What does this mean for our trails?
Muddy trails are vulnerable trails. Every trails organization, whether it be IMBA, the main organization for mt. bikes, or BCHC and CSHA for horse folks, have strict rules against riding on wet trails. Why? Because hooves and tires cause erosion…both of different sorts. Tires create ruts, where subsequent rains and water channel and rut deeper. Hooves on hard trails create circles of mud, actually helping deter run off, BUT if horses go off the trail, even a few inches, deep holes are made. If horses head straight downhill on a steep trail, the slide marks will create ruts and encourage erosion. Both modes of transportation destroy delicate trails.
From IMBA's rules for mt. bikes:
"Be sensitive to the dirt beneath you. Wet and muddy trails are more vulnerable to damage than dry ones. When the trail is soft, consider other riding options. This also means staying on existing trails and not creating new ones.."
From BCH and California State Horsemen:
Avoid sensitive areas and wet or muddy trails. Leave no Trace. Practice Gentle Use Principles. Be sensitive to the earth beneath you. Recognize different types of soils and trail conditions. Wet and muddy trails are more vulnerable to damage, so consider other options. Please stay on existing trails; do not create new ones and do not shortcut."
So, where do you ride?
First, wait. Normally, we can wait 24 - 48 hours after the last rain for most trails to adequately dry out. But after the soil is soaked by repeated heavy rainfall, it may be over a week. If there are puddles in the middle of the trail, DO NOT RIDE AROUND THEM. Your horse or bike will widen the trail - soon, instead of a 5 feet wide trail, you have a 15 feet wide trail of ruts. (see photo)
Where is the best place to ride after I wait?
The sandier, the better. Sandy soil drains much faster than clay soil. In our area, for example, the trails around Folsom Lake SRA have a natural base of decomposed granite and are good to go after the wait. Or, stay on the gravel ranch roads at Hidden Falls Regional Park or Empire Mine.