FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – May 11, 2020
Jessica Savage, Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation, 802-249-1230, [email protected]
Keegan Tierney, Green Mountain Club, 802-241-8320, [email protected]
Ethan Ready, Green Mountain National Forest, [email protected]
Neil Van Dyke, Department of Public Safety, [email protected]
Mud Season in the Time of COVID-19:
Help Protect Your Health and Fragile Trail Environments
Vermont – Normally, the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation and its partners remind hikers of mud season at this time of year and ask for your help in protecting our trails. This year, with COVID-19 as a dominant concern and the need to socially distance, we are asking for the public’s assistance with making smart choices to both protect public health and keep trails protected during this time.
The Governor’s recent “Play Smart and Play Safe” Addendum 13 to his Executive Order encourages Vermonters to participate in outdoor recreational activities, while limiting themselves to those activities that can be enjoyed while adhering to social distancing and hygiene requirements, and which do not include direct physical contact with those outside their immediate household. Vermonters 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 on 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. In addition, Forest Service officials in Vermont, in alignment with current federal and state guidance to ensure the health and safety of employees, visitors and volunteers, are restricting overnight camping at designated campgrounds and shelters in addition to 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 and opened 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 to keep you and our trails healthy:
Consider the Location:
The wet soils on and around hiking trails are very susceptible to erosion at 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. Visit www.trailfinder.info before you head to the trails: you can find trails close to home and see whether they are open or not.
Hikers walking on saturated soils or on the sides of trails cause damage to surrounding vegetation, widen trails, and inhibit natural drainage of our beloved hiking trails. 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.
Vermonters should continue to focus only on outdoor recreation opportunities within Vermont and should only drive with members of their household, though they are no longer being asked to limit outings to within 10 miles of their homes.
Out-of-state visitors are still being asked not to come to Vermont for recreational activities, or if they do, to 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
In addition, wherever you go, even for a hike or run, you should maintain a physical distance of at least six feet from others. This includes dogs: please leash your dog! They are members of your household and need to keep their social distance as well (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 have your mask on, even while running or biking. Keeping it at the ready is ok if you can quickly and safely pull it up over your nose and mouth, doing this 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 trailfinder.info. If you arrive at a parking lot and it is full, 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’s 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, 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 (this may mean you have to hike more slowly than you want to): do not spread out all over the trail. 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 (who’s that behind the awesome plaid cloth mask?) 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!!
Remember: If you can’t maintain social distance, just don’t go at all!
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 [email protected]).
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
The GMC is dedicated to maintaining, managing, and protecting Vermont’s historic Long Trail, Appalachian Trail, and Kingdom Heritage trails in the Northeast Kingdom. For more information visit www.greenmountainclub.org
The Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation (FPR) is responsible for the conservation and management of Vermont’s forest resources, the operation and maintenance of the State Park system, and the promotion and support of outdoor recreation for Vermonters and our visitors. www.fpr.vermont.gov
The Green Mountain National Forest (GMNF) encompasses more than 400,000 acres in southwestern and central Vermont. For more information, visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/gmfl
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