At long last, it’s t-shirt weather! Temps are hopping into the 50s and Missoulians are busting outside to soak up some much-needed vitamin D. The wonderful weather means local trails are teeming with happy runners, hikers, and dog walkers as we all try to enjoy the warmth and lack of ice/snow. While the ice and snow are rapidly leaving the valley, they’ve been replaced with ample quantities of sticky mud and chilly puddles. Now is the time that the trail-users of Missoula need to be extra careful to take care of our trails while they’re in their most fragile state!
After months of running lonely pre-dawn miles on the ice and snow of Sentinel and Waterworks, it’s been a welcome sight to see so many people out enjoying the newly-revealed dirt this past week. But with the pleasure of foot-powered trail exploration comes the responsibility of taking care of our trails. Sadly, I have seen dozens of people avoiding mud and puddles on the Waterworks trails. Instead of hopping into puddles and squishing through mudding sections, people are traveling off-trail, parallel to the existing path. Traveling off-trail to avoid wet conditions creates new trails next to the old ones, contributing to erosion and trail braiding. This time of year, it is tremendously important to STAY ON TRAIL, no matter how muddy/wet/snowy/icy. If there’s more than the occasional muddy patch, find a different stretch of trail that’s a bit drier.
Here are a few tips for keeping Missoula trails in great shape for a summer season of romping:
1. Run through the puddles and make big splashes
2. Run through the mud and get cool mud splatters on your legs
3. Wear traction devices when things are icy/snowy
4. If it’s really muddy, head somewhere else
Remember, your shoes will dry! I promise! If you don’t want to get wet and muddy, please consider staying at lower elevations or in sunny, exposed places where the trails are completely dry. Together we can reduce erosion and trail braiding while still enjoying our time on Missoula public lands!