Hiking and Mud Season: Caring for our trails when they are most vulnerable
Many SLA trails are temporarily closed starting on Thursday, March 18th. The trails will remain closed for a minimum of 4 weeks and then will open up based on ground conditions at that time. Updates will be posted on our website and Facebook.
Why do we close the trails?
Spring is in the air! While the pull to get out in the fresh air and sunshine draws many of us outdoors, it's important to be patient with the trails throughout the spring in order to protect them.
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 when warmer weather arrives. Even when the snow and ice has melted away, the trails themselves tend to stay wet and muddy! In trying to avoid muddy spots hikers tend to step off of the trail to get around wet sections, which widens the trail and washes away soil to expose tree roots and rocks. Over time this can dislodge rocks and kill trees bordering the trail--leading to even more erosion. This results is hazardous trails, expensive maintenance, and even long-term trail closures. And all of the run-off and washed away soil eventually enters our lakes and streams, which can have a negative impact on water quality!
It's also important to keep in mind that many miles of the SLA's trail system run across private land. Some landowners request that these be temporarily closed.
Which Trails Are Closed?
West Rattlesnake & East Rattlesnake
- Old Bridle Path
- Col Trail
- Undercut Trail
- Ridge Trail
- Pasture Trail
- East Rattlesnake Trail
- Butterworth Trail
- Five Finger Point
- Morgan & Percival Trails
- Doublehead Trail
- Cotton Mountain Trail
- Mt. Livermore Trail Network
- Brooks Fisher Trail
- Crawford Ridgepole Trail (All Sections)
Which 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 would 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 construct 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. 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.