The sun starts to fade behind the horizon longer, it is getting warmer and you are itching to hit the trails and/or back roads. With the changing of the seasons many Montanans call this season Mud Season. No matter where you go you will find it. Washing your vehicle, side by side, motorcycle, hiking boots seems like a senseless act and a waste of time. Making plans to recreate where it might be dry is a game of Russian Roulette so we typically end up just heading out. But what is happening below our feet is something that needs to happen every year and without it we wouldn't be able to take those beautiful wildflower photographs or lightly step through green meadows we seek out every spring and summer. It's the rebirth of all the living organisms that have laid in dormancy through out the cold harsh winter months. Waiting for the snow to provide the moisture it needs, the sun to provide the warmth to sprout it's tiny roots as they dig into the fresh soil and grab hold for the long hot summer ahead. That mud that forms is vital for survival and when we attempt to hike, run or drive through it the percentage of that survival rate goes down. A lot. There are quite a few trails in the Anaconda Pintler Wilderness and outside the wilderness that are fragile ecosystems and the trails become downright stream beds during spring run off. But here is the dilemma, hike or drive through these fragile ecosystems? Or go around them? The short answer is to hike/bike or drive through the mud if you are going to do it. Going around to avoid the mud only creates pathways through the tender shoots along the trails and or open areas. Which creates more problems for the vegetation such as erosion. But what we all should do is be patient and stay off trails and roads/areas that are muddy and let Mother Nature do what she does best.
If you do choose to go through the mud the best practice you can have is to wash off your vehicle/boots or bike at the car wash or at home afterwards so you don't introduce invasive species such as spotted knapweed elsewhere. The biggest problem we are having in our area is the introduction of invasive species that are literally choking out our native habitat. With a little bit of patience and some care we can all do our part to make sure our area stays healthy. Want to learn how to spot some of our more common invasive species in our area? Go to www.msuinvasiveplants.org for more information.
Fortunately there are areas around here that are dried out fairly soon in the spring such as the Blue Eyed Nellie area west of town. Other options are to head out of town towards Lewis and Clark Caverns over by Cardwell and check out their extensive trail system. For motorized riding head to pipestone just outside of Butte. Where ever you go find out ahead of time what the trail conditions are like so you don't drive all the way there only to go on the trails that may be muddy because you just drove all that way. The trails will be dry before we know it and we can go explore and have fun in the areas we love.