Trail Etiquette During a Pandemic: Some Reminders to Us All

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

Groups of walkers out on the Northern Tier Trail.

During the COVID-19 state of emergency, the Northern Tier Trail and most East Lansing parks have remained open to community members for physical activity, whether it be walking, running, biking or rollerblading. Studies have proven that any or all of these types of physical activities can help reduce stress and improve mental health.

But as the weather has warmed up and the number of people using the trails has increased, not everyone is observing the recommendation to leave at least six feet between themselves and people not in their households.

Former East Lansing School Board president and long-time resident Nell Kuhnmuench observed a couple of instances this past weekend involving pairs of runners and walkers who chose not to form a single-file line when approaching a similar pair of walkers from the opposite direction.

In another instance, a pair of runners chose not to move to one side of the path and ultimately forced Kuhnmuench (walking alone) to straddle the other side of the path while they moved past her in the opposite direction.

The CDC’s guidance on personal hygiene during the COVID-19 crisis clearly states: “While on trails, warn other users of your presence as you pass, and step aside to let others pass.”

Kuhnmuench happily noted that one runner did exactly that on a day when many others were present.

“She called out from behind me and gave me plenty of notice,” Kuhnmuench related in an e-mail to ELi earlier this week.

When contacted Tuesday morning to discuss her concerns, Kuhnmuench wanted to remind residents of best behaviors during outside activities at this time of social distancing while noting, “the vast majority are honoring these thoughtful habits.”

Kuhnmuench suggested three specific activities that could use some clean-up (literally and figuratively).

First: Clean up after your dog and place the bag in one of the refuse barrels provided on the trail. Feces left on the trail or alongside the trail (in a waste bag or not), or a field where it may never decompose is “just flat out wrong.”

East Lansing’s Environmental Services Administrator Cathy DeShambo told ELi by email today, “There are several barrels and trash containers along the trail and in all of our parks and public spaces; however, we will be placing additional barrels today due to the increased use by the community. We will also be looking into adding more signage that encourages trail and park users to pick up after their dogs and dispose of dog waste in the trash containers and barrels that are available.”

Second, Kuhnmuench notes, when walking two or more abreast, whether or not part of the same household, people should form a single line along the edge of the trail when passing people traveling the opposite direction in order to afford everyone the appropriate distance.

“This happens with families as well as with two people of all ages who are walking together at a social distance,” Kuhnmuench said. “The best one can do in such a circumstance is to turn one’s back and step off the path (carefully).”

Finally, bikers and runner should announce they are coming from behind and should be in single file when passing others going either direction.

Mike Unsworth of the Tri-County Bicycle Association suggests that “if you’re coming at each other from opposite directions, it shouldn’t be too difficult to create the necessary space.”

The real problem, Unsworth said, is when someone is coming up from behind.

“I have bells on most of my bikes and I like to ring them,” as a signal to others, said Unsworth, who is also a member of the Ingham County Parks and Recreation Commission. “The main thing is to let them know your presence, with a clear warning in plenty of time. Many times people are ‘in their own space,’ and might not be aware of who is around them. Unfortunately, there’s just no standard protocol for situations like these.”

The National Recreation and Park Association also recommends warning other users of your presence as you pass, and also to step aside to let others pass.

All of which circles back to Kuhnmuench, who is thrilled to see the foot and pedal traffic on the trails, but who would also like to see some more safety and courtesy — particularly in a time of public emergency.

“There are very many people who are considerate, and I do not in any way want to suggest the majority are not,” Kuhnmuench said. “But let’s use some common sense and stay safe. Isn’t that what it’s all about these days?”

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