May 25, 2024

On the Trails: Here’s mud on your hiking boots

So far, this winter is not what I have come to expect of the season in New England. The snowstorms have been sporadic, and the temperatures are unseasonably warm.

The back-to-back freezes and melts have turned parking lots into skate rinks. On many days, I’ve found myself leaving the house bundled up for winter just to spend the day shedding layers and feeling uncomfortably warm.

Working at the Upper Valley Trails Alliance (UVTA) requires me to spend a great deal of time outdoors building trails and running volunteer programs. The progress of our work can be quite impacted by the weather and the condition it leaves trails in. With every passing year, climate change makes the weather increasingly unpredictable as instances of severe storms, rising temperatures and droughts increase.

We at UVTA are receiving an increased number of calls about downed trees following high winds and muddy, messy trails long before mud season. Unfortunately, much of this is starting to feel like the new normal as debates around climate change policy rage on and decisions are continuously stalled.

We as individuals and communities, however, can make a huge difference in protecting our beautiful trails and outdoor spaces if we make careful decisions about our use and recreation. Here are some tips on enjoying the great outdoors responsibly in these erratic conditions.

If the trails are icy, use removable spikes on your boots to help with traction and, if you have them, hiking poles to help prevent falls. Many local outdoor retailers carry this equipment for a decent price.

If the trails are muddy, the rules of mud season apply:

■ Choose a trail with a flat/elevated/paved surface, as they are less likely to be muddy.

■ Walk through patches of mud, not around them. Walking around muddy patches widens the trail corridor and causes erosion.

■ If a trail is so muddy it cannot be avoided, it’s best to turn around and find a different hike.

Before you venture on a trail at any time, we recommending checking Trailfinder.info for an accurate map and any active trail alerts. Trail alerts are requests or warnings put out by the trail manager. Some trails may be closed due to poor conditions or much-needed maintenance, and these active trail alerts will help you plan your hike in a way that prevents you from unknowingly causing damage to the trail.

We also recommend checking the weather of the location you plan on visiting and dressing accordingly — even if it’s 30 minutes away. We’ve already established that weather can be unpredictable, but planning for the weather of your destination, and not current location, will help keep you safe.

Members of the community can help by volunteering with UVTA or other local trail organizations in their town. Learning basic trail maintenance plays a vital role in not only educating users on proper care techniques and protecting the space but builds a group of local trail stewards who can promote proper use and advocate for these beloved trails.

Our trails are community trails and need community support. This has always been true, but as climate change causes increased unpredictability of weather and intensity of storms, we must take matters into our own hands and be mindful of how our use is impacting these shared spaces.

To learn more about hiking recommendations and for detailed trail guides, visit uvtrails.org/trail-services/resource-library.

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