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.
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.
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Trails work on federal lands is planned through a maintenance management system.
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Encouraging different types of users to share the trail is just as important on urban trails as it is on backcountry trails.