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Leave No Trace | Trail Etiquette | Resources |

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” - John Muir, 1913, in L. M. Wolfe, ed., John Muir, John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, 1938

Guides for:
All Trail Enthusiasts | Equestrians | ORV riders | Bicyclists | Non-motorized recreation | Camping | Boating |

Outdoor recreation is a big part of the reason we live in the Flathead Watershed and why others come here to visit. Our year-round recreational opportunities include hiking, backpacking, fishing, hunting, horseback riding, swimming, boating, skiing, snowshoeing, biking, and off-road vehicle activities. Recreation contributes substantially to our economy and to our health. However, hiking trails, developed camping areas, boat launches, and other recreational facilities can contribute sediment, nutrients, bacteria, and other pollutants to the waterways surrounding recreational areas. Areas developed for recreation may have impervious surfaces that cause water and pollutants to accumulate and run into water bodies. Individuals engaging in recreational activities can cause air pollution as they travel to and from recreational sites. Soil and groundwater can be polluted by human and animal waste and litter. Watercraft and off-road vehicles can displace or kill plants and animals. Responsible recreation greatly reduces our impact on the watershed, leaving the same recreational opportunities for those who follow us. Educate yourself about the safety guidelines, rules and regulations, and common courtesies of your recreational activities, to avoid sensitive areas and to respect the rights of others.

Leave No Trace Ethics
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has partnered with the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics to help teach outdoor enthusiasts how to protect the places they love. The principles of Leave No Trace originated from a need to protect backcountry and wilderness areas from human-caused recreational impacts. However, the application of Leave No Trace extends into all our public lands. As more and more people are recreating in “front country” settings, knowledge of how to apply Leave No Trace becomes increasingly important. The following guidelines are a focused set of recommendations based on the original Leave No Trace principles. Practice these ethics when enjoying our great outdoors.

Know Before You Go
Planning ahead is the easiest way to protect outdoor places and to enjoy a safe visit. Knowing site-specific regulations beforehand will help you protect the areas you visit. Use a map, bring a small first aid kit, and remember to bring additional clothing to keep you warm and dry. Wear suitable shoes or boots for walking through puddles or choose trails that are not muddy. Always carry a leash for your pet. Carry plastic bags to pick up your pet’s waste. The more you know and the more prepared you are, the easier it will be to protect the places you enjoy visiting.

Stick to Trails
Staying on trails is a simple way to protect the landscape, particularly in heavily used areas such as Montana state parks and fishing access sites. Shortcutting causes erosion and damages trailside plants, especially if it’s wet or muddy. Remember, boots dry overnight but trails can take years to recover from erosion. When trailside vegetation is trampled, there is a greater chance weeds will replace native plants. If you must leave a trail, protect vegetation by stepping on rocks, gravel, or other nonvegetated surfaces. In most environments, native plants often take years to recover from trampling. Avoid areas closed for revegetation or signed as sensitive. Also, some trails may pass through private land. Respect private property by staying on designated trails. Stick to trails.

Overnight Right
If camping overnight, stay in a designated site rather than creating your own. Be sure to choose a site big enough to accommodate your group so that you overnight right.

Trash Your Trash
Trash is unsightly and ruins everyone’s outdoor experience. Pick up all trash—yours and others. Dispose of biodegradable materials, such as orange peels, apple cores, and food scraps, in a trash can. Trash and leftover food can harm native wildlife. Animals that become dependent on human food often have to be relocated or destroyed. Burning trash or leftover food is not recommended since these items can rarely be completely burned in a campfire. In some Montana state parks and most fishing access sites, “Pack it in, Pack it out.” Protect the front country-trash all your trash.

Leave It As You Find It
If each of the 6 million people who visited Montana state parks and fishing access sites each year picked a flower or collected a rock or took home an arrowhead, then those who follow would not be able to enjoy them. By leaving the natural world as you find it, you are protecting the habitat of plants and animals as well as the outdoor experience of millions of visitors. Leave it as you find it.

