Muddy trails can’t take the traffic in most of Routt County, yet
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Even with more rain on the horizon, the Spring Creek trailhead is full of cars on Friday afternoon.
Since the trail, and many others, opened on April 16 after seasonal closures, it’s been packed with runners, dog walkers, families and solo hikers just looking for some fresh air. Getting outside and using trails has been a go-to way for Steamboat residents to relieve stress over the past five weeks of self-isolation amid the stay-at-home order.
Unfortunately, the trails aren’t ready for that much traffic. The snow is nearly gone in the open, lower portions of the trails, but the ground is still soft, especially with the recent rain. Just walking can leave deep footprints or divots in the earth. Biking can do even more damage, setting deep ruts in the trail that will eventually dry and harden.
There are no signs at the moment marking them closed, but the city and the local Routt County National Forest district office are asking people to use their best judgment and stay off of trails that are muddy.
The key, of course, is determining how muddy is too muddy.
“If you’re traveling on a trail and there’s only one or two little spots that are moist and you’re leaving a print from your tread but it’s not actually causing a rut, you’re probably fine,” said Brendan Kelly, Hahns Peak-Bears Ears Ranger District recreation specialist. “But, if you are causing a noticeable rut by whatever trail activity you’re doing, you should turn around at that point.”
Jenny Carey, Open Space and Trails supervisor for the city of Steamboat Springs, said the city has yet to mark city-maintained trails closed or update the online interactive map, but will begin doing so soon.
“Emerald is still pretty snowy in most locations, but we are going to be monitoring the trails in the coming weeks and reminding people.”
The online map has not been updated, but it does include a large notice asking people to not ride on wet or muddy trails, as it causes damage.
Small prints in trails won’t do too much harm and will soon get worn away. It’s the trailwide puddles, streams or deep mud that causes the most damage.
“One of the biggest problems is when you come to those big mud pits, people tend to not go through them and they walk around them,” said Carey. “That causes a lot of trail widening and braiding. So it’s just a greater impact over time.”
The damage goes beyond the obvious, though. If a rut is formed, any future rain or runoff will travel in those ruts and erode the trail. Not only does that degrade the experience, but it negatively affects the surrounding environment.
“That sediment is getting deposited into streams, which could affect municipal watersheds as well as aquatic systems,” said Kelly.
Until the trails are dryer, Routt County residents will have to exercise a little bit of self-discipline and patience. Kelly suggests recreators of all types visit the Tread Lightly website to learn how to use trails with minimal negative impact.
“They will dry out. It’ll get here,” encouraged Carey. “It’ll be here soon enough.”
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