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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Travel on muddy trails can lead to long term damage

Muddy tracks on Beacon Hill near Camp Sekani on Sunday, Feb. 11. Conditions were so bad the rider ended up walking his bike. (Chris White / Courtesy)

Unseasonably warm and sunny days have sent Spokanites scrambling for the hills.

Unfortunately, traveling on muddy trails by bike, foot or horseback can cause long-term damage.

“This is a tough part of the year because the freeze thaw cycle causes a lot of damage to the trails,” said Dan Wilson in an email. “Which is tough because people see the sun and get excited.”

Wilson is a leader in Evergreen East (Mountain Bike Alliance). On Sunday, the mountain biking alliance posted a reminder on its group Facebook page.

“Please do your best to keep rides to early morning during times of freezing thaw, it is really bad right now, especially after 11 a.m.,” the post said. “Check the temperature. When the temperature hits 34 degrees the mud starts to show itself.”

The problem, Wilson said, is that when bikers, hikers or horseback riders pass through a muddy trail they leave deep indents. Those indents then freeze when the temperature drops creating ruts that last well into the summer.

“The ruts created eventually freeze up. The dirt displaced can also create ruts in the center and destroy proper and natural drainage,” Wilson said.

An associated problem is people often think it’s better to travel around mud or puddles. That’s even worse because it widens the trails and compacts “the soil where vegetation is often holding things together.”

That leaves would-be hikers, bikers and riders two options: Either adventure early (when the ground is still frozen) or choose a different trail.

A simple rule of thumb?

“If your tread is sinking into the ground turn around and ride another day,” Wilson said. “We are all guilty of wanting to do the outdoor activities we all love. We just have to be aware of the trail conditions and be willing to cut that activity short if they are not favorable.”