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State: Stay off hiking and biking trails during mud season

By Emily Benning
The state is urging the public to stay off muddy hiking and biking trails in the woods to avoid damaging them for future use.

The Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation (FPR) is reminding the public that it is mud season and many trails around the state are closed through Memorial Day weekend. 

Mud season is the time period (typically the duration of April and May), when hiking and biking trails are extremely wet and muddy due to the combined effects of snow melt, thawing ground, and seasonal rain. The public is asked to avoid muddy, soft trails, especially at high elevations, in order to protect the trails, protect alpine vegetation, and leave trails in good shape for the upcoming hiking and biking season.

“Mountain bike trails are extremely susceptible to damage during mud season,” said Nick Bennette, executive director at the Vermont Mountain Bike Association (VMBA). “If your tires leave a noticeable rut in the trail, turn around and find a durable surface to ride elsewhere. If you encounter a puddle, ride on the dry area of the trail or straight through if there is none. Mountain bikers can show our commitment to being a  community of responsible trail users by using these simple guidelines and some common sense to protect our trails.”

In addition, FPR asks the public to follow these guidelines:

  • Official closures and trail conditions vary widely throughout the state. You can check resources like, Green Mountain Club Visitor Center (802-244-7037), VMBA Trail Conditions, or to find out what trails are closed or open near you. But to keep it simple: Avoid all wet and muddy trails during this time, especially trails at high elevations (above 2,500 feet).
  • Seek out durable surfaces to hike or bike on, like gravel roads, paved roads, rail trails, and bike paths, as these are more resilient to mud season. If you do encounter mud, go through it instead of around it. This will help protect the fragile plants and soil along the edges of trails.
  • Avoid hiking in the alpine zone to protect rare and fragile vegetation. It takes careful stewardship to protect these environments so they can continue to thrive. Foot traffic through the mud causes soil compaction and erosion, which makes it harder for these plants to take root and survive in their environments. Always stay on the trail and walk directly on the rocks when hiking in the alpine zone to avoid trampling these fragile plants. 
  • Local VMBA chapters often post signs regarding closures. Please respect these signs, and even if a trail appears to be open, if you arrive and discover muddy conditions or notice your bike tires are leaving ruts more than ½-inch deep, turn around and ride elsewhere. Trail conditions can change rapidly during mud season, so please don’t use the lack of a closure — either physical or online — to justify poor judgment. 
  • Weather conditions will differ at higher elevations. It may be sunny and warm in town but windy, slippery, snowy, and/or cold on the mountain. Check weather reports for your destination and always be prepared with extra layers, traction, and a contingency plan.
  • There are still plenty of ways you can get outside! Ride rail trails or hike paved mountain roads. Explore new parks and trail systems in your town. Try paddling, gravel biking, birdwatching, fishing, or turkey hunting. Check
  • If you encounter conditions you are not prepared for, please turn around. It keeps you, and the trails, safe.

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