In Summit County, spring is the time of the year when hikers, mountain bikers and dog walkers start champing at the bit to get out onto trails between rainfall and snow flurries.
Although it can be tempting to step outside, breathe in the fresh pine-scented air and head up the nearest trail, it’s best to plan ahead before hiking this early in the season.
U.S. Forest Service officials warn that most trails in Summit County are still wet, slushy or snowpacked — so if hikers aren’t prepared to get their feet wet, they should stick to the recpath.
“Be prepared to get your shoes or boots wet and muddy,” said Dillon Ranger District recreation staff officer Ken Waugh.
Forest Service officials are asking those who decide to venture out to stick to the footpaths. Even though it might seem natural to step off trail to avoid a puddle or snow drift, it can create maintenance problems down the road.
“It helps with erosion, keeps trails narrow and minimizes maintenance costs if people just stay on the trail,” Waugh said.
Friends of the Dillon Ranger District director Jessica Evett reminds hikers that Mother Nature can be less than reliable at this time of year.
“Even if the sun does decide to shine, weather can roll in quickly and it can get really cold,” she said.
There are a couple of trail systems that tend to dry out quickly and can accommodate outdoor enthusiasts who just can’t wait.
The Oro Grande trailhead is a good early season option. This 3.5-mile path also provides access to the 0.8-mile Tenderfoot Trail. The Oro Grande Trail passes through stands of lodgepole pine and aspen groves and offers views of Lake Dillon and the Gore and Tenmile ranges.
“A good rule of the thumb is to stick to the lower trails that get a good amount of sun,” Evett said.
A comprehensive list of popular trails can be found on the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District website under the “trail and hiking resources” link. Community members are also welcome to inquire about trails at the Dillon Ranger District office in Silverthorne.
Local outdoor officials are asking mountain bikers to hold off for now.
“A footprint is no big deal on a muddy trail, but a mountain bike creates a long narrow track that carries water,” Waugh said.
When water flows down trails it carries sediment with it and causes the trail to erode.
“What you have left is rocks, and nobody wants to walk on rocks,” Waugh said.
Evett suggests mountain bike enthusiasts connect with local groups like the Summit Fat Tire Society to keep in the loop about the state of area trails. The Fat Tire Society website has links to social networking sites, where bikers can share information about the conditions in specific areas.
“Some people might be well meaning, but end up in a place that isn’t good to ride,” Evett said.
Mountain bikers who come across muddy areas are asked to dismount and walk their bikes through the mud, especially if the section of trail is on a grade.
Forest officials also want to remind people with dogs to follow proper trail etiquette. Pet owners should dispose of dog waste and make sure their pets are under control at all times.
At this time of year, bears and other critters are active. “Off-leash dogs can bring wildlife back to you,” Evitt said. “You don’t want to risk your safety or your dog’s safety.”