Stay Off the Trails During Mud Season
Spring is the most sensitive time for trails (March 2003).
By Philip Keyes
We know that this has been a tough winter to fulfill our dirt trails passion. Tons of snow and bitter cold have left us with a jones to get out there and ride on real dirt. But use your head and stay off the trails until the thaw is out of the ground and the trails have dried and hardened.
One of the worst things you can do is ride or hike on trails before they are ripe. Trails are dynamic and change with the seasons and weather conditions. While during most of the season the mineral soils that make up good hardened trails are fairly stable, spring is the most sensitive time for trails, making them vulnerable to erosion and long term damage.
As frost works its way through the upper soil cap, the soil moves and shifts. The trail looses density as frozen water pushes and prods the mineral particulate, and Mother Nature becomes vulnerable. As the frost thaws and releases water, the dirt resettles and realigns in a muddy mix, and the organic matter for last fall's leaf litter blends in with the mineral soil to begin to create a new generation of trail dirt. This organic/mineral mix eventually re-hardens and makes for a primo path through the woods, but it's critical to let this process happen on its own.
If we ride, hike, or horse around on the trails before this process is complete, the damage to the trail could be permanent. The soils will be churned up, and gravity and the sheeting action of rain will wash them away, leaving a mess of exposed roots and rocks. If the trail is soft, our wheels may leave sunken tracks, which can become natural channels for rain to carry the soils away. If we hike, our heels will dig deep into the trails and help push the soils downhill.
We know it's hard when you want to ride but be patient. Just because you "can" ride, doesn't mean that you "should." Here are a few ideas and other riding option:
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Updated March 16, 2007