Protecting Access to Trails Part II
By Lora Goerlich
Most long-time equestrians are aware of and have experienced trail loss over the years. Surprisingly, most of the time it is not due to a lack of volunteers or lack of funding. Trail exclusion and trail loss is often self-induced by careless riders who consistently disregard rules and directives that have been established to protect both park visitors and the diverse habits within natural areas. The importance of knowing, understanding, and following the rules will go a long way in protecting future trail opportunities for all trail users - even if you don’t agree with them. I touched on this topic in a January 2023 article but let’s delve a bit deeper into rules that are frequently overlooked by trail users.
Ride only on designated trails.
Dogs on leash, leash in hand.
Trail right of way.
5. Rider Safety – Unless you know otherwise, always ride as if everyone you encounter is a beginning rider on a green horse. If you like to move out, be aware you will never have full insight as to who else might be around a turn or in wooded areas. Galloping up on other riders could cause dangerous reactions in horses. Slow down the instant you see other riders, especially if you are approaching from behind. Trail horses and their riders deserve positive encounters, no matter what level they are. Always consider how your actions on the trail might impact other trail users. (Topics 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 10, 13 &15 are also part of rider safety).
6. Hours of Operation/Curfew – Not all park agencies have the same operating hours. Some open and close at set times, others might open at dawn and close at dusk. Wherever you ride, know the operating hours before you arrive, especially before heading out on a late day trail ride. Boarding stables with access to park trails, it’s important to monitor boarders. Make certain they are not riding before or after operating hours; your trail access could be jeopardized if you allow it. When trailering in, plan to be back at your trailer at least one hour before the park closes. This should allow plenty of time to untack and load without disrupting staff closing procedures.
7. Group Permits, Special Use Permits, Bridle Tags - Organized trail/competitive events, fundraisers and trail workdays all create unplanned work for staff. Most parks require a special use or group permit at no charge or for a small fee. Permits notify staff of upcoming events giving them time to prepare the trail and facilities. Permits also help avoid overlapping event conflicts. Certain parks require trail permits, entry passes or bridle tags before riding. In protected areas, trail permits can sometimes take years to acquire. In addition, proof of ownership of horse(s), health certificates, negative Coggins results and exclusive use of weed free hay may be required.
8. Removal/Collecting/Poaching - Each park entity has different rules for collecting and hunting, some allow it some do not. To list all things people try to harvest, either legally or illegally would take considerable time, but some commonly sought-after things are edible mushrooms, antler sheds, various plants, trees, roots, flowers, seeds, berries, large and small game, and so on… Unless you are certain the park you are in allows hunting, fishing and collecting, leave nature in its place, and remember, ignorance of a law is not valid excuse if you get caught.
9. Littering – Bottles, wrappers, tissues, fishing line, bags of dog poop tossed into the brush, fairy/gnome villages placed in trees and rock cavities; painted rocks; unauthorized geocaches; flags and markers from navigation courses or events; signs, banners and balloons from events; under garments/sock/shirts soiled with feces; used condoms; and new in 2021…masks! None of these belong in natural areas. You get the gist, the list is endless. If you have a trail event be sure to remove all trail markers and signage promptly.
10. Leaving Animals Unattended - Unattended dog in vehicles and horses left inside trailers or tied to hitching posts can create havoc. A horse who is left behind can become distressed to the point of serious self-harm from thrashing about inside a trailer, or from a failed attempt at escaping through a drop-down window. Bring enough riders for each horse, or pony extra horses. Leave the dog(s) at home when riding in parks with leash laws. Too many things can go wrong.
11. Manure Protocol – Summary from March Trail Journal:
Take trailer manure home.
Do not pile manure around trees or toss it into nearby woods or fields.
Scatter manure on grass parking areas if there is no manure bin.
Manure on gravel or paved parking areas should be taken home if there is no manure bin.
Camp areas, take manure home if there is no manure bin.
Follow guidelines for manure disposal in wilderness areas.
Riding on natural trail tread - leave manure.
On shared/paved trails remove manure deposits by kicking it off the trail tread.
12. Tying Horses - Use only approved structure to tie horses, do no tie to trees, fence rails, mounting platforms or other unapproved structure (covered in December 2022 Trail Journal).
13. Firearms – First check policies/laws on whether firearms are permitted, what permits might be needed and what carrying methods or correct – concealed carry or open carry (also referred to as constitutional, permit less, or unrestricted carry).
14. Parking – Park only in designated areas set aside for truck/trailer parking. Pull through parking is optimal but not always guaranteed. Do a bit of research before traveling to new places. Be mindful of how you park and don't block others by positioning your rig against the flow. If designated lots are full, you will most likely have to leave, unless there are signed and established overflow parking areas.
15. Trail Closure Directives and Trail Protocol – In order for park staff and volunteers to complete certain maintenance tasks or when trail conditions are hazardous it may be necessary to close trail sections temporarily. Do not go around barricades or caution tape to investigate, or to scout for alternative routes… you might just find a ranger with a ticket book at the other end; it’s risky business if you decide to disregard trail closures.
Consistent, mindful actions that impact other trail users and natural areas is an easy and responsible way to secure riding opportunities now and in the future.
Originally published in Horse Trails of America May 2023 Trail Journal