Mind Your Manners

A plea for outdoor etiquette. 

I trekked through the woods as nature awakened all around me. The rushing of the creek, the song of the meadowlark, the beating wings of a ruffed grouse, announced that spring was finally here. My lab and I hiked quietly through the forest, noting the berries, the bright green budding foliage, the wildflowers. Suddenly, the quiet hush was pierced by screeching voices as three lapdogs tore through the woods, yipping and growling at us uncontrollably. The reek of heavy perfume announced the couple making their way down the trail. As they walked side-by-side with the three dogs, I had no choice but to stop and let them pass as I made my way uphill back to the trailhead. They nodded as they passed, the woman continuing to chit-chat to her companion as he smoked his cigarette. The spell of the forest was broken.

As warmer weather attracts more users to forest trails, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with some basic outdoor ethics. Reducing your impact on nature, wildlife, and other visitors is often overlooked when hiking. Always travel quietly and allow animals the buffer space they need to feel secure. Forcing animals to flee or attracting them with food compromises their ability to carry out their normal behaviors. Bear, moose, and other animals can become aggressive and dangerous if threatened by our actions in their territory.

Hikers should avoid bringing a group of dogs into the woods. Several dogs will often fall into pack behavior, not only stressing wildlife but also other trail users. A pack of dogs galloping toward you on a trail is rather unpleasant. Accept responsibility and keep your dog under control. Most of us hitting the forest trails are in search of adventure and solitude. “We’re all looking for some form of communion with nature,” says Dale Sexton, owner of Timber Trails in Livingston. That differs from person to person, he adds, so it’s important to be aware of the presence of other users, and to respect their experience.

Smartphones, radios, and speakers have no place in remote areas, as they disturb wildlife and other visitors. If you’re staring at a device or standing in the middle of a trail snapping a picture, you probably aren’t paying attention to the fact that a trail runner is trying to sneak past you. If you have headphones on and can’t hear them approaching, they might surprise you, and that can lead to a negative experience as well. When encountering others on a trail, yield to the hiker coming uphill, and always yield to horsemen.

“Leave No Trace” means more than not leaving litter behind, so take a minute to review other outdoor ethics and etiquette through the free literature available at the Forest Service office, or at fs.usda.gov.