By Terry Cunningham – As Seen in CARVE Magazine
On my third outing as a Trail Ambassador in the winter of 2014/15, I experienced first-hand the importance of proper trail etiquette and the potential for user group conflict. Patrolling on my Nordic skis on the Sourdough Canyon Trail, I was cruising downhill around a sharp bend when I saw a cute-as-a-button Beagle on the right side of the groomed trail and the Beagle’s owner to the far left. Neither the dog nor its owner were of particular note; I’d passed dozens of happy two-legged and four-legged hikers that day. What was noteworthy about this pair was that they were connected by a 15-foot retractable leash stretched across the entire expanse of the trail, too high to hurdle and too low to limbo.
Once I disentangled myself from the ensuing leash/ski/Beagle/ski pole/dog-owner jumble and removed a plug of snow from my ear, I was able to turn the event into a teachable moment, explaining to the dog owner that all users have a role to play in keeping our wonderful trail system safe and enjoyable for one another.
The Trail Ambassador program is entering its second year in the Custer Gallatin National Forest and Bozeman’s in-town trail system and it has already generated some impressive statistics. Trail Ambassador volunteers went on 138 separate outings, logging over 350 hours on local trails, and had conversations with over 4,000 trail users including skiers, hikers, bikers, snowshoers, dog walkers, ice climbers and hunters.
Trail Ambassadors don’t write citations or have enforcement roles, but they are tasked with informing the public about usage restrictions and trail conditions, providing trail etiquette tips and handing out materials – trail maps, first aid equipment, dog poo bags – as well as letting trail users know which local organizations plow key access roads and repair or groom their favorite trails. Our goal is to represent a useful informational resource – and a friendly face – for those who enjoy outdoor recreation.
What I enjoy most about being a Trail Ambassador are the connections I make while at the trailhead parking lot or on the trail system – and that I can be of assistance to those I encounter. Whether it’s clearing a downed tree from the trail, reuniting a lost dog with its owner, helping Nordic skiers find a trail that matches their ability, directing a fatbiker to a sanctioned trail, answering questions about leash restrictions or passing along snowpack stability information to backcountry skiers, every outing proves to be time well spent.
While there are Trail Ambassador programs in other communities, the one serving the Bozeman area is unique for the number and variety of jurisdictional agencies and non-profit supporters/user groups that fund the program including the Custer Gallatin National Forest, Gallatin Valley Land Trust, the City of Bozeman, Friends of Hyalite, Bridger Ski Foundation, Run Dog Run, the Big Sky Wind Drinkers, Bozeman Health, MT DNRC and the Gallatin Valley Bicycle Club. All of these groups have a stake in promoting the proper use our amazing local trail system while reducing user group conflict, so it’s only natural that they support the Trail Ambassador program.
Each partner organization is encouraged to solicit potential Trail Ambassador candidates, but you needn’t be affiliated with any particular user group to join the program. Are you an outdoor enthusiast who enjoys interacting with fellow trail users to improve the winter trail experience? I invite you to consider becoming a Trail Ambassador. Here’s how I look at it: I if I’m going to be using the trails in the Bozeman area anyway, why not perform a function that’s useful to those that I encounter?
You can learn more about the Trail Ambassador program and its supporting partners by contacting Lucas@gvlt.org
See you on the trails!