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Etiquette matters on the trail 

Good Dirt

Michael Everson whistled like a locomotive. Steve Griego shouted at the top of his lungs. And as regular climbers of the Manitou Incline, they each have impressive lung power.

The slower runner in front of them on Barr Trail could not hear their warnings. Everson and Griego had covered several miles on the foothills routes above Manitou Springs and enjoyed an easy downhill pace on their way home. They moved along, but were not moving fast when they pulled up behind a woman wearing headphones. They simply wanted to make a quick pass and be on their way. She made no attempt to step aside, though the quicker duo created a racket.

"I was two feet behind this person, whistling as loud as I could, and she didn't hear me," Everson said. "Finally, we reached a place where we could pass her and we scared the crap out of her. She had no idea we were there."

Colorado's springtime taunts us. Outdoor lovers jump at the chance to stretch their legs on any warm day. And after a long winter, the temptation to hit the trail is overpowering — and a good thing, really.

But the more popular trails have become crowded, especially the Incline and Barr Trail. The week of April 4-10 saw 7,490 Incline ascents, according to the city's electronic counter.

Encounters such as the one experienced by Everson and Griego are inevitable. We all use the trails for different — and equally important — reasons.

Hikers, cyclists, runners, daydreamers, it's all good. That's the allure of the backcountry; it becomes our own escape, the place where we find physical challenges and make spiritual discoveries.

But you have to be cool to get it right.

Trail etiquette may not be everyone's favorite subject, but it's necessary in a community that takes pride in its outdoor lifestyle.

Here is a breakdown on the basics:

Horses and pack animals: Give them the right-of-way. Make a wrong move near a skittish horse and things can "get western" very quickly. Best to keep the rodeo in the arena.

Mountain bikes: Yield to everyone. You don't always have to stop, but be sure those on foot know you're approaching. Then slow down and say hello. Pro rider Cam Chambers is famous for delivering an enthusiastic "howdy." Most people will step aside as you roll on by. But not always.

Hikers and runners: Downhill travelers should always grant the right-of-way to those grinding uphill. It sucks to stop and start on steep terrain. And always give a polite warning "on your left" when approaching from behind. I often garner strange looks by singing aloud — everything from Johnny Cash to Neil Young. For some reason folks seem anxious to let me pass. I smile and give 'em a nod.

Headphones: Who doesn't like to rock out to some cool jams? It's OK. Tunes are encouraged if they help you enjoy the day. But please keep the volume at a reasonable level and listen for others.

Stay on the trail: Our crumbly granite hillsides and arid climate combine to create a fragile environment. It's easy to cause great damage by walking off established routes. Carelessly created social trails require rehabilitation work that saps the man hours and funds of groups otherwise tasked with building new and sustainable trails. Plus, injuries suffered off-trail are dangerous. Make a wrong step, break a leg, you might earn yourself an unplanned night of camping out.

And finally, pack it out: This is a no-brainer, but the amount of garbage left on our trails is astounding and depressing. The Incline seems to attract litterbugs. Everson and many others have collected plastic bottles and other refuse there for years. "It breaks my heart to see the amount of trash," says Denise Flory, a longtime trail runner. "I always come out with a full grocery bag, pockets on my pack full, and still leave a ton behind because I don't have room to pack it."

These trails, our precious open spaces and the way we engage them, are part of our culture, a culture largely defined by our conduct.

We're the caretakers — of our land and of each other. And our community is stronger when we care for the common things we hold dear.

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