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It’s likely regular Bridger Mountain trail users had an inkling about the conclusions of a Headwaters Economics study of the number of trail users before they were published.

Using motion sensing counters at the trailheads, the study found an average of 1,700 hikers used the trails every day during the summer months. That count jumped to 2,400 per day on weekends. It only takes a cursory look at parking areas at trailheads to confirm those findings: Bozeman area trails are very popular and getting more so all the time.

The study was conducted with the assistance and cooperation of the Custer Gallatin National Forest and Gallatin County, which were interested in the information as a source of guidance on resource management. And while the numbers are impressive, they don’t really seem to indicate a crisis of overuse on most trails. At least not yet. Though there have been notable exceptions, the majority of trail users anecdotally report a satisfactory experience.

But that could change.

The Bozeman-area population has been growing rapidly — faster than any population in the nation by some measures. That growth continues and may even be accelerating. And just about how all those new folks engage in some form of outdoor recreation. It’s one of the main reasons they moved here.

The time will likely come when land managers may have to limit the number of trail users in the area. It won’t be without precedent. Yellowstone National Park already has a permitting system for its backcountry that limits the number of trail users. Montana has a permitting system to limit the number of floaters on the Smith River due to its immense popularity. More populous states — California, for example — employ permitting systems to control the number of hikers on some of its most popular public lands trails.

And that may be the case here some day.

Hikers can delay the need for such a system through a few common sense practices. Be courteous to others using the trails. Minimize wear and tear by following Forest Service restrictions on vehicle, bicycle and livestock use. And keep the trails clean. Pick up after pets and make sure no trash is left behind.

An organization called Outside Kind has launched an educational website to inform recreationists on the best practices outdoors. The Gallatin Valley Land Trust website offers similar guidance.

Let’s keep our trails open, pleasant and accessible to all as long as possible.


Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Michael Wright, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Charles Rinker, community member
  • Will Swearingen, community member
  • Angie Wasia, community member

To send feedback on editorials, either leave a comment on the page below or write to citydesk@dailychronicle.com.

Support Local Journalism

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Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Michael Wright, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Will Swearingen, community member
  • Angie Wasia, community member

To send feedback on editorials, write to citydesk@dailychronicle.com.