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Share the Trail: Good manners when using trails

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Podcasts
Share the Trail: Good manners when using trails .mp3 (2.22 Mb) 4/14/08

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Steve Carroll:

Hi, everyone. I'm Steve Carroll an Information Officer with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and welcome to our program.

Today we are talking about the sharing of state trails among the various user groups.

Joining us is Dan Breva, currently the East Metro Area Supervisor for the DNR Division of Trails and Waterways. He is responsible for the eastern metropolitan counties of Dakota, Ramsey, Washington, Chisago, Anoka, and Isanti working with local units of government on public water accesses, fishing piers, grant and aide snowmobile trails, and cross-country trails programs, local trail grant programs, and the Gateway State Trail.

Dan has worked for the DNR since 1969, that's almost 39 years, for the Division of Parks and Recreation. He's an avid cyclist who bike commutes to work and rides recreationally. He and his wife have taken bicycling vacations to the Netherlands and to Germany.

Welcome, Dan.

Dan Breva:

Thank you. It's good to be here.

SC:

Today we're going to talk about recreational trails and can't we all get along.

DB:

Yes, that's an important thing. It's become increasingly important as we have more and more people out using the trails and as more and more trails are available for use. It used to be, way back, you know, you could go out and use a trail, you might be the only person out on a trail, be it out in the state forest or a state park. But that's not the case anymore and a number of recreational uses have developed over time. Twenty, thirty years ago inline skating was just not really on the horizon. There were other activities that have developed over time.

So getting all users to not only follow the rules, but have respect and civility for the other users will really increase the enjoyment for everybody.

SC:

So how to you go about establishing rules that kind of fit everyone's uses?

DB:

As far as actual establishment of the rules, that's all. A legal process – that takes a long time. But the department works with user groups, all user groups, that are going to be in an area and finds out what their needs are and also what their concerns might be. And we also have to evaluate the protection of the resource, so that state forests, state trails, the resources that are actually out there, the natural resources, aren't damaged by the uses.

So the rule making process is very formalized but it takes everybody's citizen participation, the department's synthesis of this to come up with rules that are both enforceable and assist the users so that the problems don't occur out on the trails. It's very similar to rules for driving a car on the public right of ways, or for taking your boat out on a lake. There are rules that we all have to adhere to so that problems don't occur. But for real enjoyment we have to go beyond the rules and start thinking and respecting the other uses and what we might do to avoid conflicts that could develop.

SC:

So, rules are kind of the start of the process. We've got some rules established, now how are they enforced, how do the various user groups kind of implement the rules that they've established?

DB:

Right. And there really has to be that respect for, "my use isn't the only use that's an acceptable use out there." If a trail is similar to the Gateway Trail where we have both horse use and bicycle use, both users have to understand that that brings with it some responsibilities and some rights that they have to respect each other's use. Because, for example, a horse really is in effect a prey animal so they're always going to be nervous about hearing sounds or seeing something that they can't determine exactly what it is. Is it something they should run away from? Is it something that's not going to be a threat? And that takes a little while and the senses of those animals are different from what we might perceive. If we're not a horse rider, we don't know how horses behave, so we have to take our cues from the horse rider and understand that coming up suddenly on a horse is something that we have to either prepare for or watch out so that it doesn't happen if at all possible.

SC:

Got ya. Let's start with some of the basics then. How about leashed pets?

DB:

Yes, that's – in thirty million years that's been a problem that's never been solved in my career and it never will be. Pet owners, a lot of pet owners, feel that their dog or their animal is under control and so they don't have to have it on a leash. The rules for public recreation areas are that a pet must be on a leash for our state trails or state parks.

There are areas in municipal parks, county parks, and some other areas where off-leash areas are established. That's the place to take your pet and have it off-leash. But when it's on a state trail, it's in a state park it really needs to be leashed for a number of reasons – other users, other pets that might be out there, the wildlife that's out there. So there are many issues.

I had a sad occurrence when I was a manager at a state park. Somebody had their dog out in a remote part of the park about this time of the year and it was off leash. But the dog saw some waterfowl out on the ice, ran out to chase the waterfowl, and the ice broke away and she lost her dog. It was a very sad situation but it's those kinds of things that many times can occur unexpectedly, and that's when problems occur.

SC:

And it's also important, I'm sure, that people pick up after their pet?

DB:

Absolutely, yeah. You know, cleaning up after your pet is just going along with the responsibility of having a pet.

SC:

OK. How about yielding to others?

DB:

That's one that sometimes people have a problem with – "who do I yield do?" And to a large extent, if you think about it, a mechanical means of transportation really needs to yield to a non-mechanical. A bicyclist should yield to a pedestrian. They have that responsibility to yield to pedestrians.

