as published by the New Hampshire Mushers Association - 2003
Winter trails in New Hampshire are used by many and as such, all users have the right to expect safe use of these trails. You should expect to meet nearly anyone and anything on the trails. Your presence on the trails should not present a safety issue to anyone. Our continued use of the trails depends on us not being a hazard. Behave as if you are a guest on the trails, because you are. Safe trail usage begins with you! These guidelines were adopted in a joint effort of mushers and The State of New Hampshire.
Dogs - Dogs should be up-to-date with their immunizations and copies or proof of immunization should be available. You are totally responsible for the conduct, safety, and well-being of your dogs.
Equipment - Be sure your equipment is in sound working order and you are able to safely stop and remain stopped on the trails. Match your equipment to the trail conditions and number of dogs.
Control - Never take more dogs than you can safely control! If you have any doubts, either reduce the number of dogs or have someone come along for assistance. Be especially aware and cautious at all road crossings. Trained dogs and proper equipment are the key to successful control. Remember, YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE BEHAVIOR AND CONTROL OF YOUR DOGS.
Being safe on the trails begins with BEING VISIBLE and being in control.
Visibility - Being seen gives other users the opportunity to be alert to your presence on the trails. It does not mean they have an obligation to give any special right of way. They may as a courtesy, but are not required to do so. Animals (dog teams) on trails do not have the right of way (unlike on other roadways in NH). The responsibility for being under control and in the right place on the trail still falls on the musher.
Clothing - The brighter, the better. Hunter orange, red, lime, etc. are all good choices. Jackets (or vests) are best, hats next, and pants last. BE SEEN!
Reflective material - Reflective jackets and/or vests are a MUST when running at night. Reflective material on your sled and dogs is also critical for safe nighttime operation. Be visible from both front and rear.
Lighting - Lighting is essential when running at night and can be helpful during daytime as well. A headlamp and some sort of light on your lead dogs should be considered the absolute minimum requirement for safe operation during darkness. Lead dog lights can be collars or small lights attached to the leader neck line and/or harness. Consider putting lights on team dogs as well. Use of a more powerful light source ( a headlight powered by a small rechargeable motorcycle battery?) should be strongly considered. It could be turned on when running in an area known to have "high traffic." ALWAYS HAVE ADEQUATE LIGHTS WHEN RUNNING AT NIGHT.
Dogs and Equipment - Dogs are low to the ground and can be "invisible" to oncoming traffic, especially when coming up over a rise in the trail. Anything to improve their visibility will give added safety. Vests and lighted collars as well as reflective lines as reflective lines and reflective tape on harnesses and sleds will also help your dogs to be seen at night and should be considered essential.
Time of day - Obviously it is best to run when there is minimal traffic. Usually early morning is best in most areas. If you must run at night or during heavy traffic times, it is essential to use as much visibility gear as possible and it's advisable to have an "escort" run out in front of your team.
Trail usage - The safest possible way to run dogs on the trails is to have an "escort vehicle ' (snowmobile, ATV etc.) "run interference" for you. That can alert any oncoming traffic of you presence. Though not often practical, it is the safest.
If running in a group of two or more and you encounter oncoming traffic, it is standard practice for the first person in the group to hold up "X" number of fingers indicating how many additional teams, vehicles etc. are coming behind. This is repeated by each member of the group. The last in the group would hold up a closed fist. If you must stop on the trail please pull as far off to the right as practical. Off the trail completely is best. Try to stop in a place where there is good visibility from the front and rear.
KEEP TO THE RIGHT!! Rules of the road indicate that users should keep to the right. You must train your dog(s) to run on the right hand side of the trails! This should include going around turns and corners. Cutting the corners is very dangerous and especially so on blind corners. It may take some effort but it can be taught and is an important part of trail safety. You don't expect a car to be coming at you on your side of the road when you are driving. No one expects traffic to be on "their side of the trail" either. This is especially true of the wider trails. Failure to stay right causes much confusion for oncoming traffic. Where are they supposed to go?? If you need help, let us know. We may be able to offer some training tips.
CLEAN UP AFTER YOURSELF! Be sure to bag and remove all "droppings" and any other litter. Pick up and leave the area totally clean.
If training in the "off season" when trails are not open to snowmobiles, you are responsible for getting permission from property owners to use trails on their property. Even though you may be using ATV approved trails, this approval does not pertain to running dogs and you need to get permission (written) to do so. It may also be an appropriate time to ask permission to place signage indicating your presence on the trails.
Signage - If you consistently run in a particular area consider putting up signs to alert other users that there may be sled dogs running on the trails. Check with the local snowmobile club before posting. Possible choices include "Sled Dogs Use These Trails," "Please Slow for Dog Teams," "Sled Dog Training Area," etc. We urge ALL mushers to join their local snowmobile club and other clubs in the areas of the trails you use.
Suggested Sources of Supply:
Reflective vests, jackets, reflective Velcro straps (make a great reflective collar), small lights (both steady and flashing), and other items can be found in most running/jogging stores and departments.