Vail Curious Nature column: Signage reminds us to be good trail stewards
July 15, 2017
"Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
"Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind
"Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?"
— Five Man Electrical Band
Summer is in full swing, and the opportunities for recreation seem almost limitless. Trails take off in every direction, leading hikers, bikers, climbers, horseback riders, kayakers and fishermen to their own special corners of the Rockies.
Sadly, the more we share our special places with others, the more overuse can damage the things we found so special about them in the first place. Rather than hiding these places like secret treasures, we can promote ways for people to respect and share trails that leave them special for everyone.
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To make trail stewardship simpler, many of the trails we use on our public lands have signs indicating specific rules and regulations. Our tax dollars go into making this signage available, and each sign is intentionally thought out and placed where it can best serve the good of the trail and all of its users. By following the guidelines laid out by these signs, we can ensure our beautiful public lands remain that way for generations to come. The signs are meant to help all of us, so please don't shoot them.
Not all trails have signs with rules, but this doesn't mean we can use and abuse the trails. The Leave No Trace principles are guidelines we can follow to take responsibility for our impact when enjoying the outdoors. The first guideline, plan ahead and prepare, is one you should follow before you even leave your house. You wouldn't leave for a road trip with no gasoline or idea of where you're going, so why leave for a hike without packing food, water and maps and knowing the regulations of the trail?
Dispose of waste properly
Once you're on the trail, Leave No Trace principles are important to preserve the trail. The guideline to hike and camp on durable surfaces refers to the importance of staying on trails and not creating braiding or spur trails. Many trails have signs reminding you not to cut switchbacks and stay on trail, but sometimes trail crews have to make adjustments. In general, if a pile of logs or barrier blocks a trail or spur, then you most likely want to be following the other.
Dispose of waste properly and leave what you find are both guidelines for what we should take from or leave on the trail. We can make a backcountry bathroom more appealing by bringing our own amenities, but forgetting to pack out or bury our waste and toilet paper can leave unsightly white "trail flowers" that those who follow don't want to see. When passing real wildflowers on the trail, it's best to admire how beautiful they are, take a few pictures and leave them behind unpicked for everyone to enjoy.
While hiking a popular trail, we need to be considerate of other visitors by keeping our voices and music down and yielding to other users on the trail. If we're lucky, we may encounter more than people on the trail, in which case it's important to respect wildlife. By observing animals from a distance, not feeding wildlife and keeping our pets under control or at home, we can ensure any wildlife we encounter feels comfortable and protected.
For a full list and more details about the Leave No Trace seven principles, visit http://www.lnt.org.
Haley Baker is a naturalist and sustainability intern at Walking Mountains Science Center and part-time vigilante on the trails of Eagle County.