What You Can Do to Prevent Erosion From Damaging Vermont's Hiking Trails

Conservation groups are urging hikers and mountain bikers to stick to paved or gravel paths during mud season

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What has long been an annual reminder from conservation groups in Vermont has taken on new urgency during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many people rediscovered outdoor recreation. 

Those people are now being asked to remember to do their part to protect natural resources this time of year.

The Green Mountain Club and the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation are among those urging hikers to stay off many dirt hiking trails for now — and stick to gravel or paved paths instead, especially at lower elevations. The concern is that foot or bike traffic could damage the muddy, soft earth.

"I just like being out in the world and being reminded of how beautiful Vermont is," said University of Vermont student Sydney White, who was walking with a friend on a paved path up Mt. Philo Tuesday.

There is still snow in many shady spots or higher elevations, and as it melts, it leaves the ground squishy in a lot of places and prone to problems. The mud is often worsened by spring rains and poor absorption into the earth this time of year.

"If you’re leaving footprints or a bicycle track, it’s too wet for you to be out there," advised Becca Washburn with the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation.

Washburn said she wants that message to really sink in with the wave of new hikers who’ve been rediscovering outdoor recreation during the pandemic. She’s telling them trampling on delicate ground can affect vegetation and water quality.

"The erosion on the trails costs more for us to maintain and it causes environmental degradations we all know we don’t want to participate in," Washburn said in an interview Tuesday with NECN & NBC10 Boston.

White and her friend from UVM, Maggie Sheerin, said they wanted to do their part by using the paved road to make their way up the popular Mount Philo during mud season.

"We just want to make sure that we’re keeping off the trails, just so that we don’t destroy them so they can continue to be used and kind of preserve them for many more years to come," Sheerin said.

The friends indicated they will likely switch over to using unpaved trails when the hiking season is in full swing when the ground has dried out more — typically Memorial Day weekend.

The free web resource TrailFinder.info has details on whether trails in both New Hampshire and Vermont are open or closed — as well as other pointers. 

The Green Mountain Club also provides information and suggestions around best practices during mud season.

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