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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

What to do in mud season in Vermont

Last spring, FIRE led a hike in collaboration with Creating Art Together. Participants took advantage of mud season’s lack of leaves to paint the views they saw on the hike.
Last spring, FIRE led a hike in collaboration with Creating Art Together. Participants took advantage of mud season’s lack of leaves to paint the views they saw on the hike.

Mud season. Your sneakers are soaked, your clothes are spotted with dirt and the trees are somehow still barren. 

Do we even have spring in Vermont? When will mud season be over? These are things you might be asking yourself as we are in the thick of April in Vermont. 

But mud season doesn’t have to be just brown and boring. There are a myriad of ways to get outside and enjoy it.

Mud season is the transition period between winter and summer, usually beginning when the snow starts melting in late March or early April and ending in early June, according to the Green Mountain Club.

Soil can freeze up to 70 inches below the ground during mud season. As the air temperature warms, the thawing ground releases water, but temperature fluctuations keep the lower ground frozen for longer, preventing water at the surface from draining, according to the Green Mountain Club. This creates some serious muddiness. Add frequent rains, and it is even muddier. 

Vermont’s grounds get particularly muddy because its soil is extremely clay rich, allowing it to hold a lot of water, Elise Chan ’24, co-president of Fostering Inclusive Recreation Experiences (FIRE) and coordinator of the Gear Room, told The Campus. 

Chan, who hails from Seattle, had to learn to adjust to Vermont’s mud season. 

“In Seattle, we don’t have mud season. It’s wet all year around. The kind of soil we have is really different,” she said. Chan also acknowledged that mud season can be frustrating. 

“Everything is really brown, and really wet,” she said. 

Still, Chan described a number of activities people can enjoy outdoors during the unique time of year that is mud season.

“Riding bikes is a great mud season activity,” she said. “You can see a lot more with trees that are free of leaves.” 

The Muddy Onion gravel ride is an upcoming mud season event on April 27 hosted by Onion River Outdoors, an outdoor gear and apparel shop in Montpelier, Vt. Rather than a formal race, the ride is a celebration of mud, community and bikes — “three things we love! Well… maybe not the mud,” the event’s website reads.

Chan said she plans to participate in the Muddy Onion ride, and described it as a fun way to get as muddy as possible and enjoy the season.

Dean of Students Derek Doucet, who previously supervised outdoor programming at Middlebury for many years, described his appreciation for mud season in Vermont

“The early spring season offers tons of options,” Doucet wrote in an email to The Campus. “The mountain bike trails (like most hiking trails) are generally too wet and fragile for a few weeks yet, but the dirt roads come back into shape after the thaw pretty quickly, making for great riding.”

Beyond biking, mud season is a great time for activities on the water.

“This is the time when local rivers and creeks predictably have the most water, making it a great time to canoe and kayak,” wrote Doucet. “I'm not just referring to white water paddling though. A warm April day can be a beautiful time to canoe many of the easy, mostly flatwater rivers that become too shallow as summer arrives.”

Spring is also a prime time for fishing in Vermont. MiddFly Fly Fishing is a club that leads workshops teaching participants how to do the activity in Vermont’s waters. Their gear is available to rent through the gear room, according to Chan. 

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Rock climbing is another popular activity during mud season, Doucet wrote. He explained in the region near Bolton, Vt., many of the cliffs face south, which, along with sun exposure and a lack of leaves, can make temperatures on the rocks feel 10–15 degrees warmer than forecasted. 

Plus, climbing earlier in the seasons means there are no bugs on the cliffs.

Though it is a quintessential Vermont outdoor activity, hiking can cause serious trail damage during mud season. Heavy foot traffic during mud season causes soil compaction, which occurs when stress from something like plodding hiking boots forces soil particles closer together, according to the Green Mountain Club website. 

The risks of causing soil compaction during mud season make it important to check websites like the Green Mountain Club and AllTrails to get information about which trails are open and are best for mud season.

Chan cited the Addison County Bike Club and the Vermont Bike Association as good sources to check, as well. Some forest service websites also provide useful information. 

Hiking on more durable trails, boardwalks and gravel paths is another way to protect trails during mud season, Chan added. There are a number of hike options on gravel trails in Burlington, she said.

Right here in Middlebury, the Trail Around Middlebury (TAM), operated by the Middlebury Area Land Trust,  has many stretches that are open to be walked on during mud season, according to Tim Parsons, landscape horticulturist at the college.

“Hiking trails are closed in the spring on the higher elevations, like the Long Trail, but many down here in the Valley remain open,” Parsons wrote in an email to The Campus. “I've always felt the TAM was drastically underrated, it punches way above its weight for length versus interest. I can think of few trails that rival its habitat diversity. You could spend an entire day just exploring the side trails in Battell Woods alone.” 

Parsons specifically highlighted the section of the TAM from the Class of ’97 Trail to the Ralph Myhre Golf Course.

“We're coming up to spring ephemeral season, a type of wildflower that completes its entire life cycle before the upper canopy of trees leaf out and block the precious sunlight,” he wrote.

For those looking to head outdoors this mud season, FIRE will be hosting several upcoming events, including a sailing event in collaboration with the Middlebury College Sailing Club and canoe trips on Lake Dunmore later in the semester. 

The Middlebury Mountain Club also plans to do canoe guide training and day hiking training later this spring, and expects other outdoor trips will come up closer to the actual trip date, according to Elli Sterling ’25, a head guide for the club.

Enjoying the mud season is possible, it just requires a mindset shift. As Chan said, “We have the rest of the year to hike.” There are many other ways to enjoy the outdoors during mud season, from biking to canoeing to taking in unusually unobstructed views. 

Julia Pepper

Julia Pepper '24 (she/her) is the Senior Local Editor. 

She previously served as a Local Editor. She is a Psychology major and French minor. This past spring she studied in Paris. She spent the summer interning at home in New York City, putting her journalistic cold calling skills to use at her internship doing outreach with senior citizens. In her free time she enjoys reading and petting cats.