Hikers Do Expensive Damage to Muddy Trails
Seventeen dogs fetch tennis balls and splash into a pond near Veterans Memorial Park on a Sunday morning. Their owners are part of a meetup.com group and they usually hike the Boise Foothills at least once a week. But group leader Pine Irwin said that right now, that's not an option.
"With the rain and rapid snowmelt, everything in the Foothills is under at least two or three inches of mud, if not four," Irwin said. "It's awful up there."
Instead of the usual hikes, Irwin has been organizing meetups in Ann Morrison Park or on the Greenbelt. She's used to dealing with mud in the spring, but not so early as January and February. She said her two amped-up dogs are getting as frustrated as she is.
"Usually on average, we do a four- or five-mile hike, and the dogs do double that, so doing a couple miles on the Greenbelt isn't good enough," Irwin said.
Irwin is one of 400,000 people who hike in the Foothills every year, according to David Gordon, who manages 150 miles of trail for the city of Boise. He's fed up with the muddy trails--and those who continue to use them.
"I think many of them don't think they're doing anything wrong, but they are," he said.
When people avoid the mud by hiking on the sides of the trails, they trample and kill vegetation and widen the paths. When hikers walk in the mud, the trails erode.
When Gordon started his job 12 years ago, the trail at the Old Penitentiary was four feet wide. Today, it's twice that.
Gordon has put up signs at trailheads, but little has improved. This year, there's a gate to discourage hikers, but the city can't officially close any trails--regardless of the damage. Gordon said there are so many access points that to effectively close all of them would be too much for his small staff.
"When you do this for a living and you see your work ruined, and to see our tax dollars being wasted, it's hard to be super positive and super friendly when you know these people knowingly walked right by these signs that say don't use them if they're muddy, and they're slipping and sliding up the trail," Gordon said.
He added that trails used to be muddy for just a few weeks in March, but since the mornings no longer freeze as long as they used to, trails stay muddy longer. Gordon encourages hikers to stick to sandy trails like Lower Hulls Gulch and Camel's Back for the next few weeks.
A version of this story first aired on Boise State Public Radio Tuesday, Feb. 18. To hear the full story, visit boisestatepublicradio.org.