Trails across the state have seen a huge jump in traffic over the past two months. Most springs, that would be largely due to the slow, hopeful creep of better weather, longer days, and sunshine. That’s certainly true this year, but it’s also the result of the sweeping lockdown and folks looking to relieve some of their cabin fever symptoms.
That increase of trail users is a good thing, but it’s something we all need to take as a positive that also requires some precaution. We love seeing people ride, walk, run, hike and enjoy the trails in our region, but we all need to remember that all of the social distancing guidelines put in place by the state government and the federal government apply past the trailhead, too.
And for a lot of locations, it’s the trailhead that has gotten the most attention. Photos and videos of door-to-door, jam-packed parking lots have drawn criticism and even closures in some parts of the state, including in southeast Michigan. Home to many of the coronavirus cases and deaths, that part of the state has seen parking lot or trailhead closures that have resulted in both lowering potential transmission and trail access. It’s a measure that could spread to other parts of the state soon.
The most sweeping decision would be made by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, who could close access to parking lots and trails on state-managed land if deemed necessary. Here in west Michigan, we have more trails operated by city or county park systems, and in that scenario, the decision to limit or trail access would be a bit more piecemeal. Many of these local trails do tend to take some direction from state bodies, especially when it comes to health and safety decisions.
Of course, as experienced mountain bikers and responsibly trail users, we have the ability to greatly influence not only our own trail habits but those of others. Right now, we should make an effort to ride to the trails as often as possible to reduce the traffic and density at parking lots. If you do need to ride to access your local trails, consider making an effort to go early or late in the day, when trail use isn’t at its peak. It could also be worth identifying alternate parking locations in the area and riding a mile or to the trail to do even more to reduce your footprint in the lot.
It’s also important to get moving. The real concern is that trail users may linger and spend time at trailheads, which is why amenities like changing rooms, bathrooms, and outbuildings are closed at city and state properties. If you do use one of these locations to park, load up and head out quickly after your ride and make room for someone else.
We do hope you’ll make use of the trails and find that sense of peace and joy that always draws us back to singletrack. Make an effort to give other trail users more than six feet of distance, announce yourself to others early and often, and remember that now is probably not the time to be pushing your limits or taking chances in the woods. It’s also not a bad time to ride your favorite gravel and paved routes right from your house, especially on sunny weekends that might see a lot of additional traffic on trails like Luton and Merrell.
All in all, our region is doing an exceptional job of staying home, staying safe, and using the trails responsibly. As long as we continue to take ownership of our health and habits, and the more diligently we stick to guidelines, the sooner we’ll see all aspects of daily life start to go back to normal, and that includes our riding habits and trail access.
From everyone at WMMBA, stay safe and we’ll see you in the woods from 10-15 feet away!