With all the devastation presented by COVID-19, the opportunity to spend more time outside with family is one of the few positive outcomes of the pandemic. Between fewer people working, more people with flexible schedules, additional residents and visitors in The Valley and generally hot weather, the Mad River Valley’s paths, trails and swimming holes are seeing more people than in any previous year this summer.
With potentially record trail and river usage also come a list of challenges that are testing the limits of local trails and swimming holes. “The Valley’s trails and swimming holes are the perfect place to unwind, find relaxation and de-stress,” said the Mad River Path Association’s (MRPA) executive director Ross Saxton. “But we are also experiencing extra strain on these outdoor public places. If we don’t get a handle on the additional strains, we could lose access to some of our favorite outside places in The Valley -- especially on private land where the landowner generously allows the public to enjoy the outdoors.”
As an indicator of just how busy things are this summer, Saxton reported that the MRPA had already used 3,200 dog poop bags at its various dispensers and had just put out a second batch of 3,200 last week.
Loose trash, dog poop (bagged and unbagged) left to be stepped in, unleashed dogs and damaging side trails made by folks venturing off the designated trail are some of the issues causing added strain this summer. According to Saxton, the majority of people enjoying the trails and swimming holes are respectful of public and private lands, while only a handful of people are either intentionally or unintentionally adding extra stressors to the outside areas.
One spot of concern is the river access just south of the Waitsfield covered bridge where only about 1 percent of the land that hundreds of people enjoy on a weekly basis is owned by the town of Waitsfield. Ninety-nine percent of the land is owned privately including the parking lot, grassed lawns, beach areas and the Mad River Path.
Acknowledging that almost everyone is respectful of the land, private landowners have expressed frustration over some people not following the rules and displaying poor etiquette. Saxton said that it’s important for everyone who is using the outdoor spaces to pitch in to help keep these places clean and safe, which includes letting others know if they are not following the rules.
“If you see someone being careless about their trash, you can politely let them know that they’re risking access to the area for everyone and that it’s a ‘pack-in, pack-out’ area,” Saxton suggested.
“Or if someone is letting their dog run around without a leash, it’s incredibly important to inform the dog owner that it’s a town law and Mad River Path rule to keep their pup leashed, he added and said that when people see someone else’s trash left behind, packing it out is a noble act that can help protect trails.
MRPA emphasizes that generous private landowners are essential to outdoor recreation in the Mad River Valley. “All users play an important role in keeping trails and swimming holes open to the public while opening the door to new trails and river access sites,” Saxton said. He asked that during this unusually busy summer that everyone stays especially aware of their actions on the trails and along the river.