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Mountain bikers should avoid mud.

Byline: Mark Conti

Central Massachusetts was pounded with about 10 feet of snow this winter.

Though mountain bikers are eager to hit the trails after the long, cold season, churning knobby tires on vulnerable trails is discouraged.

"Riding on a muddy trail is one of the worst things you can do,'' said Philip Keyes, executive director of the New England Mountain Bike Association. "Once the trail is degraded it's gone forever.''

As the snow melts and the soil thaws, trails can turn into mud. And mountain biking on a muddy track can permanently damage the trail.

The NEMBA philosophy is simple: "It all comes down to this: Frozen is good, hard pack is good -- but mud is bad.''

"Typically, March is mud season on natural surface trails. This year, mud season is extended into April. Recreational trail use, including mountain biking, on muddy trails can damage the trail surface and lead to trail widening and widening of impacts, such as trampling, along woodland trails,'' said Bill Hickey, state Department of Conservation and Recreation spokesman.

"DCR recommends that all recreational trail users, including mountain bikers, avoid muddy trails during mud season and stick to hardened surfaces.''

In Oxford at Hodges Village Dam, a popular riding area of about 1,200 acres managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, many of the trails are still covered with snow and ice. According to Tim Russell, project manager at Hodges Village Dam, the trails are in "very poor'' riding condition and should be avoided.

"There's a good chance they'll be soft and muddy for at least a couple of weeks,'' he said.

Russell said he anticipates opening the trails to motorized vehicles around April 23, and he recommends mountain bikers and horseback riders follow the same schedule. However, he said any significant rainfall could extend the opening even later in the season.

"Generally, what we tell people is: If you walk in your backyard and your feet get wet, then it's not a good idea to be on the trails,'' Russell said.

According to the National Weather Service, Worcester experienced 119.5 inches of snow this season, including 46.5 inches in January and 53.4 inches in February. That total is about double the season average of 60.6 inches for Worcester.

The Worcester snowfall total earned the city the top spot on the list of Snowiest U. S. Cities, according to rankings online at

The snow kept mountain bikers -- except fat bikes -- out of the woods for much of the winter. However, officials are urging mountain bikers to show a little more patience during the thaw.

Hickey said he expects the generally muddy conditions of woodland trails to continue for the coming weeks.

The state suggests that mountain bikers try to avoid soggy trails. Do not ride around the edges of large puddles because that only expands and widens trails. It's better to ride through the wet area.

"When muddy conditions are encountered, we encourage users to travel through mud in the center of a trail, rather than widen the trail by trying to avoid the mud,'' Hickey said.

According to NEMBA, spring is the most sensitive time for trails, which become vulnerable to erosion and long-term damage.

NEMBA recommends that mountain bikers stay off the trails until the thaw is over and the ground has hardened. When wet trails get trampled, mineral soils get turned up and eventually get washed away by rain and gravity, leaving exposed roots and rocks. Deep tire tracks and ruts create a channel to carry away the soils.

Before heading onto wet trails, NEMBA offers several suggestions:

Ride on your lawn; if your tires sink in, stay off the trails.

During mud season, log base miles on the road.

Try some urban or suburban assault rides, utilizing technical skills; mountain bikers can explore neighborhoods or a nearby city.

Ride hard-packed or paved bike paths.

Check NEMBA's online forum for trail conditions.

Contact Mark Conti

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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:Conti, Mark
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 5, 2015
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