With the seriousness of the COVID-19 outbreak now a reality, the country is shutting down. People have been asked to stay home and distance themselves from others. We are all struggling to find creative ways to manage our idle time while also maintaining our physical and mental wellbeing. The trails have never felt like a more desirable outlet.
However, it is arguably the worst time of year to be out there using them.
Early spring thaw conditions make trails soft and vulnerable to damage. Ruts and foot holes created now can harden and become permanent aspects of the trail. Stepping or riding around muddy areas tramples plant life, widens trails, and often worsens existing problems.
Being asked to stay off the trails, just as the weather is getting nice, is a difficult thing for most trail users to hear. This year will be exceptionally challenging.
Parks and conservation areas are closing all over the province. In some cases, these closures were a response to overcrowding and disregard for social distancing, in others it is to preserve and protect these vulnerable spaces from the unprecedented levels of traffic that they are seeing at this critical time of year.
Currently, many of our local trails are still ice covered but that is beginning to change. The mud comes next and that’s when most damage typically occurs.
Modern mountain bike trails add another layer of complexity. Compared to traditional hiking trails, they have more shape and design as they aim to deliver a specific user experience. Corners and transitions are built to preserve momentum and create fun and flow. Foot holes, smears, ruts, and muck all work against these efforts.
Like with any other craft, trail builders take immense pride in their work. And like any craftsperson, a trail builder wants nothing more than to see their hard work appreciated by others. They also want to see it respected.
Using a trail when it’s muddy or closed signals a lack of respect to the trail organization, the landowner, and especially the trail builders.
Please consider walking, running, or cycling around your neighbourhood, instead. Explore streets and parts of town that you’ve never been to, at a distance, of course. Plant a garden, climb a tree, do some push-ups, try yoga, etc. Whatever keeps you active outside (and out of the hospital). The trails will still be there for you in a few weeks when the thaw is over.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not going away any time soon. We are going to need our trails and our trail builders more than ever in the coming months. Let’s take care of them now by giving them a break.
This month’s trail tip: Stay home.
A Singletrack Mind by David D’Agostino