Be Mindful on Muddy Trail This Spring

April 27, 2020 (Originally published in the 2020 Spring Ridgeline newsletter.)

Spring in northern Minnesota is a time of rebirth, rejuvenation, and renewal. From raging waterfalls and ephemeral creeks to flowering bunchberries and trilliums, there is much to enjoy on the SHT this time of year.  

Spring brings the SHT, and the rich ecosystems that surround it, back to life.

Yet spring is when the SHT is most susceptible to damage, even by well-intentioned trail users. When winter snowpack melts and spring rainstorms saturate soils, much of the SHT turns to mud or ends up submerged under water. Our prescription for dealing with a patch of mud on the Trail has always been to go right through it, not around it, to avoid widening the tread and trampling sensitive vegetation (see Leave No Trace tips). That remains sound advice — please keep following it!  

However, we’re learning that there’s more that must be done to protect the Trail when it’s wet. In Duluth, the City’s Parks and Recreation Department has begun to close the SHT and all other natural surface trails during the spring melt to avoid damage when trails are too wet. And while the rest of the SHT remains open, popular routes up the North Shore are at risk of damage from excited hikers and runners heading out before the Trail has a chance to dry out. 

Hiking or running through mud pits, like this one near Gooseberry Falls State Park, is neither enjoyable nor beneficial to the long-term health of the Trail. When it’s wet like this, please stay off and choose another area to get outside. 

We know there are some design flaws out there. Much of the SHT was not built to modern trail-building standards that help shed water. That’s why we’re working to reroute problem spots on the Trail to drier land, install boardwalks, and improve “trail plumbing” to move water off the Trail and keep people on it. In the face of climate change-induced downpours and more users than ever, we need your help to keep the SHT in great shape. 

New puncheon (a simplified boardwalk) is one solution we’ll employ to improve the trail user experience and protect the Trail corridor from damage during wet conditions.

You can help us protect the Trail

Here are a few tips for spring trail use and camping:

  • Follow the principles of Leave No Trace.
  • Check our Trail Conditions page to avoid trail closures and problem spots.
  • Use the Trail Incident Report on the page to let us know of new issues.
  • If the Trail is soggy and saturated, stay off to avoid causing further damage. If the Trail is mostly dry but you hit a mud hole, go right through it, not around it to avoid widening the tread.
  • Consider using a hammock at SHT campsites to limit your footprint. Be sure to hang your food to keep critters away.
  • Visit our Volunteer Portal to find ways to help with trail projects, and donate what you can to support our trail renewal efforts.