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Hold Your Line to Help a Trail

Posted by Erika Haugen-Goodman at Oct 31, 2017 04:45 PM |

Hiking may be as simple as putting one foot in front of the other, but how and where your shoe lands has a bigger impact than you may think. Whether you’re zigzagging toward a summit, bombing back down to the trailhead or sloshing ankle-deep through mud, there is no easier way to help trails than by simply staying on them.

Cutthroat Pass by Bobby Marko.jpg
A hiker climbs a series of switchbacks along Cutthroat Pass. Photo by Bobby Marko.

Hiking may be as simple as putting one foot in front of the other, but how and where your shoe lands has a bigger impact than you may think. Whether you’re zigzagging toward a summit, bombing back down to the trailhead or sloshing ankle-deep through mud, there is no easier way to help trails than by simply staying on them.

No getting around it

One of the easiest ways to help a trail is to stay on it, even in muddy conditions. It’s better to walk through mud than to avoid it. Going around mud widens the trail and tramples vegetation. It only takes a handful of hikers stepping wide on the trail to create a tangle of paths that can carve out foliage and impact the trail’s original design.

Puddles on Mt. Rainier by Simone Nelson.jpg
Puddles at Mount Rainier National Park, public land managed by the National Park Service. Photo by Simone Nelson.

The secret purpose of switchbacks

Sometimes it seems that switchbacks are only there to keep us from getting to our destination quickly, but they do have a purpose. Switchbacks are designed in very specific ways to keep erosion at bay. Cutting switchbacks not only impacts the surrounding plant life but also speeds the erosion process and can severely damage the trail. The next time you’re tempted to take a shortcut around a switchback, consider the damage it might be doing— and the cost it will take to repair.

For more hiking tips, videos and Trail Smarts advice, visit wta.org/trailsmarts

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