JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — As mud season subsides and summer hiking season ramps up, Jefferson County Open Space is trying to educate trail-goers on common courtesy and best practices.
As part of this, Jeffco has been working with what’s being dubbed the “Trail Courtesy Collective,” which includes Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks, to study the psychology of trail etiquette and courtesy for the past two years.
A grant from Great Outdoors Colorado helped fund the research.
Open Space Rangers like Mary Ann Bonnell are trying to answer questions to improve courtesy like: What would effective signage look like? And, how do you communicate that courtesy to runners and bikers?
“The key is: when you’re passing someone else on the trail, we are asking everyone to slow down and communicate before you pass,” Bonnell said.
When it comes to the hierarchy of who yields to who on the trail, horses are at the top of the list.
“Horses can be unpredictable, they’re large animals, you don’t want to startle them so absolutely everyone needs to be yielding to horses,” Bonnell said.
Despite their high rate of speed, mountain bikers actually need to yield to everyone on trails. Although Bonnell said this can be situational based on how safe it is to pass.
“There are situations where it’s safer if you can to yield to the rider, particularly if they’re coming downhill on a rocky problem,” Bonnell said.
Bonnell recommends all bikers should have a bell to notify people when they’re approaching, and even recommends them for runners too.
When hikers are passing one another up and down the trail, whoever is heading up the trail has the right of way.
“With signs, more is not always better,” Bonnell said. “That’s what we wanted to do, is look at what is an effective sign, not just getting more signs out on the trail.”
Bonnell said they tested two different signs for runners and bikers, and actually found promising results for the mountain biker group.
“When we had it out on the trail, about 40% more riders did the exact behavior we’re looking for, which is slowing down and communicating before passing somebody else on the trail.”
Bonnell said runners were a bit more elusive and didn’t observe as much change in behavior after putting new signs up.
“So one of the things that we’re wondering is if runners even realize that maybe their speed differential is uncomfortable to people and they should think about a courteous pass when they’re running,” Bonnell said.
Despite the complaints about courtesies and yielding, the number one complaint into Jeffco Open Space remains dogs off-leash on trails.