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Trail stewardship starts with you

Thursday, March 11, 2021 by Katie Vogel

Welcome to mud season. In March and April, Cincinnati is often inundated with wet weather. A typical downpour can result in our clay-rich soil becoming a slippery, mucky mess, which at worst can result in dramatic landslides (we’re looking at you, Mary Ingles Highway) and at best a sloppy mess in your yard that your kids and dogs enjoy.

But our 570-miles of trails are a different story entirely and the decisions of regular trail users have serious implications for the health and well-being for hundreds of miles of trails, many of which are natural surfaces such as soil, gravel, or woodchips.

No one wants wet shoes, so we tend to walk around puddles or wet areas on trails, resulting in unnecessary and sometimes outright harmful widening of trails. But some of our trails wind through delicate microclimates that are home to endangered or threatened wildflower species that grow near or alongside trails.

When you decide to go around that puddle, you might be keeping your feet dry, but also trampling a rare or protected wildflower.

Our friends at Cincinnati Off-Road Alliance have a rating system to understand how to approach mountain bike trails, but most natural-surface walking trails aren’t rated.

Oftentimes our trails are cut and developed along hillsides, ravines, creeks, and other geologic formations, and while contemporary trail science helps maximize drainage, that just isn’t always the case for older trails.

There’s not a contingent of folks wearing safety vests and carrying clipboards to chide you if you decide to go for a walk in the woods after it rains. But trail conservation starts with a simple question: what kind of actual bootprint will I leave in the trail if I decide to go for a walk today? If you’re going to get stuck in the mud, or decide that you need to go around muddy sections of trail, you’ll contribute to deterioration of trails and possibly trample delicate plans.

So where will you walk when it’s been rainy? It’s your choice. But if you still want to get outside while being a responsible trail user, please check out our trail finder tool, which will let you pick out the best paved-surface trail near you.

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