Be Careful with Fire
For many, enjoying a campfire is an outdoor tradition. However, unnatural or out-of-control fires can be very destructive and cause long-lasting impacts. Consider cooking on a portable stove rather than a fire. If you plan to build a fire, first check to see if fires are allowed in the area you are visiting. If fires are allowed, always use an existing fire ring. Use charcoal for cooking or, if wood fires are allowed, gather only dead wood on the ground. Conserve wood by burning your campfire for a short period and allow plenty of time for the fire to burn down to ash. When finished with your fire, douse and stir with water to make sure it’s completely out. Never leave a fire unattended, and remember to be careful with fire.

Keep Wildlife Wild
Montana state parks are home to a variety of wildlife. Observe wildlife from a distance; never feed them human food or leave food scraps behind. Animals that become reliant on human handouts lose the ability to find food on their own and can easily become malnourished. Many animals become used to human trail activity. Traveling off-trail may cause added stress to animals and damage habitat. Keep wildlife wild by staying on trails and not approaching, harassing, or feeding them.

Manage Your Dog
Keeping your dog in control protects your pet, other park visitors and their pets, and local wildlife. Others may not appreciate your dog’s company; always ask before allowing your dog to approach them. Be sure to check the posted regulations about area leash requirements. If a leash is required, use it. Respect private property by not allowing your dog to wander from designated trails or off-leash areas. Always manage your dog, for his sake and yours.

Pick up Poop
Pet waste can be a serious problem in recreation areas. With so many people recreating with their pets, the potential to impact the environment is great. Pet waste smells, poses a health hazard to people (particularly children) and other animals, and is not natural to any environment. Cleaning up after your pet helps protect water resources, plant life, and habitat for native animals. The solution is simple—clean up after your pet. Some locations supply bags you can use to pick up your pet’s waste. If these are not available, a plastic grocery or newspaper bag works. Bag your pet’s waste and put it in the trash. This simple act keeps our public lands clean for all.

Share Our Trails
People enjoy our public lands in different ways. When passing others on trails, slow down and be courteous—offer a friendly greeting. Bikers, because they often travel at higher speeds, have an extra responsibility to slow down and yield to slower-moving visitors. When yielding, the best practice is to stop, step off the trail on a durable surface (rock, sand, etc.,) and remain until others pass. In all situations, respect other visitors and share our trails.


Tips on responsible recreation are available from Tread Lightly!®, a national nonprofit organization with a mission to promote responsible outdoor recreation through ethics education and stewardship. The organization was launched in 1985 by the US Forest Service, and became a nonprofit organization in 1990.

Here are some Tread Lightly!® guidelines for all trail users:

Trail Etiquette
In many places, trails are open to and shared by equestrians, off -road vehicle (ORV) riders, bicycle riders, runners and hikers. Trail sharing works when people respect each other and cooperate to keep each other safe. Remember that ORVs and mountain bikes may be used only on designated trails, and riders should never cut their own trails or roads. Abuse of land use privileges by mountain bikers and ORV users can lead to trail closures.

While it is important for people to respect each other on the trail, it is essential to remember that equestrians are dealing not only with other trail enthusiasts’ personalities, they also are working with horses whose temperaments are as individual as our own. Horses’ natural instincts can influence their behaviors and affect the way they react to circumstances encountered on the trail. For these reasons, it is important that equestrians know their horses well enough to be able to control them when they encounter others on the trail.

Figure 5.16: Trail sign post. Source: U.S. Forest Service

Conversely, ORV riders, bicycle riders, runners and hikers must understand that “equestrian only” trails must be respected for the safety of both the horse and rider. These trails offer the opportunity for equestrians to acclimate their horses to basic trail conditions without encountering “unknown threats” that can trigger the horse’s natural flight instinct. When young or inexperienced horses encounter new conditions on the trail like ORVs, bicycles, runners and hikers, and even certain scents, the flight response can end with disastrous results for the horse and/or rider. When equestrians on well-trained horses and other responsible trail enthusiasts meet each other on the trail, the encounters can be enjoyable social exchanges if the groups understand how to work together to keep the encounters safe.

