Guest column: Mind the mud — being kind to trails is important, too
March 29, 2023
by Matt Parsons, GVLT Trails Director
While most of the country grew up with four seasons — spring, summer, fall, and winter — Montanans know that there is a fifth season. This season is called “mud season” or “shoulder season,” when the ground becomes a sloppy, soupy mess. Nothing fills members of the Outside Kind Alliance with anxiety quite like mud season, when our beloved local trails are the most susceptible to costly damage.
Our community trails are designed with drainage and sustainability in mind to minimize impacts on natural areas. Using muddy trails disrupts drainage, causing erosion and water pooling. Trail users that step off or around the trail to avoid muddy areas trample wildflowers and vulnerable vegetation, while inadvertently spreading noxious weeds. Over time, new “social trails” form from repeatedly stepping off the trail. These unintentional routes can encroach on private property and displace wildlife.
Including staff time, Outside Kind Alliance members Gallatin Valley Land Trust and Southwest Montana Mountain Biking Association budget more than $50,000 a year for trail maintenance. Those funds are used to hire heavy machinery operators to retread and rehabilitate the trails, clear drains, and remove social trails. Every year, volunteers spend thousands of hours undoing mud season damage. These dollars and labor could be poured into creating new trails instead of repairing the old ones.
In the Gallatin Valley, we trust our community members to make the right decisions during mud season. We also understand that it is hard to make the right decisions without guidance. One Montana formed the Outside Kind Alliance to streamline trail etiquette messaging across all user groups. When it comes to navigating muddy trails, let Outside Kind be your compass. Check out our website for etiquette tips or look out for our new mud season signage popping up around town.
You can Hike Kind or Ride Kind this mud season by sticking to gravel trails, knowing trail conditions before you go, recreating in the morning before the ground thaws, and turning around if you encounter excess mud. The Hiking Bozeman Forum on Facebook is a great resource for the latest conditions and reports. Highland Glen, Triple Tree, and the Painted Hills trails take a long time to dry out. Remember, just because it’s sunny and dry in town doesn’t mean it isn’t cool and muddy in the mountains.
The trails at Lewis and Clark Caverns, Buffalo Jump State Park, and Bear Trap Canyon along the Madison River are at a lower elevation and typically dry out earlier in the year. Paved pathways, like the Path to the M and the Highland Boulevard Path, are another great way to get outside and enjoy the changing season while minimizing your impact. You have until April 21 to take advantage of Yellowstone’s closed roads, so grab your bike and spend a weekend cycling around our first national park. Hyalite Canyon Road is set to close at the end of March, and that’s an awesome place to hike or bike until mid-May when the road re-opens.
If you notice muddy trails or excessive dog waste in the springtime, email email@example.com and let us know so we can spread the message about stewarding trails and help you notify the trail’s managing organization.
With the snow melting away and the mud peeking through, it is more important than ever to treat the trails with the same respect that we give one another. Being Outside Kind isn’t just about being kind and courteous to fellow recreationists, landowners, and wildlife. It’s about being kind to the trails, too. Take care of the trails now and they will carry you in any season.
Matt Parsons is the Trails Director for the Gallatin Valley Land Trust. GVLT is proud to be a member of the Outside Kind Alliance.