Mud Season Provokes Trail Erosion

trailsclosedST. JOHNSBURY - As hikers become eager to get out onto the mountains for the Spring season, the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation is urging individuals to remain mindful of their impact on trail erosion.

"Everyone, as you can imagine, is getting a little antsy to be outdoors, and the weather hasn't really been that cooperative. So while we want people to get out and enjoy our trails, it's really a tricky time," said Luke O'Brien, St. Johnsbury's District Recreation Specialist. "A lot of our trails are actually still snow bound and icy, and as we get into the Spring mud season, things get wet, there's a lot of snow-melt and rain that takes place, and the soils get saturated, creating mud. Especially on higher elevation trails, or trails where there are thin soils, that mud will lead to erosion.

Naturally, when hikers encounter mud, their immediate reaction is to walk around the wet area. According to O'Brien, this creates trail widening, and it doesn't only have a significant impact on the environment, but it's also expensive to reconstruct. "When you walk around a wet spot, you're actually trampling vegetation on the sides of the trails, which not only makes the mud area larger, but it impacts soils and plants that are adjacent to the trails. And in particular on high elevation trails, where plants and soils tend to be more specialized and fragile, it can take many many years to recover from that kind of damage. And the money used to reconstruct the payer dollars."

O'Brien discussed the time span between now and Memorial Day Weekend, describing it as the most destructive time for people to be out hiking, as the ground is still in midst of its drying-out process. "Here in the Northeast Kingdom, we tend to be the last part of the state to dry out and lose our snow. So being patient and letting the trails dry out is important, and there's a lot of other stuff we can do this time of year. We like to encourage road biking, road walking, or even canoeing if possible."

Nevertheless, O'Brien knows that preventing hikers from using the trails until late May isn't realistic. Therefore, he encourages those who do venture out to focus on the trails that are South-facing, and of lower elevation. He also urges hikers to be mindful of "trail closed" signs, and to not be deceived by what looks to be a dry trail head. He says that as you reach a higher altitude, the trail conditions vary incredibly from those at the base.

For more information on trail erosion and the steps you can take to prevent it, visit the Green Mountain Club and Vermont State Park's websites.