By Bob Humphrey
Mud Season has once again come early to Cardigan Highlander territory. Mud season could arguably be the time of year when our trails sustain the most damage. Early warm days start the thawing process and beckon hikers anxious to hit the trails after a long winter hiatus. Unfortunately, this is the worst possible time for hikers to hit the trails.
A few factors contribute to damage caused to trails by hikers during mud season. First and foremost is hiking boots making ruts in the trail helping to cause erosion. Hundreds of boot plants in the same area can easily dig a sort of ditch causing drainage problems or damage to rock steps, water bars, or wooden fixtures.
Rock fixtures that are starting to thaw from the long winter’s freeze are more easily disturbed or dislodged. In the case of a missing or dislodged stone from a water bar erosion control is now breached and water from snow melt and rains no longer drains off the trail but down it.
In most cases when mud season arrives most crews have not yet had a chance to patrol their trails. Problems such as blow downs that hikers will avoid by going around often cause damage to fragile forest vegetation and can cause more erosion.
Crews have not yet had a chance to rake and clean water bars which in places can cause the trail to be very muddy. Often hikers avoid such muddy areas by going off trail slightly thus enlarging the mud bog and widening the trail exacerbating the problem.
Mud season is also known as a shoulder season when the lower section of the mountain’s trails may be snow and ice free but upper portions often have a snow and ice ridge in the middle of the trail known as “monorail” caused by constant packing of the snow by winter hikers. The monorail is often difficult to hike on so hikers will hike on one side or the other of these often on lose soil at the edge of the trail which can cause damage and erosion problems to the trail bed. Hiking on either side of these can cause problems to the trail because as the monorail melts the water drains easily down the ruts hikers have unconsciously made and causes further damage to the sides of trails.
We know you are anxious to get out and hike but do your fellow hikers and the trails a favor and hold off until May in our area and mid to late May further north. In this area we are blessed with many towns containing class 6 roads which are old dirt roads that are no longer traveled by vehicles many of which go through beautiful, forested areas and nice places. There are also many rail trails which have had their beds reinforced with good gravel, not available on a mountain trail, and most are in low lying areas so are free of snow and ice. Of just hike along back roads. But please hold off on hiking your favorite mountain trails during mud season don’t be the one causing damage to your favorite trail, a few weeks of abstinence will greatly benefit the trail(s) you, your fellow hikers, and your trail maintainers. Thank You.