Anyone tempted by this weekend’s sun and April-like temperatures to venture outdoors should remember to stay off unpaved trails.
The La Crosse Parks and Recreation Department has temporarily closed hiking and biking trails in upper and lower Hixon Forest as a result of the early thaw, which leaves trails vulnerable to permanent damage.
“When the soil is starting to thaw out it gets super duper muddy,” said Sunshine Love, the city’s forest management coordinator. “It’s not good.”
Foot and tire prints left in loose, wet soil harden to make trails rough and more prone to erosion. Users who try to skirt muddy sections of trail can create damage on the edge of the path. As a result, volunteer labor and trail building funds get used up fixing existing trails instead of creating new ones.
A rule of thumb: if you can see your foot or tire tracks, you shouldn’t be on the trail.
Volunteers were scheduled to put up trail closure signs later this week in an effort to head off heavy weekend traffic.
“People are going to be out in droves,” said Josh Blum, a volunteer trail builder with the Outdoor Recreation Alliance, which builds and maintains the trails in Upper Hixon.
Blum notes there are alternatives, including the La Crosse River marsh trails and the Mathy Quarry
“There’s places to go,” Blum said.
The closure comes several weeks earlier than the previous two years and nearly two months earlier than in 2014. Love said a second closure is possible this spring if the ground re-freezes and is covered by snow again.