- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 1, 2014

LA CROSSE, Wis. (AP) - Hikers and bikers ready to hit the trails as the weather warms may have to wait a while.

The spring thaw loosens soil and leaves paths vulnerable to damaging gouges from boots and bicycle tires, said Mike Charron, a certified trail builder with the Outdoor Recreation Alliance, which builds and maintains trails in La Crosse parks.

Charon’s boot sank Monday into the ground on a gravel road leading to trails in the lower Hixon Forest in western Wisconsin.

“When it’s that soft, you can create almost dinosaur tracks,” Charron told La Crosse Tribune (https://bit.ly/1pEuF1L ).

He also pointed to trail creep, the widening of the path where people have tried to walk around muddy areas. Gouges along the sides of trails channel rainwater, leading to more erosion and washouts.

The city of La Crosse has closed hiking and biking trails in Hixon Forest to prevent such damage during the spring thaw.

City workers barricaded the road to the lower Hixon Forest to keep hikers out, and the Outdoor Recreation Alliance is working on posting signs to explain the closure.

Charron said most hikers respect closures once they understand the need.

“Would you rather have your volunteers constructing new trails,” he said, “or repairing trail?”

The length of the closure depends on the weather. In some years, forest trails open in March. In other years, it’s mid-May.

Sue Howe, executive director of the Outdoor Recreation Alliance, encouraged hikers and bicyclists to seek paved trails. Bicyclists also can ride in streets until the ground dries out, she said.

“Walk your neighborhood, bike your neighborhood,” How said. “The trails just get damaged and it takes so much work to repair.”

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Information from: La Crosse Tribune, https://www.lacrossetribune.com

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