Protect Vermont’s Hiking and Biking Trails During Mud Season

Ryan Bent

Vermont – The Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation (FPR) wants to remind the public that it is mud season and many trails around the state are closed through Memorial Day weekend. Mud season is the time period (typically the duration of April and May), when hiking and biking trails are extremely wet and muddy due to the combined effects of snow melt, thawing ground, and seasonal rain. We ask the public to avoid muddy, soft trails, especially at high elevations, in order to protect the trails, protect alpine vegetation, and leave trails in good shape for the hiking and biking season.

“Trail organizations and land managers, along with hundreds of dedicated volunteers, work hard to keep the trails in good condition throughout the hiking and biking season. We seek the public’s help in reducing mud-season damage done to the trails, so that we may enjoy them for many seasons to come,” said Forests, Parks, and Recreation Commissioner Michael Snyder.

“We know that people are eager to get outside now that it’s a bit warmer, but high-elevation trails are extremely fragile at this time. Foot traffic and erosion cause irreversible damage to the rare and delicate alpine plants found at Vermont’s high elevations,” said Keegan Tierney, Director of Field Programs at the Green Mountain Club. “Hikers can help protect these valuable ecological zones by seeking alternative places to hike during mud season.”

“Mountain bike trails, while not usually at high elevation, are extremely susceptible to damage during mud season,” said Nick Bennette, Executive Director at the Vermont Mountain Bike Association (VMBA). “If your tires leave a noticeable rut in the trail, turn around and find a durable surface to ride elsewhere. If you encounter a puddle, ride on the dry area of the trail or straight through if there is none. Mountain bikers can show our commitment to being a  community of responsible trail users by using these simple guidelines and some common sense to protect our trails.”

In addition, FPR asks the public to follow these guidelines:

  • Official closures and trail conditions vary widely throughout the state. You can check resources like info, Green Mountain Club Visitor Center (802-244-7037), VMBA Trail Conditions, or Trailforks.com to find out what trails are closed or open near you. But to keep it simple: Avoid all wet and muddy trails during this time, especially trails at high elevations (above 2,500’).
  • Seek out durable surfaces to hike or bike on, like gravel roads, paved roads, rail trails, and bike paths, as these are more resilient to mud season. If you do encounter mud, go through it instead of around it. This will help protect the fragile plants and soil along the edges of trails.
  • Avoid hiking in the alpine zone to protect rare and fragile vegetation. It takes careful stewardship to protect these environments so they can continue to thrive. Foot traffic through the mud causes soil compaction and erosion, which makes it harder for these plants to take root and survive in their environments. Always stay on the trail and walk directly on the rocks when hiking in the alpine zone to avoid trampling these fragile plants.
  • Local VMBA Chapters often post signs regarding closures. Please respect these signs, and even if a trail appears to be open, if you arrive and discover muddy conditions or notice your bike tires are leaving ruts more than ½-inch deep, turn around and ride elsewhere. Trail conditions can change rapidly during mud season, so please don’t use the lack of a closure – either physical or online – to justify poor judgement.
  • Weather conditions will differ at higher elevations. It may be sunny and warm in town but windy, slippery, snowy, and/or cold on the mountain. Check weather reports for your destination and always be prepared with extra layers, traction, and a contingency plan.
  • There are plenty of ways you CAN get outside! Ride rail trails or hike paved mountain roads like the ones on Mt. Philo, Mount Ascutney, and the Mount Mansfield Toll Road. Explore new parks and trail systems in your town. Try paddling, gravel biking, birdwatching, fishing, or turkey hunting. Check out https://www.greenmountainclub.org/hiking/hikevt-mud-season-index/ for mud-season appropriate trails of all categories and difficulties.
  • If you encounter conditions you are not prepared for, please turn around. It keeps you, and the trails, safe.

 

Why is Vermont so Muddy?

With our long, cold winters, the ground freezes solid and takes several weeks of above-freezing temperatures to thaw out. While the surface snow and ice melts, the ground below is still solid, so water has nowhere to drain. Soils are even more waterlogged because the trees are still without full sets of leaves, and cannot absorb as much groundwater as they do later in the season. These conditions will likely persist in many places, particularly at high elevations, until Memorial Day.

The Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation and partners thank trail users for their cooperation in helping to maintain Vermont’s trails!

The Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation (FPR) is responsible for the conservation and management of Vermont’s forest resources, the operation and maintenance of the State Park system, and the promotion and support of outdoor recreation for Vermonters and our visitors.  For more information, visit www.fpr.vermont.gov

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