara Wolfe BSCO Executive Director

As a frequent, avid trail user, trail ethics are a high priority for me. After a week of variable weather that included snow and rain, I was reminded how quickly poor trail ethics can damage a community trail system, and the importance of respecting trail conditions to preserve their quality over the long term.

With fall bringing some of Montana’s most variable weather conditions, and the season being one of our favorite times to be out on the trails, I thought it was appropriate to share some of the more important trail ethics so that users can care for the trails they are on.

  1. Respect the trail conditions. If the trail is saturated from snow and rain, every step or pedal you take makes an imprint that may not wash away quickly. Know when to turn around or stay off the trail altogether.
  2. Stay on the trail. If you are on a semi-wet trail, make sure to stay on the trail through the puddles rather than walking around them. Every individual that walks around puddles creates an additional path next to the existing trail, which ultimately widens the path, killing unnecessary vegetation. The same goes for cutting switchbacks. Even if a user-created trail exists between switchbacks, it is never a good idea to go off trail and create further damage.
  3. Clean the mud off your shoes, gear and dogs at the trailhead or when you return home. Many noxious weeds go to seed in the fall. These seeds can easily be carried by your furry friends or the mud on your shoes. If you hike several trails and don’t clean off your shoes in between, you can be carrying the seed of a deadly noxious weed to every beautiful place you go. To find out more about the noxious weeds in our area visit
  4. Respect trail user right of ways. Remember the yellow triangle when on the trail to ensure all users have an enjoyable and safe experience. Bikers yield to horses and hikers. Hikers yield to horses, and horses always have the right of way. Remind your friends and family who recreate to do the same.

Big Sky’s community trail system is one of our most treasured assets. The trail system is maintained through a combination of volunteer efforts, local business sponsorships and resort tax funding. The damage that can be done to a trail system during the wet season can impact its quality for years and require additional time and resources to fix. Please do your part and practice responsible trail ethics while enjoying our trail system during one of the most beautiful times of year in Big Sky.

For more information about Big Sky’s parks, trails and recreation programs, visit 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.


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