Trail Etiquette When Mud is Present

Excess rain negatively impacted trail conditions and access to parks across the country. Flooded, muddy, impassable trails lingered for nearly four months, creating an impatient, ridged mindset in our perceived need to get on the trails. MUD… multiple, long stretches of quaggy, slippery mud with or without standing water were present longer than normal. We expect mud in the spring, but not for four months.

by Lora Goerlich

When mud is present it is absolutely your responsibility to stay off trails. Boast about it, set a high standard for trail use accountability. Why? To prevent trail widening which damages surrounding flora and fauna.

No matter how rugged you are while mountain biking, how tested you are as a hiker or how well trained your horse is, you (and your horse) will most certainly avoid trudging through the center of a mire. Feet, hooves and wheels almost always find a way around mud. Cyclists risk colliding with unseen debris hiding in dark mud and soiling their clothes with a racing stripe up their backside. Hikers risk ruining shoes or having them sucked off along with tripping, slipping and falling. Horses, don’t mind getting their feet wet, many have mud in their home paddock after rain, but they know their area, they know there is no risk there. A horse’s instinct is to avoid predators who may be lurking in murky areas, their life depends on it. Add to that inherent risks such as soft tissue, joint and bone damage from slipping on unstable footing and/or tripping and falling due to hidden obstacles such as exposed roots or downed limbs. Riders risk injury from a tripping, slipping or falling mount. Leaving behind a horseshoe(s) that gets pulled off by the sucky mud is also common.

Ultimately, it is your obligation to modify your route, or not go at all if you know a trail is not solid enough for your planned activity. Poor choices can result in temporary, seasonal and permanent trail closures. But shouldn’t the park fix the trail? This article is about your responsibilities as a mindful trail user. It is not about trail maintenance. Make choices that keep trails open, create less work for park staff and protect flora and fauna. Inclusion, no matter the type, is a privilege.

About the Author

Lora served as a law enforcement-maintenance park ranger for twenty-five years with Metroparks of Toledo and was stationed at the “globally rare” Oak Openings Preserve. Throughout her career she was deeply committed to educating equestrians, non-equestrians and land stewards about proper trail etiquette, trail planning in natural areas, and to preserving equestrian trails. In 2011 Lora began teaching at international, national and state conferences to further encourage equestrian trail inclusion. She has been a board member for the Park Ranger Institute since 2015.

Her formal education includes an associate degree in horse production and management from The Ohio State University and a bachelor of science in environmental studies/resource management from The University of Toledo. Lora’s areas of expertise include: extensive knowledge of equestrian needs (trails and facilities), trail planning and maintenance, law enforcement issues, community involvement, best practice horse keeping, equine behavior, customer service, volunteerism, natural resource management, mounted patrol operations and multi-use-trail conflict resolution.

Lora started riding in 1986, crossing multiple disciplines before exclusively trail riding; you might also find her camping, hiking, kayaking, cross country skiing or cycling. Her current trail horses include: a Paso Fino mare, Tennessee Walker gelding and a rescued gelding of unknown background.

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