Trail Etiquette

In Brief

Please stay on the trails:

Exploring by foot off-trail is a grand adventure but best undertaken only when thoroughly familiar with the lay of the land (it’s really easy to get lost!) and during winter when one is less likely to either disturb flora and fauna or make uncomfortably close acquaintance with creepy-crawly and slithering things. In particular, because of the unnaturally warm winter, a bumper crop of ticks is expected this year.

To All Humans: Wildlife has the right-of-way on ALL trails.

To All Wildlife: Humans are an acceptable snack. Devour at will.

At the moment, whatever trail markers there were have long gone, but common-sense can be allowed to prevail here. Most of the trails are OBVIOUSLY trails; if one looks marginal or ill-defined, it might just be a deer-track, and not a proper trail. There are adequate existing trails throughout the park without developing new ones.

Please, do NOT make new trails, or widen existing ones. They contribute to deterioration of the park’s eco-structure, through forest fragmentation and possibly erosion.

Similarly, please do not obstruct trails with barricades, logs, etc. They can disturb natural drainage and lead to erosion.

Please avoid puddles in tracks or small ponds and pondlets elsewhere. They are breeding grounds for salamanders. In avoiding them, please don’t inadvertently make the trail any wider than it needs to be.

Please don’t pick flowers.

Litter: There are adequate trash-cans at the main entrance to the park at Pinch Road and up at the tower. Please deposit litter there or take it away with you. If you see litter lying around, please pick it up and deposit it in the trash-cans.

Unless very newly fallen, please do not move branches or tree-trunks. After a short while they become habitat and food for much park wildlife.

Please do not remove or damage lichen or moss on boulders and rock formations.

Please don’t feed wild animals.

How To Treat The Forest With Respect

(Or, “Confessions Of A Tree-Hugging Extremist”)

I’ve often been accused of being a tree-hugging extremist. Although proud of the label I must admit I don’t generally hug trees. Well, there was once this old-growth hemlock . . . But that’s another story. The fact is, there’s so much life in the forest that I don’t always notice the trees.

It’s important to remember that we are guests in a forest. Those who make the forest their home deserve respect. It’s our responsibility to learn to recognize when they’ve hung out the ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs.

A good naturalist knows how, and when, to avoid wildlife. “Take only photographs, leave only footprints” is a popular adage. But sometimes photographs are too disruptive and footprints are too destructive.

In-your-face photographers are annoying. But they can be downright fatal to wildlife. Careless photographers can stress animals, cause them to lose time needed for resting or feeding, or even to abandon their young. Photography from a distance is the best way to avoid disrupting their natural behavior.

Many feet, bikes, or horses, trampling down a trail, compacts the soil. They sometimes cut new trails around fallen logs or wet spots, or widen deer trails. Delicate wildflowers and seedlings are unable to sprout through the hardened surface. Heavily compacted trails may remain bare for years, sometimes centuries after their use has ended.

Every trail disturbs habitat. Deep forest birds nesting on or near the ground are particularly susceptible. Humans are seen as a threat, forcing the parent to waste precious energy flying around scolding and screaming at the intruder. It may even go into a broken-wing routine. By feigning injury, it hopes to draw the intruder away from its nest.

Too many real or perceived threats stress the bird. It may abandon its nest after too many disturbances, such as when it’s nesting along a heavily used trail. Survival is hard enough for deep forest birds. Undisturbed areas are critical.

Heavily used trails are a barrier to some salamanders, mammals, and insects that normally spend their lives hidden beneath the vegetation and leaf litter of the forest floor. When exposed they become easy prey for predators. So they become isolated within a maze of trails.

Trailside puddles that remain wet each spring serve as breeding grounds for amphibians. Their eggs are safe in these temporary ponds, free from hungry fish. But a few careless bikers, hikers or horses can quickly turn these prime wildlife nurseries into muddy inhospitable quagmires,

It’s tempting to avoid wet areas on trails by using fallen branches, rocks, and logs as stepping stones. After all, it’s important not to disturb wetlands. Unfortunately, many of these convenient stepping stones are hiding places for salamanders, frogs, snakes, and other small creatures that can be easily crushed.

Every footstep, every action has an impact. So it’s important to choose wisely where we leave our next footprint. (It’s not easy being green.) But we must try not to disturb habitat critical to the survival of others, whether it’s turning over a rock or cutting a tree with a chainsaw.

I love wild trails, trails that are alive. But what I love even better is knowing that there are undisturbed areas where wildlife is free to go about their lives without interruptions.

I also like trails with low-hanging branches forcing people to occasionally bow to trees. Bowing is a sign of respect and a reminder that we are the intruders in the forest. Besides, bowing to trees leads to hugging and hugging leads to . . . Well that brings me back to that old growth hemlock, and like I said, that’s another story.

Long live the forests!

Postscript: The text of this section is borrowed from an abandoned Friends of Governor Dick website from 2002; minor formatting and editing has been added. We would love to know who penned these words, if you recognize them, please use the contact form to reach out.