Mud Season in the Time of COVID-19: Help Protect Your Health and Fragile Trail Environments

 

 

May 11, 2020 –  The Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation and its partners want to remind hikers to make smart choices that will protect public health and Vermont’s trails during the COVID-19 crisis and mud season.

The Governor’s recent “Play Smart and Play Safe” Addendum 13 to his Executive Order encourages Vermonters to participate in outdoor recreational activities that adhere to social distancing and hygiene requirements. Vermonters may leave home to get fresh air and exercise and resume limited social interactions and gatherings of 10 or fewer, preferably in outdoor settings. The public should also be aware that mud season conditions persist in many places and trail closures may still be in effect for several weeks.

The Long Trail, its side trails, and facilities including shelters and privies are currently closed on state lands. Facilities including shelters and privies are also closed in the Green Mountain National Forest. The Green Mountain Club is asking everyone to avoid using the Long Trail, Appalachian Trail, side trails, and facilities until further notice. Forest Service officials in Vermont, in alignment with federal and state health and safety guidance, are currently restricting overnight camping at designated campgrounds and shelters. The Forest Service is also prohibiting the use of backcountry privies along the Appalachian Trail and Long Trail segments on the Green Mountain National Forest. For additional information, please visit: https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/gmfl/home.

The Green Mountain Club is working hard to get the trails ready to open in time for the traditional kick-off of hiking season on Memorial Day weekend. They are asking hikers for their patience and help in stewarding the trails as the hiking season gets up and running. 

While mud season conditions persist, here are some tips:

Consider the Location:

The wet soils on and around hiking trails are very susceptible to erosion this time of year.  To protect fragile soil and surrounding vegetation, some trails may be closed by the land manager during this time. Please respect the signage you see. Before you head to the trails, visit www.trailfinder.info to find trails close to home and see whether they are open or not.

When hikers walk on saturated soils or on the sides of trails, they cause damage to surrounding vegetation, widen trails, and inhibit natural drainage. If a trail is muddy, even if it is not officially closed, please find an alternative area to hike in. If a parking lot is full, or too many people are gathered at a location, please find an alternative place to recreate.

The period of snowmelt and muddy trails varies considerably throughout Vermont depending on elevation, solar orientation, depth of snowpack, and amount of spring rainfall. Even as it warms up in town, our mountains are hiding cold, wet, snowy, and icy conditions that may persist deep into spring. Hikers who find themselves at high elevations will need better traction and warmer clothes than the valley may hint at. We encourage hikers to use their best judgment. If you encounter conditions you are not prepared for, please turn around. Especially right now, our emergency responders and medical providers do not need the additional burden of a search and rescue operation, or to treat a hiking-related injury. Several recent incidents involving hikers in distress on the closed Long Trail at higher elevations have resulted in search and rescue missions that are especially disruptive given the challenging precautions necessary to safely conduct these rescues.

If you live in Vermont, please continue to focus only on outdoor recreation opportunities within the state and only drive with members of your immediate household. If you live out of state, please hold off on visiting Vermont for recreational activities, or if you do visit, please self-quarantine for at least 14 days after arriving in Vermont before engaging in any activities. For more information about health and safety precautions, please visit https://www.healthvermont.gov/response/coronavirus-covid-19

Observe social distancing requirements:

Please maintain a physical distance of at least six feet from others wherever you go, even if it’s just for a hike or a run. Dogs need to keep their distance as well so please have them on a leash (most standard leashes are six feet in length).

Wear a Cloth Mask or Face Covering: 

Any time you know others may be present, you should wear a face mask, even while running or biking. Keeping it ready is ok if you can quickly and safely pull it up over your nose and mouth well before you come within six feet of others.

Know Proper Trailhead and Trail Use Etiquette:

Know where and when to go: It’s best if we don’t all go to the most popular trailheads at the most popular times of day. Early morning or evening tends to be less crowded. Dispersal is key. You can plan your trip on www.trailfinder.info. If you arrive at a busy parking lot, find another trail.

Slow down, step back, and let people know when you’re approaching: Awareness and consideration are key. Everyone should yield to everyone right now and making some noise as you approach is recommended. A friendly “Hello!” followed by a pause to figure out your next move is the best tactic. If you find yourself coming up behind a slower walker, and there is not six feet to pass safely, slow down instead. If somebody is getting too close to you, step back to allow enough space.

Step off the trail when needed: If the trail isn’t wide enough to allow for six feet in passing, step off the trail at a 90-degree angle, being careful not to tread on plants if at all possible. Once you’re six feet off the trail, wait for the approaching group to clear the area before retracing your footsteps. If you’re a mountain biker, lay your bike down by the side of the trail first. By whatever means you may be moving on the trail, don’t cut a new trail parallel to the existing track.

Keep single file (even on wide trails): Keep your group single file. Do not spread out all over the trail. This may mean you have to hike more slowly than you want to. When you let someone pass, step off to the side and stay put — don’t walk or ride alongside the path. The same goes for when you encounter ice or mud in the trail — stay on the trail and go right through it.

Don’t stand across the trail to chat: it is great to see friends and acquaintances but stopping on either side of the trail to chat just creates a breath “gauntlet” that others must either pass through or go off-trail to avoid.

Embrace an ‘arrive, play, and leave’ mentality: Do not gather in groups before or after activities.  

Hiking with children: If you are hiking with children, set expectations before getting out of the car. Remind them not to run up to people or dogs, and to cough and sneeze into their elbows while turned away from people. Children older than 2 years in age can and should be encouraged to use cloth masks or face coverings. Remind your kids often of the new rules; they will need lots of kind and consistent reminders of what this new behavior needs to look like — be sure that you are modeling it.

The Green Mountain Club, the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation and the Green Mountain National Forest thank hikers for their cooperation in helping to maintain one of Vermont’s finest recreational resources, our hiking trails.

For information on mud season and trail closures, please see https://fpr.vermont.gov/recreation/outdoor-recreation-and-covid-19/trail-closures-mud-season-and-covid-19 or call the GMC’s visitor center staff at 802-244-7037 (or email gmc@greenmountainclub.org).

For more information on outdoor recreation and COVID-19 guidelines, visit: https://fpr.vermont.gov/recreation/outdoor-recreation-and-covid-19

For information for outdoor recreation businesses, visit: https://accd.vermont.gov/covid-19/business/stay-home-stay-safe-sector-specific-guidance#outdoor-recreation