Outdoor Advocacy Orgs Across User Groups are Uniting to Emphasize Being Nice on the Trail

Trails are Common Ground is a national campaign to improve the outdoor experience in the face of user conflicts and increasingly crowded trails.
Photo: Trails are Common Ground

Outdoor advocacy organizations including IMBA, the American Trail Running Association, the Back Country Horsemen of America, the American Motorcyclist Association and more have been collaborating on a nationwide campaign dubbed Trails are Common Ground.

The campaign cites the increasing trail traffic over the past year and a half as the major reason for its birth.

With the pandemic, and millions of people looking to recreate in safe and healthy ways, trails across the world are feeling the squeeze. According to a study done by the Outdoor Industry Association, 8.1 million more Americans hiked in 2020 versus the prior year, and legacy users also went out more frequently.

“Trails are Common Ground is a national campaign that recognizes how increasingly crowded trails, rising user conflicts, and compounding pressures on the environment are threatening land access and having a negative impact on off-road pursuits.”

Trails are Common Ground says that the campaign is the work of the largest coalition that’s ever collaborated to try and solve the dilemma of educating outdoor users without alienation.  

The organizations met over 15 times, according to a statement. The result is not a rule set, but an attempt to make the trails better for everyone since all user groups have similar goals in the outdoors. How the campaign will materialize is a little less clear though, as the launch only included digital materials which emphasize the golden rule.

Sometimes though, just sending out a positive message is all you can do. Earlier this year, Singletracks editor-in-chief Jeff interviewed the man behind the ‘Be Nice, Say Hi‘ campaign, which had a similar intent: if everyone greeted each other on the trail, it would be a better place.

We spoke with IMBA’s executive director Dave Wiens to get a better understanding of how the campaign will play out and what their hopes are from a mountain bike advocacy perspective. Wiens emphasized that the campaign hopes that it will reinforce the idea of kindness on the trail, having awareness of others and what’s around you, and what your intent is on the trails and how that interacts with others’ intent.

“To think about it, we’re trying to raise the profile of trails in people’s minds, because I don’t think a lot of people put a lot of thought into trails, they just go out there and do their thing. And the biggest challenge that we have is a term called goal interference,” he says.

A mountain biker’s goals on the trails share some similarities with hikers’, but both are enacted differently and can interfere with each others.

By drawing people to the Trails are Common Ground website, they hope that all trail users will gain some education, without being preached at, and gain empathy for other trail users. Aside from the initial launch, the campaign hopes to sustain momentum, and outdoor influencers and ambassadors will continue to carry the message over social media.

The collaboration between different user group organizations creates more hope for better functioning trail systems as well, says Wiens. At a time when everyone could use a little bit more time outside, the ideas should be more welcome than ever.