If you made it out on the local trails this weekend you probably noticed that they were rather crowded. I took a casual ride on Sunday afternoon with the goal of enjoying the weather and dry trails. I also decided that I would take the opportunity to try to canvas some trail users and ask them a series of questions to help me understand more about our local trail use. Interestingly, I mostly managed to talk to people who have lived in Fort Collins for roughly a year or less.
I asked users four basic questions: (1) What is your preferred means of trail use, (2) what trails do you most often use, (3) what kinds of interactions have you had with other users while on the trail, and (4) what would you like for our trails in the future. These questions were meant to specifically address how the trails are being used, what trails are most popular and therefore most heavily used, the kind of inter-user interaction that people experience on the trail, and what direction our trail systems may need to go in the future. I want to make it perfectly clear that I only asked a very small portion of trail users these questions, this was merely to help give me some more direction and begin to get a feel of what the important issues are to our users. In the future, I would be very interested in doing a much larger study about our users. For right now though, I would like to share the little bit that I learned yesterday.
I was able to talk with a couple of equestrians, numerous hikers, and several mountain bikers - the trail runners proved difficult to speak with because I didn't want to break up their run. The first thing that caught my attention was how polite people were when I approached them and how willing they were to speak with me. The first question about preferred means of trail use was really kind of redundant but I was interested because I wanted to see if some people normally run even though they were on a mountain bike, or maybe they normally mountain bike but were instead out for a hike with their family. It was just an easy way to open up the conversation and gain a little bit more insight into the habits of our users.
The Pineridge and Maxwell Natural Areas trails came up as the most often used trails. Some people indicated that they normally use these trails on the weekday and then go other places on the weekend, like Horsetooth Mountain Park or Lory State Park. Coyote Ridge also came up as a popular trail.
I found the conversations about user interactions to be pretty interesting. The majority of comments were about how fantastic and friendly all of the trails users are in our area, and I would have to agree. There were a couple minor comments about mountain bikers coming down the Foothills trail behind Hughes Stadium but it sounded as if it was more of an understood situation that hikers just get off of the trail for the mountain bikers - even though mountain bikers are required to yield. I was also particularly interested in how often the trails outside of Boulder and Lyons came up during the conversations. There were a number of people who mentioned that things felt different on those trails and that people weren't as friendly or considerate. Not once did I ask for a comparison of the regions, it just came up naturally. Interesting. Once again I can't help but feel that we have an amazing group of trail users in our region!
The final question about the future of the trails didn't have as many comments as the previous questions. Some of this is related to the users who are relatively new to the area, they just didn't have much of an opinion because they were satisfied with the trails. Some of the mountain bikers had more input. Better trail connectivity was the one issue that seemed to come up the most, especially from East to West. There were a lot of positive comments about how well trails are connected going North to South but people want the connections to make a big loop without having to spend much time on the road. This was definitely limited to the mountain bikers that I spoke with but I wonder if the trail runners would agree. We have many long-distance runners in our area who would benefit from a large well-connected loop. Aside from the connectivity there were also some comments about the quality of the trails, Reservoir Ridge was mentioned specifically. Maintaining the trails is a yearly job and I'm really hoping that Trailcology can have a positive impact through volunteer efforts to keep our trails in good shape.
More than anything, it was great to be out on the trail and have so many convivial conversations about our trails. I did gain a bit of insight about our trail users but I don't plan on using those few conversations to direct my goals, they were merely important pieces of the puzzle that will eventually help me build a bigger picture. I really appreciate the time that those folks took out of their afternoon to chat with me, and I hope that we may cross paths again down the trail.