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home : blogs_old : heads up hiker February 6, 2016

Heads Up Hiker
By Cheryl Hartz, Prescott Valley, AZ
The best hikes in the county, safety, plus plants, trees and wildlife on the way!
Friday, May 10, 2013

Blog: Hikers get lost on social trails

 Cheryl Hartz

A social trail, lower right, leads off from a main trail at Beaver Creek. Photo by Cheryl Hartz

Much has been written about OHVs and the damage the heavy vehicles leave on the environment with their double tracks. But OHV users aren't the only outdoor enthusiasts who cause trail damage. Hikers, mountain bicyclists and equestrians sometimes create "social trails" - offshoots of established trails - that can confuse other trail users into losing their way.

This is a frequent problem in the Red Rock Country around Sedona, and rangers and volunteers continually try to erase these paths.

I think it's safe to say that many trail users want to see what's beyond established trails. We want to feel we're exploring new territory and take "the one less traveled by," to borrow from Robert Frost's poem, The Road Not Taken.

And there's nothing wrong with a little bushwhacking, if the bushwhacker doesn't trespass on private property, cause damage or try to create a permanent trail. Or do something dumb, like get lost.

But we all know of areas that have an interesting feature off-trail that some hikers just can't seem to resist. They aren't content to view said feature from even a short distance, but must climb right up to or even on it.

That's how social trails come to be. Sometimes, the trails really don't hurt anything, while in other instances, they become intrusive, confusing and even downright dangerous.

Two hikers died in Sedona this past year because they decided to climb out onto ledges well away from main trails, and subsequently fell.

Yavapai Search and Rescue has sent numerous press releases on individual hikers who wandered off onto social trails and called the team when he/she couldn't find the way back to the main trail as darkness fell. (Always pay attention to the amount of remaining daylight you have when you start a hike, and when you need to turn around.)

Sometimes main trails aren't so well-marked, or arrows are confusing, and it's easy to veer off onto a social trail. This has happened to me in Sedona's Secret Mountain Wilderness more than once. But by paying attention to where I was going and where I'd been, I soon realized my mistake and turned back.

When I'm aware of a questionable trail, I call the ranger station to report it. I know they always try to send someone to erase the social trail or partially block it, and make sure the sign is understandable and the real trail well-marked with rock cairns or the like.

Please be a responsible trail user and don't create social trails that could harm a less-experienced person seeking a pleasurable outdoor experience.

And warmer weather is here, so take plenty of water, and as always - pack out what you pack in.

Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, May 31, 2013
Article comment by: Mister Manager

Thanks for reminding everyone to keep their impact on fragile desert ecosystems to a minimum!

Posted: Friday, May 31, 2013
Article comment by: Jake Hesse

This is a great example of how important it is for all of us to protect our dwindling wild areas. Also, when we are out and about, why not using our amazing BRAINS on occasion?!

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