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We are so fortunate in the Gallatin Valley to have hundreds of miles of trails and thousands of acres of public land. Our access to the outdoors is truly unparalleled. However, a community is not measured solely by miles and acres, but by how people treat each other and the land.

While the Gallatin Valley Land Trust and many other partners have worked hard for years to secure new trails and access, the future of that work is dependent on an outdoor community that shares a commitment to stewardship and etiquette. It is up to each of us to be kind in the outdoors. A shared outdoor code of conduct will create a more enjoyable outdoor experience for all.

Our trails and public land saw a sharp increase in use this year. Our population is growing rapidly as is our region’s popularity with tourists, resulting in more people using our shared outdoor spaces. These increases were further exacerbated by a pandemic that pushed people into the outdoors for refuge and respite during trying times. By most measures, this is a good thing. The outdoors is an important outlet for us all. But if we want the outdoors to remain a happy place for all of us, we’re going to have to figure out how to recreate together.

That’s why the Gallatin Valley Land Trust (GVLT) and One Montana partnered up with other outdoor recreation groups and land managers to create the Outside Kind Alliance, a collaborative effort to create consistent messaging and education around outdoor ethics and etiquette. The partners represent diverse perspectives from skiers, bikers, dog owners, hunters, hikers, trail runners, and more.

After months of conversations and exploration into the challenges of trails and public land stewardship, the alliance coalesced around a simple message: Kindness: Hike Kind, Ski Kind, Ride Kind, Wag Kind, Hunt Kind. Be kind to the trail and the land that you’re using. Be kind to each other in the outdoors. And be kind to the landowners, neighbors and critters who call the area home.

Fall is a great time to practice Outside Kind as the seasons transition and we put our hiking shoes and mountain bikes away in favor of orange vests and cross-country skis. Here are a few reminders for your fall outdoor adventures. Trails can be muddy and our footprints and bike tracks can create significant damage to the trail. While you may think your tread alone won’t make a difference, the cumulative effect of everyone’s behaviors cause costly repairs. Frankly, we’d rather use your dollars to create new trails than fix existing ones. Check the Facebook groups for trail reports. If you hear about mud or come across mud, turn around and find another trail.

Be prepared. With cold weather and shorter days, bring layers, ample water, bear spray and a headlight. Fall is hunting season so be aware that you’re sharing the trail and the land. Wear bright colors so you’re easily seen and keep your dogs under voice control.

If you’re hunting, make sure you have the correct tags and licenses for the animals you’re planning to hunt, and know state rules and regulations. Hunting in Montana means respecting landowners. Make sure you know public land boundaries and always get permission when seeking access to private land. Be kind to fellow hunters. You may have to share your secret spot. If you see a hunter packing out an animal, offer to help.

Lastly, no matter what you’re doing outdoors, leave no trace. That means packing out anything you brought in, including dog waste and trash.

It is up to each of us to ensure that Montana’s outdoors remain the best in the west. Please, share the land and be Outside Kind.

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Chet Work is the executive director of the Gallatin Valley Land Trust. Sarah Tilt is the executive director of One Montana. Learn more, take the quiz and sign the pledge at www.outsidekind.org.

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