Hikers, runners and other visitors are abusing Foothills trails, causing long-term damage to the popular system, according to Ridge to Rivers officials.
Trail damage can occur year-round, but its most problematic when trails are wet, and it gets worse after the first hints of spring, when people want to enjoy warm, sunny days.
Unfortunately, this is the same problem we see every year, Ridge to Rivers trail manager David Gordon said. Trails are being widened as users walk to the sides to avoid the mud, and deeply rutted when they continue through softening soils.
People can get a good idea of what they can and cant do based on that report, Gordon said.
Too many people continue to use trails despite signs, chains across trailheads, and public outreach about trail conditions.
Its very evident from the tracks in the mud that most of the irresponsible use is from hikers, runners and their dogs. However, bike riders, too, can do their share of damage this time of year, he said.
Freezing nights and cold mornings before the temperature gets above 30 degrees is typically safe, but direct sunlight can make trails muddy even when temperatures remain below freezing.
A few sunny, warm days wont necessarily dry out trails. It may dry out a few, but thats where things get tricky.
Trail conditions vary throughout the Foothills on a daily, often hourly, basis.
MORE DAMAGE, LESS TRAIL WORK
Ridge to Rivers manages about 150 miles of Foothills trails with its three-person staff (and one part-time person) during winter, and a crew of 5 1/2 positions from April though October.
Trails range from within the city limits of Boise up to the Bogus Basin, and from East to Northwest Boise.
Crews try to maintain the whole Foothills network, but when sections of trails get damaged, they have to spend an inordinate amount of time working on them, and other trails may not get maintained.
Were spending a significant amount of time on these trails that are suffering from abuse, Gordon said.
Folks need to realize that their taxpayer dollars are being spent unnecessarily in attempts to reverse the damage from irresponsible trail users, and that some of this damage just cant be fixed, Gordon added.
Most trails are single-track, or about wide enough for people to hike single file.
Trails contain drain dips that are designed to shed water from the trail tread. Drain dips get flattened and become ineffective when hikers and riders use the trail under muddy conditions.
Theyre not working anymore when we need them the most, Gordon said.
Water then stays in the trail tread, gathering speed and eroding as dirt is carried down the trail.
Eventually, trail tread becomes U-shaped, and its harder to channel the water off the trail.
In severe cases, deep gullies are cut into the trail tread.
Once the soil is lost, it is difficult and very expensive to restore the trail back to a flat tread.
Trails on flat ground are less susceptible to that type of erosion, but they can still be damaged.
Water settles into low spots that remain muddy when the rest of the trail starts to dry.
When people walk around a wet spot, it widens the trail and kills the trail-side vegetation. The tread widens until it is no longer single-track, and the muddy area gets worse as the size of the depression grows.
WRONG, BUT NOT AGAINST THE LAW
Closing trails is not an option, Gordon said, because the trails cross different properties, including city, county, state, federal and private.
Theres no law against walking on wet trails, Gordon said, so people cant be cited, but he hopes peer pressure will discourage people from using them.
Its a community-wide problem, and maybe its a community-wide effort to get people to do the right thing, he said.
That raises a Catch-22: Responsible users wont be on the trails when theyre wet to stop or discourage those who are.
But Gordon said, for example, if youre coming off a trail in the morning when its starting to soften up and someone else is just starting, you can share that trails conditions are getting worse and suggest a different area if you know one.
NEARLY ALL-WEATHER OPTION
Gordon said no trail is usable year-round under all weather conditions, but one well-suited for traffic in most conditions gives you a scenic 2.5-mile loop.
Start at Camels Back Park and take Red Fox Trail (No. 36) to Foothills Learning Center, and circle around the building and go back on Owls Roost (No. 37) to Gold Finch (No. 35) and Hulls Pond (34) back to Camels Back.
When trails are wet, Gordon recommends people check out their neighborhood parks, many of which have all-weather walking paths, or large grassy areas where people can walk or jog.
The Greenbelt is an obvious choice, with more variety than many people realize, from urban paths downtown to the suburbs in East Boise to forests in Northwest Boise, Garden City and Eagle.
Runners and cyclists can hit roads in the Foothills, including 8th Street. (Its gated and locked 3 miles up until May 1, but you can still ride a bike or jog.)
Cartwright and Dry Creek Road north of Boise offer popular loops for cyclists with fairly light traffic, and there are numerous loops available on rural roads south of Interstate 84.
The Eagle area west of Idaho 55 also has lots of lightly traveled rural roads that cyclists use for training when trails are wet.
Eagle Island State Park features a 5.5-mile trail network that is usable year-round. The terrain is flat and the trails are wide, which makes this a good place for jogging or a casual stroll. Dogs are allowed on leash only.
The park is about 3 miles west of Eagle at 4000 W. Hatchery Road, which is located off Linder Road between Idaho 44 (State Street) and Chinden Boulevard.
If you want to exercise your dog, dog parks are located at Military Reserve, Morris Hill, Pine Grove and Sterling.
Off-leash areas within other parks are at Ann Morrison, Castle Hills, Cypress, Manitou, Redwood, Sunset and Winstead parks.
For a map and other details, click here.