Guidelines for all trail enthusiasts
 

Common Courtesy

  • Respect all trail restrictions and use only trails open to your mode of transportation.
  • Be considerate of others on the road or trail.
  • When traveling on shared-use trails, continually watch for other types of recreationists.
  • Slow down when sight lines are poor.
  • Keep speeds low around other recreationists.
    Keep noise and dust down.
  • Keep your ears open – no ear buds for an MP3. Listening to headphones or ear buds can make it difficult to hear and communicate with other recreationists. In some areas, it is illegal to operate vehicles or bikes with both ears covered.
  • Alert trail users in front of you as to your intention to pass them
  • Keep pets under control. Some trails require dogs to be leashed.
  • Be familiar with local rules.

Yielding 

  • Yield the right of way to those passing you from behind or traveling uphill.
  • Motorized vehicles yield to mountain bikes, runners, hikers, and horses.
  • Mountain bikes yield to runners, hikers and horses.
  • Runners and hikers yield to horses.
Guidelines for Equestrians on shared trails
  • Be sure you can control your horse and it has been exposed to other trail recreational uses before riding on shared-use trails.
  • Cooperate with local ORV and bicycle riders to expose your horse to vehicles in a gradual manner, in a safe environment.
  • Be alert and aware of the presence of other trail enthusiasts. If possible, pull to the side of the trail when you hear ORVs or bicycles.
  • At trailheads or staging areas, park vehicles and secure horses in a manner that provides a safe distance between the horses and passing traffic. Don’t clean out trailers at these location. Kick manure piles to spread them.
  • Be prepared to let other trail enthusiasts know what needs to be done to keep you, the horse, and other trail enthusiasts safe when you meet on the trail.
  • Less experienced horses and riders should ride behind more “trail-wise” horses and riders.
  • If you are “ponying” a horse, go slow and never take a loose horse on the trail.
Guidelines for ORV riders when encountering horses on the trail:
  • Pull to the side of the trail far enough for horses to pass safely as soon as you see them.
  • Pull to the downhill side of the trail if possible since horses tend to perceive unknown threats on the uphill side as predators.
  • Shut off your motor as soon as possible and remove your helmet. The horse will be more likely to recognize you as a human.
  • Speak to the rider and horse in a friendly, relaxed tone.
  • When approaching horses from behind, stop, call ahead and make yourself known to the rider. Ask them if it is OK to pass and the best way to do so.
  • Horse riders may pull to the side of the trail a safe distance if they hear an ORV approaching, but this does not necessarily mean it is safe for you to ride by. Stop and wait for instructions from the horse rider.
  • Ask the horse rider how he/she would like to proceed.
  • The horse rider will know his/her horse and how the horse reacts to other trail enthusiasts.
  • The horse rider may ask you to stay put and ride past you.
  • The horse rider may ride to the side of the trail and ask you to ride or push past them.
  • If you ride by a horse, keep your rpm’s low and steady and your sound as low as possible. Sudden movements or sounds can startle horses.
  • Be alert – be aware and on guard for oncoming traffic.
Guidelines for bicyclists when encountering horses on the trail: 
  • Pull to the side of the trail far enough for horses to pass safely as soon as you see them.
  • Pull to the downhill side of the trail if possible since horses tend to perceive unknown threats on the uphill side as predators.
  • Speak to the rider and horse in a friendly, relaxed tone. Remove your helmet if it conceals part of your face. The horse will be more likely to recognize you as a human.
  • When approaching horses from behind, stop, call ahead and make yourself known to the rider.
  • Ask them if it is OK to pass and the best way to do so.
  • Horse riders may pull to the side of the trail a safe distance if they hear a bicycle approaching but this does not necessarily mean it is safe for you to ride by. Stop and wait for instructions from the horse rider.
  • Ask the horse rider how he/she would like to proceed.
  • The horse rider will know his/her horse and how the horse reacts to other trail enthusiasts.
  • The horse rider may ask you to stay put and ride past you.
  • The horse rider may ride to the side of the trail and ask you to ride or push past them.
  • If you ride by a horse, do so at a slow, steady pace and avoid making any sudden movements or sounds that might startle the horse.
    Be alert – be aware and on guard for oncoming traffic.
Guidelines for other non-motorized recreationists when encountering horses on the trail: 
  • Hikers and trail runners should always stop and step to the side of the trail when they meet horses on the trail.
  • Step to the down-hill side of the trail.
  • Speak to the rider and horse in a friendly, relaxed tone.
  • Keep pets under control. Out of control pets pose both a threat to themselves, as well as the horse and rider.
Camping

