Hiking and Mud Season: Caring for our trails when they are most vulnerable
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SLA Trail Closures: March 23rd to no later than May 15th, 2017
The pull to get out in the fresh air and sunshine will draw many outdoors. However it's important to be patient with the trails in order to protect them.
Why do we close the trails?
Many boots traveling well-hiked trails in the winter months compacts snow causing it to melt slowly. As a result trails often become channels of ice and mud. Later, when the season turns and the snow has largely melted, the trails themselves tend to stay wet and muddy. People, averse to hiking on ice and mud, will avoid these area by hiking around them. The trails widen, soils get washed away exposing tree roots and rocks, causing rocks to become dislodged and trees to weaken, die then fall creating more erosion and so on. This leads to hazardous trails, expensive maintenance, even trail closures. Beyond the damage to the immediate environment there are a number of additional trail maintenance burdens that could otherwise be avoided. It's also important to keep in mind that many miles of the SLA's trail system run across private land. Some landowners requested that these be temporarily closed.
Current Spring Trail Conditions
There is considerable snowmelt on the Squam Lakes Association’s 50 mile trail network, followed by the inevitable mud that comes with it. The SLA closes several of its more popular trails during mud season, at landowner request, to protect the trails and the natural resources of the surrounding area.
What Trails are Closed?
- West Rattlesnake & East Rattlesnake
- Morgan & Percival
- Doublehead Mountain
- Cotton Mountain
- Mt. Livermore
- Mt. Webster
- Mt. Squam
What Trails are Open?
- Belknap Woods - managed by SLA
- Whitten Woods - managed by SLA
- Red Hill - managed by LRCT
- Chamberlin Reynolds Memorial Forest (Parking lots closed, but trails are open) - managed by SLA
- Livermore Falls - managed by NH State Parks
- Castle in the Clouds -managed by LRCT
- Center Harbor Woods -managed by LRCT
Maintaining SLA Trails: The Labor of Love
Trails take a lot of work to maintain. Over many years, countless volunteer hours and financial resources have helped maintain the Old Bridle Path up West Rattlesnake in Holderness. This popular trail experiences an estimated 30,000 hikers per year. Without regular maintenance, such a popular trail will experience massive erosion, widening, and ultimately complete destruction. On Rattlesnake, the SLA has coordinated trail crews to reroute trails, create stone and wooden steps, and constructed waterbars to control both traffic and water flow. These massive efforts, in combination with regular maintenance efforts performed by volunteers—maintaining waterbars to move water off the trail and brushing in trails to reduce trail creation and widening—mean the Old Bridle Path can handle the high traffic it sees year-round.
Without this labor of love, trails widen, compact, and erode. This impacts the vegetation, habitat, and wildlife in areas adjacent to the trail. Erosion contributes sediment and nutrient input into streams and ultimately larger bodies of water downstream.
Many hikers access the trails to experience the beauty of the nature around them, unaware their hiking habits may be compromising the health of the areas where they hike. What can hikers and walkers do to protect the trails they love? Avoiding hiking during mud season best protects our trails. Usually waiting just a week or two is sufficient time to let trails dry out. However, if avoidance is not an option, hikers first must be prepared for the varied conditions they might experience on the trails. Hiking boots, gaiters, and traction devices are important to maintain dry feet and grip in mud and ice. Second, hikers should walk through icy and muddy areas instead of around them. This will prevent trail widening and compaction.
Want to Help Maintain the Trails?
Maintaining our favorite hiking trails takes financial and volunteer resources. Dedicated hikers can get involved with their town’s conservation commission, local land trusts and other conservation organizations, and the Forest Service to maintain their favorite trail as a volunteer Trail Adopter. We have vast opportunities for hiking and walking in Central New Hampshire, and all these trails require regular maintenance to keep them in great shape.