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What You Need to Know About Trail Etiquette

What You Need to Know About Trail Etiquette

As our trails get more and more crowded, trail runners need to think about leaving a positive impact. It’s all about showing our respect for the environment and other trail users.

“The river valley belongs to all of us. We often have different ways of using it and we have to figure out a way of working together.”

That’s Todd Savard, and he’s an accomplished ultra runner from Edmonton. He and his wife Sheryl founded the Edmonton Trail Runners, a trail running group that organizes Edmonton’s River Valley Revenge. We’re talking about trail etiquette.

Think about trail etiquette as a voluntary code of conduct telling us what we should and shouldn’t do out on the trail. Running isn’t like golf or tennis — no one signs up because they like following rules — but by demonstrating good etiquette, trail runners can protect our environment and build better relationships with other trail users.

This is important right now because as it gets busier and busier on the trail, the potential for conflict and damage to the environment is increasing. These issues can eventually lead to the kinds of limits on access that mountain bikers and equestrians sometimes face.

Todd says, “I do find... user groups pointing the finger at other user groups and saying, ‘Well it's because of them’.” Through his volunteer work with the Edmonton Trail Runners, Todd often mentors new trail runners and he offers the following advice about etiquette.

1- There’s more to (trail) life than running

Todd says that when runners get obsessed with trail running, they often run the same trails over and over again. It’s important to remember to mix up where you run to help prevent crowding on popular routes.

Todd also thinks runners should try cross-training. It’s healthier for us and it reduces wear-and-tear on the trail, but it also creates empathy for other trail users. By incorporating cycling or hiking into your activities, he says, “You're going to have more of an understanding of how the other user groups look at trails.”

2- Leave it better than you found it

“Nobody likes garbage, but everybody will run by garbage (and) say ‘Well, why should I pick it up?’” Todd says the Edmonton Trail Runners take part in Edmonton’s Capital City Cleanup Program and collect thirty or forty bags of garbage on their trail cleanup days.

You don’t have to organize a cleanup to contribute. Start by packing out whatever you take in and then up your game by collecting any litter you see on the trail. Every bit improves where we run and shows that runners aren’t just trail consumers.

Todd Savard has a bone to pick with trail litterers.
(Credit: Sheryl Savard)

Jeff Rowthorn believes trail runners can lead by example. Jeff is also an accomplished ultra runner and race director for Happy Trails Racing. He organizes a series of trails runs across Ontario including the Rugged Raccoon, a popular night race in St. Mary’s, ON. He says, “If you can show the people that you're sharing the trails with proper etiquette, then they're going to learn from (that) as well.” He shares this advice.

Five basics of trail etiquette

  •  When trails are busy, stay to the right. Pass on the left, just like on the road.
  • Avoid startling others by letting them know you’re approaching from behind.
  • Respect the quiet so other users can enjoy activities like bird watching or photography.
  • Always yield to horses. Ask riders about approaching so you don’t spook their mounts.
  • Bikes should yield to you, but be practical. Avoid injuries by stepping off the trail.

3- Give wet trails a chance to recover

No one likes wet feet, so it’s human nature to skip around the wet patches. It seems innocent, but skirting muddy trails can damage the surrounding environment and plunging through the puddles creates holes that can harm other users.

Todd and Jeff agree — try to let wet trails recover before you use them. Says Jeff, “It's just a recipe for disaster for people to roll an ankle... because we tried to take advantage of the couple of nice days and actually did a lot of damage to the trails.”

4- Respect the trail conditions, respect the trail

There’s a reason when trails are closed. It may be wildlife migration, deteriorating trail conditions or other seasonal hazards. Jeff says, “It doesn't matter if they were open the week before… you (have) to acknowledge that it's closed and stay away from it.” And if the trail is open, show it the respect that it deserves. Jeff says not to damage the trail by taking shortcuts or cutting corners.

Edmonton Trail Runners finish up a trail cleanup day in 2019. (Credit: Sheryl Savard)

5- Control your pets

Dogs are a big challenge on Ontario’s busy trails. “Some people are just really, really afraid of dogs and it doesn't matter what your dog's temperament is.” Show respect for other trail users by keeping your dog on a leash.

Jeff recognizes that not everyone will agree with his views about trail etiquette and that everyone can experience friction on the trail sometimes. When that happens, he offers this last piece of advice, “Don't put yourself in a situation where… it’s going to ruin your run, and you're just going to get into a heated discussion with somebody. It's not worth it.”

Five basics of race etiquette

  • Attend the race briefing so you understand the course and its hazards.
  • Let other competitors know if you want to pass. Let others pass you when they ask.
  • When fellow competitors are injured or need help, be sure to stop
  • Always thank the race volunteers at the start line, at the aid stations and at the finish.
  • If you have an issue with race officials, raise it in a respectful and polite manner.

Dave Robertson

I’m writer and a reluctant adventurer based in Western Canada. I’m curious by nature so the topics I cover are diverse — civic affairs, urban lifestyle and outdoor adventure. More and more, I write about experiences that force me from my comfort zone.

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