Hiking Trails and Mud Season: Caring for Trails When They Need It Most

Published: Apr 7, 2017

Story by Brian Gagnon, Volunteer and Communications Coordinator, The Squam Lakes Association

It’s that time again, right on cue. The days are warmer as the sun lingers a bit longer in the sky. The birds are returning and the buds are beginning to show. The snowbanks shrink exposing the soggy earth below. Mud season has arrived! After a long winter, the urge to hit the trail for some fresh air and sunshine can be nearly impossible to ignore. As you rummage through the closet in search of your summer gear, it’s important to remember; mud season is when trails are most at risk of being damaged by hikers’ boots.

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Foot traffic on busy trails compacts the snow during winter, causing it to melt slowly. Later, when the season turns and the snow has largely melted, the trails themselves remain wet and muddy. People adverse to hiking on ice and mud will avoid these areas by hiking around them…creating bigger and worse muddy areas. As the days grow nicer, recreation increases and trails quickly widen.

Spring showers wash away loose soil, exposing roots and rocks in the trail. Eroded soil then fills streams with sediment and excess nutrients. Rocks become dislodged and create deeper ruts, channeling water as it runs downhill, further eroding the trail. Exposed roots weaken trees close to the trail, causing them to lose their foot hold in the shallow rocky soil, fall over and die.

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In a short time, trails become hazardous. We all know trails where it feels like you’re walking in a stream bed, over slick rocks in ankle deep water. It’s not a pretty scenario for your favorite dog walk or weekend hiking spot. Take it from this trail maintainer; hiking in mud season really does erode popular hiking trails much faster than most people realize.

In addition to the environmental damage there are other things to consider like the high cost of trail reconstruction and indefinite trail closures. It's also worth remembering many miles of trail run across private land and it’s important to respect this access. Avoiding hiking during mud season goes a long way towards protecting trails when they need it most. Just waiting a week or two longer to go hiking is usually sufficient time for trails to dry out and harden.

Want to Help?

Maintaining our favorite hiking trails takes a surprising amount of time, energy, and resources. It can also be a surprisingly rewarding! Many groups across New England ring in spring with volunteer trail days:

Spring Trail Days Are Here

How to volunteer with the Squam Lakes Association:

Join an amazing community of dedicated trail maintainers in protecting your favorite section of trail. The Squam Lakes Association regularly holds trail trainings on our 50+ mile trail system where we instruct folks in the techniques or proper trail maintenance and construction. You’ll find a sense of pride in stewarding a section of trail, and won’t look at it the same way again. Interested?  Visit squamlakes.org or give us a call at (603) 968-7336 to learn more.   

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