Ground Rules for Restoration Work in Mud Season


April 8, 2013

It’s Mud Season in Madison

Dancing Sands and Council Springs, Madison, WI–Mud season is upon us.  Mud season is that period from late winter to early spring when open ground and dirt paths such as unpaved roads and hiking trails become a slippery morass from melting snow and spring rains.  Mud season is that time of year when foot and vehicular traffic on saturated soil cause compaction and rutting.

First Principle: Cause No Harm

It’s not complicated folks, stick to paved roads, stone paths, or board walks, when doing restoration work (or just walking in your local park or conservation area) during our mud season.  Resist the urge to walk on a lawn area or dirt path if you are just visiting a local nature center; and if you are a restoration volunteer it’s not OK to walk off the trail during mud season to cut brush.  You should do restoration work during mud season only if you can do it from a hard surface.

What Causes the Mud?

Mud develops when the ground thaws in the spring after a winter-long freeze and deep snow pack.  The soil  thaws slowly from the surface down and because melt water and rainfall can’t infiltrate into the soil, surface puddles form and mud is the result.  People traveling by foot or vehicles over saturated soil then make the situation worse.

Human Impacts During Mud Season

But mud is not just unattractive.   And footprints in the mud are not something that will just go away in the summer. And mud on your boots and tracked into the house is more than an inconvenience–it is a sign that you have caused real and lasting ecological damage.

When people churn up the soil and compact it, soil structure is altered, oxygen is squeezed out, and local drainage patterns are disturbed.  The impacts happen quickly, either after the first use or after very low use levels.  Impacts are cumulative, building up gradually to degrade the resource over time.  Even if you are working for a good purpose, ecological damage can result.  Even if  you don’t see mud, human foot traffic on wet soil will cause compaction.

Unintended Negative Impacts of Restoration Work

City of Madison Parks and Dane County Parks recognize the impact that people can have during Mud Season and have closed certain areas and requested that visitors not walk on lawn and natural area paths for the duration of Mud Season.   Therefore, it was shocking and sad to see that on Saturday April 6, a volunteer work party at the Wingra Oak Savanna trampled all through the area surrounding Dancing Sands Spring and the Council Spring below the Kenneth Jensen Wheeler Council Ring.  The soil in the area on the shore of Lake Wingra is wetland peat.   The intended management purpose was apparently to clear out unwanted shrubs from the wet prairie restoration.  The likely result was long-term impacts to the soil.

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About Steve Glass

The blogger is a restoration ecologist practicing and writing in the Midwestern United States.
This entry was posted in Human impacts on restorations, Lake Wingra, Mud Season and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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