As Trails Use Grows, So Can Courtesy

Flathead Valley recreation groups adopt kindness campaign to avoid conflict on region’s growing network of multi-use trails

By Tristan Scott
A sign near the Big Mountain Trailhead of the Whitefish Trails system on May 13, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Despite the continued expansion of Flathead Valley’s network of multi-use trails, its accelerated population growth combined with an unprecedented demand for outdoor recreation means that even Montana’s wide-open spaces are being tested.

Fortunately, the region has been proactive in developing new multi-use trail systems as well as expanding the organizational and agency infrastructure to manage them. To that end, a group of organizations is collaborating to launch a new courtesy campaign to promote responsible recreation by encouraging trail users to treat each other with kindness and courtesy, share the trail with all users, and respect wildlife and natural resources. 

Dubbed “Outside Kind Flathead,” the campaign’s messaging is designed to appeal to all trail-use groups to minimize conflict before it occurs.

“Our local trail networks are growing, and more and more locals and visitors are enjoying them. We believe that’s something to celebrate: it means more people are discovering opportunities to enjoy the May wildflowers, clear their head after a long day of work, exercise without needing a gym membership, and introduce their kids to new ways of connecting with nature,” according to a media release announcing the debut of Outside Kind Flathead. “But as more people enjoy the trails, we must remind everyone to recreate with courtesy and kindness.”

Outside Kind Flathead is a partnership between Whitefish Legacy Partners, Foys to Blacktail Trails, Gateway to Glacier Trails, Rails to Trails Northwest Montana, Flathead Area Mountain Bikers, Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation, Flathead National Forest, and Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks. 

Even if the spirit of the campaign seems intuitive, even brief trail-side interactions have the power to transform a positive experience into a negative one, and vice versa, according to Margosia Jadkowski, director of lands and partnerships at Whitefish Legacy Partners.

“When I think about how people use the Whitefish Trail, almost everybody uses it in more than one way. Maybe you go mountain biking in your Spandex in the morning but you might also take your 4-year-old daughter out for a walk in the evening,” Jadkowski said. “I think it is common for our trail users recreate in multiple ways and that inherently builds some empathy and compassion because you understand what it’s like to be on both sides of that interaction. In the Flathead Valley, there’s also a good chance that you’re going to recognize another trail user as a friend or acquaintance, which has helped us build respect for multi-use. But use is growing on the trail systems across our valley and we really want to get out ahead before conflict becomes a persistent issue.”

Indeed, conflicts among user groups on multi-use trails has created stumbling blocks in other outdoor-centric communities across the West, particularly as their populations grow and visitors and new residents acclimate to new sets of rules and etiquette.

To that end, Jadkowski said the Outdoor Kind campaign uses courtesy as its guiding star, while the campaign’s partners will offer unique education and outreach opportunities to build on the mechanics of specific interactions, whether they relate to horseback riding or mountain biking, hiking or trail running.

“We want to focus on how personal responsibility can shift the trail-use experience,” Jadkowski said. “Not to pick on bikers, but you can have a biker blast past a hiker and not say anything, and that’s going to feel not so good. Or, you can slow it down and offer a yield and say ‘thank you have a great hike,’ and the same mechanics of an interaction can have a totally different feel. Showing kindness, considering how your interactions affect someone else, and of course being safe, being responsible, and following the ethics of leave no trace can have a dramatic impact on maintaining a successful multi-use trail system.”

The messaging is tailored to user-group specification, so that no matter how users are enjoying the local trails, they can do it with kindness. The first six user-group specific campaigns to be launched this year in the Flathead Valley are: Hike Kind, Wag Kind, Ride Kind, Trot Kind, Run Kind, and Ski Kind.  All messaging reminds users how to be courteous, aware, safe, inclusive, and to leave no trace.

Outside Kind is a brand created by the Outside Kind Alliance and led by One Montana, a nonprofit based in Bozeman. It is inspired by Ski Kind and Play Kind, brands created by Winter Wildlands Alliance and Granite Backcountry Alliance. As more and more communities join the Outside Kind Alliance across Montana and the West, they will share the campaign messaging and best practices for enjoying the outdoors in any community.

For more information visit outsidekind.org/flathead.

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