Top 10 ways to minimize impacts when camping

  1. Whenever possible, use existing campsites.  Camp on durable surfaces and place tents on a non-vegetated area.  Do not dig trenches around tents.
  2. Camp at least 200 feet from water, trails, and other campsites.
  3. Pack out what you pack in. Carry a trash bag and pick up litter left by others.
  4. Repackage snacks and food in plastic containers or baggies, especially foods that come in glass containers. This reduces weight and the amount of trash to carry out.
  5. For cooking, consider using a camp stove instead of a campfire.  Camp stoves leave less of an impact on the land.
  6. Observe all fire restrictions. If you must build a fire—use existing fire rings, build a mound fire, or use a fire pan. Use only fallen timber for campfires.  Do not cut standing trees. Clear a 10-foot diameter area around the site by removing any grass, twigs, leaves and extra firewood. Also make sure there aren’t any tree limbs or flammable objects hanging overhead.

    Allow the wood to burn down to a fine ash, if possible. Pour water on the fire and drown all embers until the hissing sound stops. Stir the campfire ashes and embers until everything is wet and cold to the touch. If you don’t have water, use dirt. 
  7. Detergents, toothpaste and soap harm fish and other aquatic life. Wash 200 feet away from streams and lakes.  Scatter gray water so it filters through the soil.
  8. In areas without toilets, use a portable latrine if possible, and pack out your waste. If you don’t have a portable latrine, you may need to bury your waste.  Human waste should be disposed of in a shallow hole six to eight inches deep at least 200 feet from water sources, campsites, or trails.  Cover and disguise the hole with natural materials. It is recommended to bury or pack out your toilet paper.  High use areas may have other restrictions, so check with a land manager.
  9. Following a trip, wash your gear and support vehicle to reduce the spread of invasive species.
  10. Use approved bear resistant food storage containers and lockers.
Practice Responsible Boating

Travel Responsibly
Travel responsibly on designated waterways and launch your boat or personal watercraft in designated areas.

  • Travel only in areas open to your type of watercraft.
  • Carry a Coast Guard approved life vest or personal flotation device (PFD) for each person on board.
  • Always operate your boat at a safe, fuel-efficient speed.
  • Always have a designated lookout to keep an eye out for other boaters, objects, and swimmers.
  • Never jump a wake. If crossing a wake, cross at low speeds and keep a close lookout for skiers and towables.
  • Comply with all signs and respect barriers. This includes speed limits, no-wake zones, and underwater obstructions, etc.
    Make every effort to always go boating with a partner.
  • Make certain your trailer is in proper working order and that your lights work and your boat is secure on the trailer before you travel to your destination.
  • When trailering your boat, balance your load including items stowed inside your boat.
  • Don’t mix boating with alcohol or drugs.


Respect the Rights of Others
Respect the rights of others, including anglers, swimmers, skiers, boaters, divers and others so they can enjoy their recreational activities undisturbed.

