Next time you encounter a muddy trail, think twice about traveling it – and not just for the sake of your boots. Traffic on muddy trails – whether it’s foot traffic, bike traffic, or otherwise – leads to erosion and soil compaction that can cause long-lasting damage and be expensive to repair.
Erosion often comes in the form of travelers taking odd lines down the trail opposed to the norm. For instance, if a hiker is avoiding a mud puddle in the middle of the path, they may walk along a weaker edge of the trail not meant to bear weight. This breaks down the edge of the trail, often widening the path and destroying nearby vegetation. Pressing into the mud on a trail can also displace parts of the path – another factor that leads to misshapen or uneven trails.
Soil compaction is also a scary result of muddy trail usage. When soil compaction occurs, it hampers the ability of a trail to absorb precipitation. This can result in flooding and additional erosion.