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Great outdoors etiquette: Don’t forget your manners — or mask — when hitting the trails

ILLUSTRATION BY CATHRYN CUNNINGHAM/JOURNAL

It is no secret that in the COVID-19 era, folks are taking to the outdoors like never before.

And sometimes that can create uncomfortable encounters as, for instance, new hikers bump up against veterans, literally or figuratively. Like anything else in life, there are guidelines – some written and some intuitive – on how best to enjoy an excursion on the trails.

A good primer for folks new to hiking is the Leave No Trace website (LNT.org), said Axie Navas, director of the New Mexico Economic Development Department’s Outdoor Recreation Division.

The organization lays out seven principles for those recreating in the outdoors, several are particularly pertinent for hikers like traveling on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly, respecting wildlife and being considerate of others.

“The big picture is you’re sharing these trails with other people, or multi-users,” Navas said. “You have to be aware and prepare and be cognizant of other people. Remember the golden rule: treat other people like you want to be treated.”

The waste issue has been a big topic as the numbers swell and Navas said it is something easily corrected if visitors simply plan to pick up their own waste.

“Good trail etiquette is to pack it in, pack it out,” she said. “You should plan to leave only footprints and take only memories. You don’t want to be leaving any trash. If you’re bringing in toilet paper, you want to pack that out. And it’s nice etiquette to pack other people’s trash out.”

Likewise, when bringing a dog on the trail, pack their waste out as well, said Jim Glover, co-director of the newly formed New Mexico Outdoor Recreation Business Alliance.

“Clean up after your dog and take the bags with you and making sure you pack it out,” he said. “I’m always amazed how few people do that.”

These days, many trails are multi-use, meaning mountain bikers, trail runners and horseback riders will be sharing the same trails.

Hikers should yield to anyone moving faster, and even step off the trail if it safe to do so, Glover said.

“Hikers need to be aware there are going to be other people on the trail with them,” he said. “They need to be ready to encounter other users on bikes on the trail since there are more people out and riding now, too. Chances are, somebody is going to be around that next bend. The best bet for hikers, when they encounter bikes is go to the right because bikes pass on the left. Going to the right is a big deal and stepping off the trail if they have a place they can do it safely.”

Some new hikers when going up or down a particularly steep hill that has switchbacks may be tempted to cut across the terrain to hasten the trip. That is big violation of hiking etiquette, Navas said, and particularly frowned upon.

“Definitely stick to the built trails, they are there for a reason,” she said. “Cutting switchbacks causes all kinds of damage. It cause all kinds of erosion. Cutting switchbacks may seem shorter, but it has deleterious effects if you cut the trail.”

Particularly in the Southwest, hikers may encounter all kinds of cultural artifacts or interesting flora or neat rocks. But leave them all there.

“Don’t take anything, be it a cool rock or if you’re lucky enough to see any cultural artifacts, leave it and leave the place as undisturbed as possible,” Navas said.

Likewise, don’t deface the rocks or trees.

“There’s a special place in Dante’s circle of hell for people who carve their initials in aspen trees,” Navas said. “Aspen trees are remarkable and we have to protect them. When somebody carves their initials in one, it’s going to be there for a really long time.”

And finally, these days, wear your mask, particularly when encountering other people, Glover said.

“I still some people who don’t even have a mask with them,” he said. “It’s important to always have a mask with you and as soon as you see another person, to be pulling it on. I’m surprised at any how many people are still not doing it.”

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