Editor’s Note • This article is part of 150 Things To Do, a reporting project and newsletter that explores the best of Utah. Click here to sign up for The Tribune’s 150 Things newsletter.
In the past year, Americans ventured outside in record numbers. Running and cycling have become increasingly popular across the country, and the number of day hikers rose 8.4% last summer from 2019, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.
This surge in outdoor activities will continue: A recent Penn State survey found that many people who developed new outdoor hobbies during the pandemic plan to continue these habits into 2021 and after the COVID-19 wears off.
“We saw so many people take out trails, which is great,” said Briget Eastep, a professor at Southern Utah University who specializes in the principles of Leave No Trace with a PhD in parks, recreation, and tourism.
However, she also believes that awareness of etiquette, safety precautions, and conservation best practices are essential to responsible use of Utah’s natural spaces.
With more residents and visitors exploring trails and recreational areas across Utah than ever before, enjoying the outdoors now means sharing space with respect, protecting the environment and open land, and protecting ourselves (and others).
Tribune readers are full of hands-on experience, and in response to a recent survey, they gave their best advice on “Responsible Recreation”. Her tips centered on five key topics to keep in mind as you explore the beauty of Utah’s outdoor spaces this summer.
When mountain and valley hikers meet on a narrow stretch of the path, there can be a traffic jam.
Knowing basic trail etiquette protects hikers from an outdoor gaffe.
“Uphill always has the right of way,” writes Trib survey respondent Kat Stevens. “In narrow areas, the descent should stop at the side.” According to a priority guide published by the REI Co-op Journal, Stevens is right. Mountaineers have a limited field of vision and may have a rhythm as they chug up the mountainside, so it’s best to let them pass, the guide says.
The rule, however, is not set in stone. Sometimes mountaineers enjoy the opportunity to take a break along the way. “If you just make eye contact and say hello, you can figure out who has to go first,” said Eastep.
However, trail etiquette can get complicated in multipurpose areas. What about mountain bikes? Horses? To learn the details of mountain manners and become an outdoor Emily Post, guides from the American Hiking Society and REI Co-op Journal can help.
Interviewees Susan Dunlap, Nathan Winn and Sahara Hayes all emphasized the importance of being kind and respectful when using public routes. According to Hayes, friendliness and mutual support are a huge part of the outdoor community.
“People on trails are wonderful and help you when you need them,” she said. “There will always be someone who has a clif bar.”
Almost every single reader who responded to our survey wrote a version of the popular outdoor saying “leave no trace”.
“The general goal of Leave No Trace,” said Eastep, “is to be in nature without harm [it]. “
To avoid leaving a trace, you need to clean up your trash (and for high-flyers, the trash that other groups have left behind), stay on designated trails, don’t carve trees or feed wildlife, and do nothing but photos.
“In Utah, leaving what you find is important,” said Eastep. Flowers attract pollinators, which makes them an essential part of the ecosystem, and removing cultural artifacts like arrowheads is disrespectful.
Ray Bloxham of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance emphasized the importance of fire safety. Currently, open fires are not allowed on Utah public land – except in established facilities at designated campsites – due to drought-related fire restrictions. But even if such restrictions do not apply, Bloxham asked campers to consider giving up the fire.
“The myth that [campfires] Being part of the camping experience really makes an impact on the places, ”explained Bloxham. He recommended using a fire pan, emphasizing the negative effects of chopping on nearby trees – even dead ones – to collect firewood. “We see that places are exposed because [campers] think they need a fire, ”said Bloxham.
According to the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, leaving a trace also includes a detailed set of seven principles. These principles help outdoor visitors to minimize their environmental impact and safely enjoy nature. Visit the Leave No Trace website for more information on proper waste disposal, best practices for outdoor cooking, and the importance of planning ahead.
Readers Heidi Hart and Rachel Klein suggested hiking before 7 a.m. to avoid crowds and heat. But for those hiking in the heat of the day, Sindy Elamrani recommended a “cooling neck wrap”.
Andy Hoffmann said he would choose days and times with little traffic. Popular outdoor sites get crowded on weekends and holidays, which can create parking problems in narrow, winding canyons.
Klein added that going into the underbrush and parking on a blind turn “drives us all crazy in Cottonwood Canyon.”
However, inconvenience is not the only reason to avoid recovery during busy periods. Overcrowding can have a significant negative impact on natural areas, according to Bloxham.
In busy times, there are often not enough campsites and parking spaces to accommodate the number of visitors on public land. “[People] decide that we will go camping this weekend so they can find a place to camp, ”he said, even if there is no designated space available.
This overflow of visitors creates “expanded areas with high usage”. Just because a vehicle (or hiker or campsite) went there doesn’t mean you should, Bloxham said.
Another way to avoid overcrowding is to avoid tagging outdoor locations on social media. “People want the same photo,” said Bloxham. “As [places] are tagged, you see endless lines of people. “
Klein, who has explored Utah’s hiking trails for 14 years, encouraged new hikers to be careful and prepared.
“If you’re out in the woods, it’s not Liberty Park,” she said. “If you are out there alone, you can get into a life-threatening situation, especially in this heat.”
Eastep said she pack a range of essentials, including a headlamp, emergency blanket, sunscreen, and extra food and water, including on day trips. These supplies will protect her in an emergency and allow her to help other hikers who may need help.
“Make sure someone knows where you are going and when you will be back,” wrote reader Julia French.
“The most important thing is that I pack enough water,” adds Sahara Hayes. She does research on the weather, distance, and altitude before going out to make sure she can stay hydrated. A liter of water for every two hours of hike is a good rule of thumb.
Hayes said her favorite sites for hiking research are Girl on a Hike, Road Trip Ryan, and the AllTrails app.
Many of the survey responses included tips for dog-loving hikers who want to bring their best animal friends out into the great outdoors.
Sahara Hayes said she started hiking a few years ago to bond with her “step dog,” her friend’s pet, and she is now a regular hiker.
“Knowing the line rules is extremely important,” she said. “There will be shy dogs or reactive dogs who don’t want to be spoken to.”
Another common theme mentioned by Hayes and several other respondents was the importance of reaching for dogs. The age-old outdoor motto “Pack it in, pack it out” also applies to manure bags.
Researching ahead of time before venturing out into the great outdoors is always a must, but this is doubly true when you bring a pet. Dogs are not allowed in water catchment areas that supply the valley with clean drinking water.
“If you have dogs, check out where you want them to be,” wrote reader Sarah Luing.
Ultimately, most outdoor recreation guidelines are about respect, both for the environment and for the plants, animals and people who depend on it.
“I see it as a way to be kind to the places we love,” said Eastep.
Editor’s Note • 150 Things To Do is a reporting project and weekly newsletter made possible with the generous support of the Utah Office of Tourism. Sign up for the 150 Things newsletter below: