Mud In Boise's Foothills Means Damage, Frustration For City Officials

Feb 18, 2014

David Gordon manages 150 miles of trails for the City of Boise.
Credit Jessica Murri / For Boise State Public Radio

Almost every day since the end of January, the Boise Foothills Trail Conditions Facebook page has warned hikers of the same thing: trails are muddy. Those conditions have forced would-be hikers to find recreation alternatives.

Pine Irwin is part of a group that uses Boise parks and the Greenbelt instead of hiking in the foothills.  Irwin and her dogs joined others in Veterans Memorial Park Sunday morning because, she says, using the foothills right now is not an option.

"With the rain and rapid melt off of all the snow, everything in the foothills is under at least two or three inches of mud, if not four," Irwin says." It’s awful up there."

Irwin and her dogs usually hike four or five miles on the trails. She says using a couple miles of the Greenbelt is an alternative - but not necessarily a good one.

Iwrin is one of 400,000 people who hike the Boise foothills every year, according to David Gordon. He manages 150 miles of trails for the City of Boise. Gordon says when it’s muddy, only about 15 percent of trails are usable. He’s fed up with the muddy trails – and the people who continue to use them.

Gordon says problems occur when people try to avoid the mud by hiking on the sides. In doing so, they trample and kill vegetation, thus widening trails. When hikers stay on the trails, Gordon says it causes erosion.

"I think many of them don’t think they’re doing anything wrong, but they are," he says. They’re the ones that are going to the side of the trail. They’re the ones leaving these deep tracks."

Gordon points to the Old Penitentiary trail as an example. When he started his work 12 years ago, he says the  path was four-feet wide. Today, it’s twice that. Other trails have suffered similar damage.

Gordon has put up signs at trailheads to discourage hikers from using trails when they're muddy. But he says things haven’t gotten better. This year, he put up a gate at one trailhead. Hikers, he says, just go around it.

But closing trails - even in the name of protection -  isn't an option. Gordon says there are so many access points that to effectively close them all would be too much for his staff of three employees. And once the damage is done, Gordon says it’s taxpayers foot the bills for repairs.

Gordon says trails used to be muddy for just a few weeks in March, but in the last few years, they’ve thawed earlier. That means more damage while paths are muddier, longer. He says that sandy trails like Lower Hulls Gulch and Camel’s Back are less susceptible to damage, and encourages hikers to use those when the other trails are muddy.

"When you do this for a living and you see your work ruined, and to see our tax dollars being wasted, it’s hard to be super positive and super friendly when you know these people knowingly walked right by these signs that say don’t use them if they’re muddy, and they’re slipping and sliding up the trail," he says.

Copyright 2014 Boise State Public Radio