  • Show consideration to all recreationists on and around the waters.
  • Be courteous to other boaters while in boat ramp areas. Launch and retrieve your boat as quickly as possible.
  • Keep the noise down—especially around shore. Consider canoeing, rowing, or sailing. Avoid playing loud music as sound carries over the water.
  • If crossing private property, be sure to ask permission from the landowner(s).

Educate Yourself
Educate yourself prior to a trip by learning rules and regulations, planning for your trip, taking recreation skills classes, and knowing how to operate your equipment safely.

  • Obtain charts of your destination and determine which areas are open to your type of boat.
  • Obtain and copy of and abide by Montana’s boating laws.
  • Make a realistic plan and stick to it. Always tell someone of your travel plans and file a float plan.
  • Contact the land manager for area restrictions, closures, and permit requirements.
  • Check the weather forecast for your destination. Plan clothing, equipment, and supplies accordingly.
  • Make sure you have enough fuel and oil for the entire trip.
  • Make sure your owner’s manual and registration are on board in waterproof containers.
  • Always carry a Coast Guard approved working fire extinguisher and warning flares.
  • Prepare for the unexpected by packing necessary emergency items.
  • Carry a Global Positioning System (GPS) and know how to use it.
  • Know distress signals and warning symbols. Know your limitations. Apply sunscreen, drink lots of water, and watch your energy level.
  • Take a boater education course to learn more about navigating waterways and safe and enjoyable boating.
  • Make sure your boat is mechanically sound. Be prepared with tools, supplies, and a spill kit.

Avoid Sensitive Areas
Avoid sensitive areas and operating your watercraft at high speeds in shallow waters or near shorelines.

  • Always launch at a designated boat ramp. Backing a vehicle on a riverbank or lakeshore can damage the area and leads to erosion.
  • Always travel slowly in shallow waters and avoid boating in water less than 2½ feet deep. High speeds near shorelines lead to large wakes which cause shoreline erosion.
  • Avoid sensitive areas including seasonal nesting or breeding areas.
    Do not disturb historical, archeological, or paleontological sites.
  • Avoid “spooking” wildlife you encounter and keep your distance.
    Motorized and mechanized vehicles are not allowed in designated Wilderness Areas. 


Do Your Part
Do your part by modeling appropriate behavior, leaving the area better than you found it, properly disposing of fuel, oil and waste, avoiding the spread of invasive species, and restoring degraded areas.

  • Pack out what you pack in.
  • Carry a trash bag and pick up litter left by others.
  • When fueling your boat take every precaution not to spill fuel into the water.
  • Carry a spill kit which includes absorbent pads, socks, and booms.
    Use a fuel collar or bib when fueling to catch drips and overflow and prevent backsplash.
  • Observe proper sanitary waste disposal or pack your waste out.
  • Before and after a trip, wash your gear, watercraft and support vehicle to reduce the spread of invasive species. Remove all plant material from watercraft, motor, trailer, and other gear and dispose on dry land in a garbage container. Drain livewells, bilge water, and transom wells at the boat launch prior to leaving.
  • Never dispose of sewage overboard—it is illegal. Know available sewage-dumping stations before your trip

Keep in mind that the health and beauty of the watershed depends on responsible, knowledgeable, and courteous recreation.


Resources for Responsible Recreation
Flathead National Forest
http://www.fs.fed.us/r1/flathead
406.758.5204
Swan Rangers
http://www.swanrange.org
Leave No Trace
http://lnt.org
800.332.4100

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
http://fwp.mt.gov
For anglers: http://fwp.mt.gov/fishing/default.html
For hunters: http://fwp.mt.gov/hunting/default.html
For boaters: http://fwp.mt.gov/recreation/regulations/boating
For general recreation: http://fwp.mt.gov/recreation/default.html
For Leave No Trace: http://fwp.mt.gov/recreation/ethics/LeaveNoTraceFront.html
406.444.2535

Tread Lightly.org
http://www.treadlightly.org
801.627.0077




For more information, send email to info@flatheadwatershed.org or info@flatheadcore.org.
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