It’s March again, which means it’s time for our annual reminder that it’s not great to use muddy trails.
With current trail counts for Red Hill coming in between 65,000 and 70,000 uses per year, it’s more important than ever for trail users to be aware of best practices.
“If it’s muddy, turn around,” says Red Hill Council president, Chris Brandt. Brandt has been a member of the volunteer stewardship group since 2011, and he’s seen the impact the trails’ popularity have had on the ecosystem.
In addition to trail widening he noted a deterioration in cryptobiotic soil alongside trails. He suspects one of the main culprits is dogs. “Dogs off leash tend to scamper about left and right and explore within eyesight of their owner and it seems very non-impactful, but when you scale it up thousands of times it has a cumulative effect that’s quite noticeable.”
The trails tend to be most popular in March and April, which is also when they are the most sensitive to damage. While the highway-facing side of the area appears dry, Brandt says it’s basically impossible to complete a loop this time of year without crossing through several muddy sections. Again, Brandt, “If the mud is sticking to your boots and you’re leaving footprints, you shouldn’t be up there.”
When a trail user goes around mud, it widens the trail and damages plants and cryptobiotic soil. “Crypto” is made up of dirt and micro-organisms that form a crust that resists erosion. For those folks who can’t or won’t turn around, it’s better to just walk right through the mud. Footprints and wheel ruts are still a problem, but they’re less impactful than widening the trail. Footprints and wheel ruts can persist all year, affecting a trail’s capacity to shed water, leading to erosion and other maintenance issues.
Still eager to hit the trails but want to do so responsibly? Get an early start when the ground is still frozen solid, usually before 10 a.m.
When asked to reflect on the “ideal trail user” Brandt focused on the basics like: bikers yield to hikers, uphill traffic has the right of way, no shortcutting trails and being sure you can hear what is around you, even when wearing ear buds. Additionally, he encourages dogs to be on leash and dog owners to pack out their pets’ feces.
The Red Hill Council is collaborating with several entities on trail work this year, including Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers. There will likely be a series of public trail maintenance days this May.