OPINION COLUMNS

Tips for the trails: How to be a responsible hiker and biker

By David Talley | Published Saturday, May 20, 2017
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The city of Bridgeport’s hike and bike trails are now open – at least partially.

So far there are about 1.6 miles of choppy, rough trail cut into 240 acres of land southeast of the city’s Northwest OHV Park. It’s not much, but more is coming this summer.

David Talley

David Talley

Now, tools can only take a trail so far, so it will become less rugged as time goes by and more people use it. But with more users on the trail come endless questions about trail etiquette, so let’s address a few of those here:

  • These trails are for non-motorized vehicles only. Mixing pedestrian traffic with ATVs or dirt bikes is a great way to get someone hurt. These trails aren’t set up to handle both. They’re narrow and twisty, meaning fast-moving vehicle operators don’t have time to see and avoid cyclists and hikers. There’s a portion of the Northwest Park set up just for vehicles with motors. This isn’t it. Motorized vehicles also cause massive erosion issues, which is probably the fastest way to ruin the trail for everyone but yourself.
  • Speaking of erosion, these trails aren’t for horses either. Numerous studies show that equestrians cause more long-term trail damage than hikers and bikers due to their heavier weight. Allowing horses on a dedicated hiking and biking trail is a great way to turn it into a cow trail within just a few weeks of use. Equestrians already have more than 20,000 acres and nearly 75 miles of multi-use trails in the Lyndon B. Johnson National Grasslands.
  • Don’t ride or hike muddy trails. Riding muddy trails creates ruts and low spots in the trail, which makes it more likely to hold water in the future. Wet or muddy trails should be considered closed. Would you really have that much fun trying to pedal a gunked up bike anyway? If you’re not sure whether the trail is open, call the Parks Department at 940-683-3400.
  • Don’t modify the trail to make it easier. Learn mountain bike skills and techniques so you can ride over the obstacles already in place. These trails were professionally designed and many of the obstacles on the trail are left there to prevent erosion. Removing logs or rocks you see as inconvenient or too difficult is rude to other trail users. Don’t create new trails or cut through switchbacks. This will be more applicable as the park’s intermediate and advanced trails are finished this summer. If you want an easier ride than the beginner trails, consider one of Wise County’s many quiet roads.
  • Help out with trail maintenance. At least one more community build day is needed to finish the remaining three miles of beginner trail, and if you plan to use the trails, consider helping out with the construction. The trail will also need regular mowing and weed eating throughout the summer once it’s built. Keep an eye out for organized work days on the Parks Department’s social media pages.
  • While removing trail obstacles is wrong, keep an eye out for potential safety issues. While low-hanging branches may seem like a natural challenge for the trail, they’re considered a safety hazard by the mountain biking community. Downed trees that have fallen across the trail can pose major, unexpected threats for fast moving cyclists and dead or damaged trees can fall on trail users. These are trail features that should be removed. At the very least, report them to the city.
  • Control your bicycle and ride within your limits. Social conflicts on the trail usually occur because someone is riding aggressively. And wear a helmet.
  • Yield to other trail users. No one’s ever gotten in a fight because they were being too polite. Let fellow trail users know you’re coming with a friendly greeting or by ringing a bell. International Mountain Bicycling Association general guidelines state that “mountain bikers should yield to other non-motorized trail users, unless the trail is clearly signed for bike-only travel. Bicyclists traveling downhill should yield to all users headed uphill, unless the trail is clearly signed for one-way or downhill-only traffic.” However, it’s key to point out that cyclists riding quickly downhill aren’t always capable of stopping or changing course quickly enough to yield to some hikers. Increased awareness from everyone is important.

These trails are a great asset to our community. Local cyclists and hikers now have a place to call their own and others who live here now have a chance to get into those healthy hobbies. When the trails are finished, they’ll bring in visitors and events from around the state, but only if we take care of them.

David Talley is a Messenger reporter.

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