Friday, December 17, 2010

Trail Work That Doesn't Work

Though volunteers spend many hours each year maintaining trails in NJ and other states, not all "trail work" is useful.

In Essex County, the Hilltop Conservancy has been finding evidence of un authorized trail work that is destroying wildlife food sources and habitats. The volunteer group helps maintain a 240-acre reservation in northwest Essex County that spans Caldwell, North Caldwell Verona and Cedar Grove.

They discovered that someone had cleared a new trail through a meadow that’s part of a 10-acre habitat restoration project the conservancy has been working on since 2005 with the county and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The new and unplanned "trail" would bring increased traffic that will damage or destroy the new native prairie grasses and wildflowers there.

What they find isn't generally isn't vandalism and may even be done with good intentions, but the group has taken to posting signs to tell the rogue trail workers to stop.

In the case of new trails appearing, mountain bikers often create their own trails and move objects in the way that may have been placed for trail preservation and don't offer a hazard for hikers and walkers. Mountain bikes, dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles are not allowed on many reservations (including the Essex Hilltop) because they can cause significant damage to trails.

For example, fox grape and Virginia creeper vines are being cut out through the woods. They may look "invasive" but they are a food source for deer, birds and other small animals. The group would only remove it when it hinders an established trail.

Anyone who has done trail maintenance knows that logs and branches along steep trails are not "in the way" but often a way to prevent runoff and erosion.

It's a problem in many parks and wooded areas. If you want to volunteer and help maintain public lands, you should always work with established conservancy groups.

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