As snow melts and the ground thaws throughout April and May, gravel roads and trails throughout Maine turn into a sloppy mess, a combination of mud, slush, potholes and puddles. Welcome to Maine’s infamous mud season, those few weeks each spring that tries our patience and tests our waterproof footwear.
My family lives on a hill in the woods outside of Bangor, at the end of a dead-end road. For us, mud season hits hard. Our gravel road turns into a soupy lane lined with deep ruts. My dog, Oreo, somehow covers himself in muck on a regular basis. But it’s a price I’ll pay for spring having finally sprung.
Don’t let the mud deter you, I say. Get outside and embrace the lengthening days. But first, here are a few things to consider, tips that might help you enjoy the season just a little bit more:
Some trails are closed to recreators during mud season.
The Down East Sunrise Trail, a multi-use trail thats 87 miles long and spans from Ellsworth to Ayers Junction in eastern Maine, is closed this year until May 15 to all activities except where foot traffic is allowed. Also during mud season, the carriage roads in Acadia National Park are closed to pedestrians, bicyclists and horses until park management deems the roads dry and firm enough for boots, bike tires and hooves. This is a typical and necessary practice for many trail systems throughout Maine, especially gravel trail systems on which heavy use during mud season could seriously damage and deteriorate the trails. So when looking for a trail to enjoy during mud season, steer towards paved trails or trails that travel over unimproved forest floor, you know, your traditional hiking trails.
Just because a trail is open doesn’t mean it’s dry.
Many hiking trails remain open throughout mud season because trail maintainers have decided that use during that time won’t significantly damage the trails. But that doesn’t mean the trails aren’t muddy or wet. In fact, most trails in Maine will feature muddy sections, puddles and slippery roots during mud season. So while hiking, I suggest wearing waterproof boots with good traction.
Look more closely at puddles.
Near my home is a snowmobile trail that gets especially muddy and wet in the spring, but we like to pick our way along it anyway, searching for signs of spring, and one thing we alway see are pale green masses of squishy, round frog eggs distributed in the sizeable puddles that cover much of the trail. Spring is also a time for vernal pools, temporary pools located throughout the forest that serve as important habitats for certain animals such as salamanders and fairy shrimp.
Think before you hop on a bicycle.
Bike tires make a lot more damage during mud season than boots. It makes sense. Tires are narrow and carry quite a bit of weight, so they bite into soft surfaces that much more. So consider biking on paved surfaces during mud season or engaging in another type of activity for a few weeks.
Not all waterproof boots are created equally.
In my experience, when it comes to footwear, you generally get what you pay for. High-quality waterproof boots are usually constructed to have a waterproof layer of fabric, such as Gore-Tex. This material should keep water out of the boot but allow foot sweat to be wicked away from the boot. However, not all waterproof boots are created equally. In poorly constructed boots, water often seeps into the seams or through parts of the boot that aren’t fully waterproof. So if looking to purchase waterproof boots, I suggest working with a local outfitter that is knowledgeably about footwear. And what’s great is that waterproof boots are useful to have year round in Maine, a state filled with water. I wear my waterproof hiking boots with thick socks all winter long.
Find your saddest towel and keep it by the door.
If you’re like me, some of your bath and beach towels have seen better days. So take one of those ratty old towels and keep it by the front door to wipe mud off your dog (if you have one), pant legs and children (if you have them). And if you do have a dog, you might want to add some treats as a distraction.
Think ahead to mosquito season.
In early spring, you can start influencing the number of mosquitoes you’ll see around your home later in the season. Mosquitoes breed in still, stagnant water. Therefore the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests walking your property once a week and removing standing water by emptying any items that hold water, such as buckets, bird baths, flower pot saucers and trash containers. Early spring is typically a time for black flies in Maine, but mosquitoes will be here before you know it.
Keep an eye out for signs of spring in Maine.
In early spring here in Maine, a variety of birds start to return to the state, the most flashy of which may be the turkey vulture. About the size of a bald eagle, turkey vultures wheel through the sky, sometimes in groups, patrolling the land for roadkill and whatnot. In Bangor, I hear they nest in cliffs along Kenduskeag Stream. And while they may look majestic from afar, they’re actually quite homely, truly appearing to be a mix between a turkey and a vulture. Other early signs of spring are budding of trees, the emergence of forest wildflowers such as trout lilies and bloodroot, and birds like goldfinches transforming from drab winter plumage to colorful breeding plumage.