We all have stories about "those" trail users: the ones who tromp carelessly through freshly groomed tracks, or let their dogs dart in front of fast-moving bikers or skiers. The good news is that they're in the minority: when I polled different user groups for their views on trail etiquette, most said on-the-trail relations are actually going pretty well.
"User group relations have come a long way in the last 10 years. I think people have really been responsible and are educating themselves," said Janice Tower, president of Singletrack Advocates, in a phone interview -- a sentiment echoed by several representatives from other groups.
That said, there were a few issues that did crop up repeatedly in interviews, and dogs are one of the biggest. Who wants to leash their dog when it could be running free with the wind in its face? Those who don't want their joyous pooch to accidentally injure someone else, that's who.
"Two of our members have been seriously injured (in separate incidents) this past year when loose dogs darted in front of their bikes on the Coastal Trail," wrote Veronica Allmaras in an email. Allmaras is a co-organizer of the Anchorage Adventurers Meetup group. She says that one member went over his handlebars, breaking his helmet and sustaining a concussion; the other was knocked off her bike and ended up with a serious shoulder injury.
Loose dogs can be especially hazardous to skijorers. Most skijor dogs are professional enough to go by other trail users and dogs, says Clare Ross, board president of the Anchorage Skijor Club. However, sometimes loose dogs do get in the way and cause crashes.
"I wish people knew that skijoring can be dangerous, and that if you hear and see us coming to give us some leeway so we don't crash. Those of us in the club work really hard to avoid those situations, but new skijorers don't always know how...so it's really helpful when people get out of the way for them," she explains.
Keeping your dog under leash control while on public property -- except in a few cases -- is municipal law, too. If that doesn't motivate you, at least put a bear bell on your dog's collar so fast-moving trail users have a fighting chance of hearing it coming. And the poop? Well, it doesn't pick itself up, and it certainly doesn't get more attractive with age. But even more puzzling than those who don't pick it up are those who bag it, then leave the bags laying around (or sometimes, hanging from trees).
"It's wonderful that people carry these bags and take the time to scoop the poop," says Tower. "It'd be even more wonderful if they'd carry it with them, maybe in another plastic bag...that way they don't forget it."
Know when to stay home
Another often-mentioned problem: the soft, saturated trails that develop in warm weather. Long after you've toiled by, the ruts or postholes you've made will dry or freeze in place and linger all season.
"We encourage people to stay off the trails on days when (they) are soft from warm weather or rain. Skate skiing can be especially damaging to soft trails, as can snow biking, packing the snow into hard, clear ice," wrote Anne Gore, executive director of the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage, in an email interview. Her advice is valid for pedestrians, too -- human and dog feet can punch long-lasting divots into soft trails.
What if you can't resist (or avoid) hitting the trail when it's soft? For skiers, Gore recommends using classic or touring skis and skiing in a straight line along the edge of the trail. Brian Litmans, president of Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage, had similar advice for cyclists on multi-use trails. "We encourage people... to wait for (soft snow) to set up so you're not leaving divots, unless you have a fat bike that isn't leaving a trail," he said. He also encourages bikers to turn their road lights down, when possible, on the trails; no need to blind your fellow users.
Where Am I?
Multi-use trails aside, you'll find two types of designated-use trails in and around Anchorage: ski trails and mushing trails. On ski-only trails, fast, quiet skiers probably won't be watching for pedestrians in places they're not supposed to be -- and your feet, however good your intentions, can do a number on the carefully groomed surface.
"If you get lost and accidentally end up on a ski-only trail and absolutely can't avoid it, please move to the side of the trail on the opposite side of the set tracks," said Gore.
Mushers are even faster and quieter than skiers. "Focused, running sled dogs do not make noise," said Susan Wagnon, race veterinarian for the Alaskan Sled Dog & Racing Association, in an email interview. "In a good snow year, folks will not see or hear anything until the dog teams are running by."
Because of that, the biggest drive for separating dog mushers from other users is safety. "Open class teams travel at 20-plus miles per hour, and it takes yards to stop a dog team at full speed. The dogs can be 20-plus feet in front of the sled. (That's a) bad scenario if a parent is stopped in the trail trying to put mittens on a child on a blind corner, or on one of our bridges," Wagnon explains.
Because of that hazard, designated mushing trails are designated by a mix of permanent markers and temporary signs -- if only those signs would stay put. But two weekends ago, the association's race marshal found two thirds of their temporary signage pulled up and thrown down, just seven days after being posted. "We just keep picking them up and try to keep educating the public," Wagnon says.
Be a good neighbor
So, what does it really take to get along with other trail users? Not much more than a basic understanding of the rules and a willingness to give others the physical space they need to do their thing. (In its simplest form, that starts with slower users keeping to the right so others have room to get by in both directions.)
Or as Tower, with Singletrack Advocates, explains: "We encourage everyone to get along, and to slow down and pass safely, and to smile, and to appreciate one another because we're all out there for the same positive things."
For general tips on trail etiquette and a link to more information on Anchorage's multi-use trails, visit muni.org/departments/parks/pages/trails.aspx