Dec 03 2009

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Muddy Trails

Posted at 10:27 am under Blog Post

I hiked around Indian Brook Reservoir yesterday just to exercise my dog and stretch my legs.  It seemed like the thing to do since I was in the area and had the time.  When I lived in Burlington, I went there frequently.  Back then the park was in the country.  Now it’s on the fringe of suburbia.  Burlington, like so many other cities, is growing.

As I was hiking, I noticed how muddy and worn the trail has become.  Essex Town now limits access to the park to town residents during the summer.  Can’t say I blame them.  The place has been overrun.

A friend forwarded me an email the other day about the sorry state of the Long Trail, as reported by some disgruntled hiker.  Yes, having hiked the LT end-to-end, I must concur that sections of it are a muddy, eroded mess.  But so are sections of the Appalachian Trail in central Maine, and parts of the Northville-Placid Trail in the Adirondacks – trails I’ve also hiked.  Here in the Northeast, it doesn’t take much impact to wear thin-soiled mountain trails down to roots and bare rock.  With fifty million people living within a day’s drive of these trails, I’m surprised that they aren’t in worse condition.

One can always find fault with those who are supposed to maintain trails:  Essex Town, the Green Mountain Club, or whomever.  But the fact remains that trail maintenance requires manpower and money.  Join a trail maintenance crew for a day and see how much you accomplish.  Meanwhile, anyone who’s in the mood can go for a hike.  And for the most part it’s free.

As I hiked around the reservoir, it occurred to me that someday this place will be regulated to the point where I won’t be able to come here any more, or won’t want to.  The Town of Essex will eventually clean up this trail and those using it will have to pay, one way or the other.  Regulations have recently been put in place in the High Peaks Region of the Adirondacks, effectively halving the trail traffic there.  Those concerned about trail erosion think that’s for the best.  Will the same thing happen to Vermont’s Long Trail?  Probably, in due time.

I feel like one of the fortunate few.  I can grab my pack and go for a hike whenever I want.  I don’t like turning my ankle on an eroded stretch of trail any more than the next guy, but in a world where a billion people don’t even have enough to eat, complaints about poor trail maintenance seem mean-spirited, small-minded and ungrateful.

We are lucky to have trail systems available to us, cars to reach their trailheads, and time and health enough to hike them.  If I had to spend all of my time in developed places, constantly interacting with others, I would go stark raving mad.  So excuse me for not complaining about trail conditions any more than I do.  I find merit in even the muddiest of trails.

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