Although recent, unseasonably warm weather is melting the ice and snow of winter quickly, many trails will remain wet and susceptible to damage unless walkers, hikers, and bikers are careful and considerate. “Walkers, please stick to the firm trails and wherever possible walk THROUGH the mud instead of around it (or find a different trail),” explains a post on the Montpelier Parks Facebook page. At any time of year, when you encounter puddles and mud in the middle of the path, it is better to walk through it than to skirt the wet and muck. Widening the trail damages plants and trees — and diminishes the woodland experience for everyone. This means wearing appropriate shoes or boots when you set out. Vermont State Parks and the Green Mountain Club note that many trails, particularly those at high elevations (above 2,500 feet) are closed until May 26 to give them ample time to dry out. Chloe Miller, communications manager at the Green Mountain Club writes: “The seasonal freeze and thaw are natural to this region. But as snow melts and spring rains arrive, the ground can only hold so much water. Deep and wide mud puddles appear, sometimes taking up entire sections of trail. Excessive foot traffic on oversaturated trails causes soil compaction. Soil compaction occurs when mechanical stress or vibrations (like that from plodding hiking boots) force soil particles closer together. This creates a higher density of soil and less air pockets. With fewer and smaller air pockets, water can’t drain easily into the soil, and plants have to work harder to push roots through the dense soil.”The Green Mountain Club details mud season trail etiquette and offers lists of recommended mud season hikes at its website, greenmountainclub.org/hiking/mud-season.