COVID-19 Stories: The Spoken (and Unspoken) Rules of Outdoor Recreation

With its built-in opportunities for social distancing, one of the most popular activities during the COVID-19 pandemic has been outdoor recreation. Trails and, more recently, campsites have seen an uptick in use but unfortunately, this has been accompanied by increases in trash, trespassing, and unattended fires. 

Whether you’re a native, a long-time local or a newcomer to Western Colorado, a quick refresher on the spoken and sometimes unspoken etiquette of outdoor recreation will help us all safely enjoy these outdoor spaces for years to come.

Plan Ahead. There is a place for spontaneity, but it’s not in the great outdoors. When heading outdoors, you need a plan. Check the weather, and be sure you know the specifics about the trail you’re about to use. There are many apps, like Colorado Trail Explorer (COTREX), Trailforks, and Gaia GPS, that allow you to download a map to your phone prior to heading out and track your route even when cellular service isn’t available. In our dry desert, be sure to pack plenty of water. And finally, tell someone where you will be and what time to expect you back. 

Leave No Trace. Outdoor spaces may appear rugged, but there’s a delicate balance to be maintained. Here in the desert, staying on established trails is especially important so that the biological soil crust – sometimes called “desert glue” – is not disturbed. This living soil supports plant life, prevents erosion, and can take years to recover when damaged. Leave plants, wildflowers, and rocks in their natural habitat. They’re meant to be left behind for all to enjoy. What’s not meant to be left behind? Your trash. Litter and other types of waste, including dog and human waste, not only distract from the pristine spaces we love, they also present hazards for people and wildlife and create extra work for public lands managers. Remember, whatever you pack in, pack out. 

Passing on the Trail – Who has the Right of Way? As a trail user, at some point you will find yourself in a situation when you need to pass or be passed. Who has the right of way and who needs to hop to the side? If allowed on the trail, horses should always be given the right of way – move to the far edge of the trail and be careful not to startle the animal. Motorized should yield to non-motorized trail users, and bikers should yield to hikers and runners. Although it is considered courteous to yield to whomever is making the ascent or climb, keep in mind the rules of passing and never expect the person with the right of way to yield. 

If you’re passing someone going the same direction, slow down and let them know you’re approaching, by ringing a bell or clearly stating, “On your left!” Once they’ve acknowledged your intent, you may pass on their left just as you said.

Don’t Feed the Wildlife. This one is as simple as it sounds. Let’s keep our wildlife wild. Please don’t feed them.

Completely Extinguish Your Campfire. The stakes are high for all of us when someone doesn’t fully put out their campfire. With the high winds and dry desert conditions in Western Colorado, a small campfire can easily spark into a large wildfire in the right conditions. Check current fire restrictions prior to making a campfire, and please don’t leave your campsite until you know your fire is completely out—if it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave. 

Keep Your Distance. Social Distancing rules are easy to follow when you’re in the great outdoors, but when you arrive at a trailhead, pay special attention and make sure to maintain physical distance (at least six feet from others) in the parking lot and other areas where groups tend to gather.

By following these basic rules and sharing them with our friends and fellow outdoor enthusiasts, we’ll preserve and protect these treasured spaces for all to enjoy.

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