Mud season in the time of COVID-19

How to protect your health and fragile trail environments while hiking

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MONTPELIER — With the arrival of mud season and the challenges of staying safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation and its partners are reminding hikers to make smart choices. Gov. Phil Scott's recent "Play Smart and Play Safe" order encourages Vermonters to take part 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 department said.

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, 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, hikers are asked to 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.

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