I recently received a very nice email from a reader who wanted to know my opinions about trail runners using wet trails. Here’s the email with an edited and expanded version of my response below.
Hi, I live on the east coast and am an ultra trail runner. I have run thousands of miles on our local single track trails over the last ten years. In the last five years mountain bikers have started to enjoy the same trails, they do a ton of trail work to keep the trails in biking shape. My grief is that now I am being told that if they can’t ride the trails because it is too wet then I cant either. I always run through—not around—muddy areas, tamping down deeper ruts made by bike tires. I do not slide or widen trails. Yet some bikers insist that I am doing as much damage as bikers. Sometimes my foot leaves a wide print no water collects. Possibly less than .1% of my run is damaging. Should I really stay off the trails? I appreciate your input and perspective. ~Kate
Thanks for your email. I hope you’ve enjoyed my website, though it’s not specifically geared toward your pastime. It’s still great to hear from you and hope you find the site valuable.
First up, not being a resident nor familiar with the trails on the east coast, I can’t speak specifically to trail conditions out that direction. Here in North Texas, we are forced to close wet trails due to the nature of our soil—it consists mostly of clay. So, I don’t have first-hand knowledge as to how well the soil in your area responds to being run or ridden upon while wet.
This seems to be something of a hot-button issue, or at least a large enough issue that my post, Why Can’t I Ride Wet Trails?, is the most popular page on this site—receiving hundreds of hits per day.
Here’s my perspective for what it’s worth, keeping the caveats above in mind. And that perspective starts with a question.
Do the trails you frequent have an open/closed status maintained by either a land manager, land owner, or trail stewards?
Where I fall on whether or not anyone should be on a trail—whether running or cycling—is based on the open/closed status of the trail. I always fall on the side of the managers/owners/stewards, so if they say a trail is closed or if they say to stay off when wet, then that’s what we should all do.
My advice is to find out who those managers/owners/stewards are and ask them what they want. Do they want you to stay off when wet? Do they announce open/closed status anywhere? Do they have posted signs for open/closed status? Do they have posted (physical or digital) rules concerning trail use that directly address wet trails?
Beyond all that, I’d encourage you to get involved in trail maintenance and care if you don’t already do so. Volunteer for trail workdays and get to know those who take care of the trails by working shoulder to shoulder with them. It may (or may not) give you a different perspective on when and why they close trails or ask runners to stay off the trail.
Here in the DFW area, pretty much every trail was built and is maintained by mountain bikers, but is open to walkers and runners. However, it’s rare to see walkers and runners show up to help during work days. Some running clubs make the effort, and in doing so have made local mountain bikers their biggest fans and defenders for access to the trails.
From your email I’m making the assumption that most of the trails you run existed before they were opened to mountain biking. In that case, I’d still find out who manages the land/trail and learn what their wishes are—the rules may have changed over time, especially to maintain sustainability due to increased use by mountain bikers.
The land managers and trail maintainers should ultimately decide when and how the trail can be used. In my mind, this means if the land manager says you can run a wet trail then you’re well within your rights to do so even if the mountain bikers don’t like it. When you’ve done your due diligence and still get called out by bikers, you can tell them you’ve checked and have the land manager’s approval to run the trail. If they don’t like it, tell them to contact the land manager and take it up with them.
Long story short, my advice is to talk to the mangers and caretakers of the trail and do as they ask—even if you ultimately don’t like their decision.
That’s my two cents. Hope it’s helpful to you.
What do you think about my advice? Anything you would have added or said differently? Do you agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments.