Wet and muddy trails are vulnerable to erosion, and footprints and tire tracks leave a lasting impression as the trails slowly harden under the sun.
So, before lacing up the hiking boots or pumping up the bike tires or revving up the all-terrain vehicle, check to make sure the trail is open and use low-impact practices when you're on it, says Tread Lightly, an Ogden, Utah-based outdoor recreation advocacy group.
The group launched a public awareness campaign in March, 2001,?that focuses on responsible four-wheel driving, an activity that has boomed along with sport utility vehicles sold and used to access hiking and biking trails.
Although all outdoor recreationists may not consider themselves to be four-wheel drive enthusiasts, more and more outdoorsmen such as hunters, fisherman, campers, hikers and bikers are turning to [off-highway vehicles] to transport them to their favorite recreational spots," said Lori Davis, Tread Lightly's executive director.
Among the group's recommendations: avoid mud, if possible, while on a path or road. If mud cannot be avoided, use a low gear and just enough throttle to maintain forward momentum.
A key to trail conservation in the spring is to stay on the trail. Cutting switchbacks or going around puddles, water bars and stream fording sites causes erosion and creates unsightly scars," reads a pamphlet published by Leave No Trace, a Boulder, Colorado-based organization focused on non-motorized recreation.
This message is reiterated by the International Mountain Biking Association, which urges mountain bikers to stay on existing trails. More important perhaps, the group asks bikers to consider other riding options when the trail is soft.