Meet Your Forest: Be a forest steward when traveling during mud season
Meet Your Forest
Mud season is here! Tourists and locals alike often overlook this season, even though it provides many pleasures. The forest is abuzz with reinvention of the most glorious kind. Animals are retuning to their nesting grounds, and the flora and fauna are beginning to regenerate.
Hiking will have the least impact on the backcountry during this unique season. Taking a walk limits impact not only on the body, but also on the extremely vulnerable early-spring landscape you seek to enjoy. Keep on designated wilderness trails, but walk gently because these areas are prone to intensified erosion from repeated use.
Trails are essentially compacted soil. Walking on fresh soil will collapse soil structure and increase impermeability. Runoff exacerbates erosion. Be prepared to walk around the edges of the trail. Walk on grasses rather than bare soil, if you can. Sometimes by following animal trails, you can reduce impact on forest floor regeneration. Thin trails and animal tracks are all signs of animal trails. Don’t stray too far, and always keep your direction in mind.
Hiking and camping tips
These simple tips will help you leave the smallest footprint, or none at all, on the natural world while hiking or camping in this muddy, wet season.
Step 1: Plan and prepare for your trip. Deciding where and when you visit can help minimize your impact. Visit wilderness during less popular days of the week.
Choose a hike where the land is durable enough so that your trip will not cause excessive impact. Pick a trip on sandy terrain or the forest floor, rather than the lush but delicate plant life of meadows, stream banks, fragile alpine tundra and other areas that can be easily trampled or scarred, especially when soils are water saturated immediately after the snows melt.
When selecting a campsite in popular locations, choose a site that already has experienced substantial impact. Do not select previously unused or lightly impacted sites. In many situations, sites should not be camped on more than one night, to give plants a chance to recover. In remote locations, when looking for a campsite in places away from trails or where camping occurs infrequently, choose a site that shows no evidence of having been used before.
Limit your party size. Large groups tend to have more impact than you might expect (for example, social trails developing between tent sites).
Minimize impact by using appropriate clothing and gear:
• Portable stoves make a campfire unnecessary.
• Large water containers reduce the number of trips to water sources.
• Using a hammock for sleeping minimizes ground cover damage.
• Tents with waterproof floors make it unnecessary to excavate a ditch around the tent.
• Wearing soft-soled shoes around camp decreases compacting the soil.
Step 2: Know where and how to walk in the woods to minimize your impact. During mud season, the forest floor is undergoing its most important step of the year. Try not to step on small trees, sprouts or even bugs. Minimize disturbance of stones, soil and plant life, so as not to disrupt the conditions in which plants and animals live and grow. Please do not dig up plants, pick wildflowers or cut branches from live trees.
Be aware of where you’re walking. Be attentive to each footfall. Try to walk slowly and lightly. Don’t stomp blindly along the trail. Try not to kick stones. Use rocks as stepping-stones when available, especially in wet areas.
• Stay on the trails, spreading out your foot traffic (especially larger groups).
• When traveling off trail, be prepared to use extra care (spread out if walking off trails).
• Avoid walking on closed trails or developing new trails (not authorized).
• Work against gravity. When walking downhill, take smaller strides with more frequent footfalls. This will increase your purchase while lessening your impact.
• Keep dogs leashed while in the wilderness, and keep them on trails when in fragile areas.
• Minimize the amount of time spent taking a break along a trail or at a site. When hiking, try to select a durable stopping point, such as a rock outcrop, a non-vegetated site or a site with resistant vegetation. Never short-cut switchbacks — you will contribute to long-term erosion.
Step 3: Leave no trace — pack it in, pack it out. Whatever you bring with you, bring out! Always keep your trash. Additionally, plastics don’t decompose and can present a hazard to certain species. If you are bringing libations, collapse the empties and put them in your backpack. Don’t bring glass; instead, bring plastic bottles or cans (these are more easily compressed). Pack out nonorganic litter such as toilet paper. Use toilets if provided.
Remember, it is not legal to ride bikes (including fat-bikes) or motorized vehicles on the trails in land designated as wilderness.
And besides, it is just good stewardship to avoid mountain biking and other motorized ways of travel during mud season. Mountain bikes are notoriously bad for trails. The width of the tires, the speed of travel and the mass of the cyclist all increase pressure at the point where the tires meet the ground. Mountain biking also exacerbates erosion, so if you are concerned about impacting the trails and forestlands, travel by foot.
By planning and executing your travel with consideration for the fragility of the forest, you will ensure the trails’ ability to survive during this mud season — and you’ll be a good forest steward. Following these tips and other ideas provided by the ranger districts help leave healthy trails for summer fun.
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