As far as the horses go, everything should yield to a horse because they're very large animals a lot of bad things can happen. And horse riders for the most part understand that and if they have a horse that is skittish they usually won't bring them out in an area where there's a lot of use that might cause their horse to react in a bad manner. So that's something to keep in mind. If you know there's horses on a given recreational area you really have to plan for that, so that if you see horses you may want to – all you really have to do, if a horse hears that it's a human, that's going to calm them down right away. So even just calling out saying, you know, "horse," you know, "bicyclist," or, "walker coming towards you," and then listen for the horse rider to give you some instructions. If they say, "it's not a problem, you can come ahead," then you can continue on your recreational pursuit. But that's one of those things where you really need to yield to the horse.

I think there's a need to people that have high skill levels, be it inline skating, riding a bike, to yield to those that have lower skill level. These are public recreational trails and it's real important that you don't drive people away that are maybe just getting into that recreational pursuit. It's one of those things where I as a bicycle rider have the ability to slow down and control my actions much more than somebody who may be new at it, especially children. There again, children on the trail, you can't guarantee that if I make some sort of notice that I'm coming up behind them that they will behave in the manner that I would prefer them to. Often times if I ring my bell back behind somebody, a smaller child may turn to look and see what that sound is – is it somebody who's trying to get their attention. I have to be willing to stop and control that situation safely and that's just part of being on a multi-use trail.

SC:

It's kind of like it's recreational, multi-use, not necessarily training for whatever.

DB:

Exactly, and part of that then brings that responsibility. If I - if a bicycle rider is going out to get an aerobic exercise or to put in some miles, long miles, Saturday afternoon, Sunday's may not be a good time to be on a recreational trail because there are going to be a lot of recreational users that are using the trail for other purposes. So that's something to consider. Find a route that will work for what you're trying to do.

SC:

What about the just being aware of your surroundings when you're out on the trail, the importance of that?

DB:

Very important. More and more trails now have trail connections, say into a local community, a neighborhood, another trail, and they're not always really heavily marked. And there are maybe users that will, say younger children, may come out from a neighborhood to ride the trail and when they get to that intersection they may just ride out onto the trail. So being aware of what's coming up, you know, what's going on outside of just that paved tread way is very important because it's easy to get lulled into that sense of security on a recreational trail because there's no other uses immediately nearby. Say, if when you're riding a bike on a roadway you know there are cars, you know there are motor vehicle intersections, so you're more conscious of that, you're paying attention to what's going on around. When you get on a recreational trail a lot of times people just start looking at the scenery and stop paying attention of what actually is coming up ahead of them.

SC:

What about the use of headsets?

DB:

That's a real issue. In some settings it's not an issue, but there again you've got to be aware of what you're doing. It's similar to talking in a cell phone when you're in your car driving down the freeway. It may not be the best time to do something like that. The same thing goes for headsets when you're riding a bike or inline skating. You still need to be aware of what's going on around you.

SC:

Got it. We talked a little bit about horse behavior, what about dog behavior?

DB:

There again, some dogs are aggressive in crowds of people, some dogs are totally unreactive to that kind of thing. And other people – people react to dogs differently. If you're a dog lover fine, you're going to come up, be willing to talk to that dog. But other people really don't have – aren't comfortable around dogs. So again, dog on leash is the safest way to go. And keeping the leash short, keeping the leash, the dog near you as you come across other users is a safe thing to do. You don't want a dog crossing in front of you unexpectedly say if you're on a bike just getting past someone, a walker with a dog. Those are things to consider.

SC:

What about private property along the trails?

DB:

That's a critical thing for maintaining good neighbor relations for recreational trail corridors. It is private land, and the trail tread way is really designed for that use by the public but it doesn't give the users the opportunity to just go out onto private property. Usually with state trails, where there's an area that people may think they have an opportunity to go out into a pasture or onto some forestland, it's usually marked that at some point you're going to be leaving that right of way, that public right of way. And so you should always be aware of the close connection with private property and respect those private property rights.

SC:

Is graffiti a problem along state trails?

DB:

It's less of a problem than it could be and I think part of that is the trail users have some ownership. And so they'll report it when they see it. Additionally more and more users put more and more eyes out there so that the graffiti artist has fewer opportunities to do what they're doing. And what we try to do as much as possible is when graffiti appears is to remove it as quickly as possible so it doesn't create a sense that you can come down and do that kind of a thing on a trail.

SC:

Is there a time of day, day of the week, that's better or less populated than in general?

DB:

Usually mid-week is always going to be a little bit lower-use pattern. Middle of the day again and mid-week is quiet. As far as some of the metro trails are concerned there's bike commuter use, there's transportation use of those trails. So mornings and evenings yes, you're going to see bike commuters out there on the trails. And the key there is both the bike commuter being aware that there may be recreational uses and the recreational user understand that there may be some bikers out there that may be riding faster than a typical recreational rider would be doing.

SC:

Well, very good information. That's about all the time we have for today's program.

I want to thank our guest Dan Breva, the East Metro Area Supervisor for the DNR Division of Trails and Waterways.

And for more information about sharing the trails, visit the DNR's website at mndnr.gov.

And thank you for listening. I'm Steve Carroll with the Minnesota DNR.