Stay safe and maintain social distancing on the regional trails

Originally published in the Laker Pioneer Newspaper, May 2020

Three Rivers parks and trails are open! Our 500+ miles of trails are popular, well used, and important for quality of life. Many people are getting out and enjoying our trails, whether it’s for a bike ride, run, walk, hike in-line skate, or stroll with a four-legged friend.

In 2019, more than 12.5 million visits were made to our parks and regional trails. I anticipate our visitation numbers will be even higher in 2020, leading to some challenges in the COVID-era. We can enjoy our parks and trails by knowing the many options available and applying some modified etiquette. 

While some of our trails can get quite busy, at Three Rivers we have options available that allow for greater social distancing. If you’re finding the regional trails more crowded than you’d like these days, I encourage you to check out the trails found within our parks. Options include both paved and turf trails, and dogs on six-foot non-retractable leashes are welcome. A few examples of trails that provide greater flexibility for distancing include:

  • Lake Minnetonka Regional Park (Minnetrista) – The trail that loops around the swimming pond provides a less crowded place to walk and allows for more distancing if preferred. 
  • Baker Regional Park Campground (Maple Plain) – The roads within the campground are paved and wider than our standard 10-foot-wide paved trails, allowing room to spread out.
  • Turf trails at French Regional Park (Plymouth) – The turf trails in our parks generally are less heavily-traveled than the paved trails and offer wonderful ways to experience nature. French Regional Park offers a network of turf trails; when possible, Maintenance staff mows the shoulders of the trails – providing a wide mowed area that people can use.

Regardless of which trails you choose, it helps to follow the “rules of the road” to ensure a safe experience for all. Here are some guidelines:

  • Share the Trail – Our trails are multi-use and available for all users – walkers, bikers, runners alike. This simple concept means sharing the trail with multiple users, even if they use the trails differently than you do. 
  • Passing – Just like driving a car on a roadway, only pass when it is safe. This means sometimes a bicyclist must slow down behind a walker, wait until oncoming traffic is clear, and then pass. It is important to announce “On your left” when approaching another trail user to pass. Once that has been announced, the user being passed should move to the right and the passer should move out to the left.  Whether you’re walking or biking, it’s important to maintain a six foot distance when passing others – so make sure to only pass when it’s safe and you have space to do so.
  • Be present — If using headphones, keep the volume at a low level that allows you to hear what is happening around you. A walker listening to music through earbuds may not hear a bicyclist approaching from behind. Texting while biking endangers everyone on the trail. Trail users should be single file when others are approaching or passing. Be aware of your surroundings.
  • Follow the rules of the road — Many accidents can be avoided by following the rules of traffic. Ride on the right side of the trail, give hand signals when turning and obey traffic signs and signals. Operate your bike at a safe speed and respect other trail users. Cyclists need to obey traffic signs – including all stop signs – in order to stay safe. 
  • Wear bright-colored clothing — This is especially important when using trails in the early morning and late evening. There are over 350 locations where Three Rivers’ regional trails cross roadways. It is important that drivers of vehicles can see you as you approach a trail crossing. State law requires the use of a headlight when biking at night.
  • Wear a helmet — According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, wearing a helmet can reduce your chances of head injury in a bicycle crash by 50 percent, and the odds of face or neck injury by 33 percent.
  • Pick up after your pet – Getting out for a walk or run with your four-legged family member is welcome on the trail as long as they are on a six-foot, non-retractable leash. Please be courteous of other trail users by picking up after your dog and properly disposing of the waste.

Three Rivers has social distancing, share the trail and other safety reminder signs spread throughout our trail system. For more tips on safety and rules for the trails, check out our website: ThreeRiversParks.org/SharetheTrail or the Minnesota Bicycling Handbook published by the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota: Bikemn.org.

If we all keep these safety measures in mind, share the trail and maintain at least a six-foot distance from other trail users, using the Three Rivers Parks trails can be an enjoyable experience for everyone

Marge Beard

Marge Beard represents District 1 on the Three Rivers Park District Board of Commissioners. She is a 25-year resident of Plymouth and credits her previous public service on the Plymouth City Council with helping her make informed decisions for our parks. Marge is an outdoor enthusiast and can often be found walking, biking, camping, skiing and golfing in our Three Rivers Parks.