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Eclipse-watchers urged to stay off muddy trails, mountains

A mountain with snow at the summit
vermontalm/Getty Images/iStockphoto
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iStockphoto
A spring view of Mount Mansfield.

With the only eclipse visible in the U.S. for the next 20 years fast approaching, some viewers may be tempted by the prospect of seeing the eclipse atop a mountain or on a trail.

The Green Mountain Club, which maintains around 500 miles of trails in Vermont, recommends you don’t do that. The reason? Mud season, the thawing period after winter when dirt roads and hiking trails turn to impassable muddy quagmires.

Hiking on muddy trails worsens erosion, while hiking around them widens the trail and damages nearby flora, said Chloe Miller, communications manager for the Green Mountain Club. That’s true every year; the only difference now is the large number of out-of-state visitors expected to come on April 8.

“It just so happens that this year we have a very big outdoor event happening during mud season,” Miller said. “So we are advising people to not go hiking — the trails are closed — and there’s also a risk to personal safety if you choose to go hiking or into the backcountry during the eclipse.”

MAP: See the path of the 2024 total solar eclipse in Vermont

Another potential danger for hikers unfamiliar with Vermont is the possibility of winter conditions at mountain summits. Visitors may assume the spring conditions they experience in town will continue up a mountain without the necessary equipment to traverse and survive in snow and ice. Busy roadways and bad traffic could complicate rescue efforts.

“People just really need to understand the risk that they’re undertaking if they choose to go into the backcountry because our state’s emergency resources are going to be taxed,” Miller said.

To be clear, hiking trails are normally closed during mud season and will remain closed during the eclipse, confirmed Kaitlin Alford, parks sales and services manager at the state Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation. However, several parks will be partially open.

A muddy trail. A patch of snow can be seen in the background.
Amy Kolb Noyes
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VPR File
Many of Vermont's trails remain muddy and closed to hiking in April.

Those parks will be open for parking and will have port-a-potties (restrooms will be closed) with hand sanitizer, Alford said. Visitors will be responsible for packing and removing their own trash.

“We’re not actively encouraging people to go to parks for the eclipse, it’s more that we understand that people are looking for places to go and inevitably they’re going to be there,” Alford said. “There will likely be a staff member as a point person on site, but that’s mostly just to help with any kind of parking complications or things like that.”

Want to watch the eclipse from a mountain? Here's what Vermont ski resorts are planning.

Mud season is also a concern for towns. Waterbury, like other towns in the path of totality, is expecting many visitors on eclipse day. The town has already announced it is not allowing parking on any fields or parks unless otherwise noted, in order to prevent damage to the land.

Additionally, with just under half of the town’s roads unpaved, there’s a real possibility of road closures or even people getting stuck in the mud, said Katarina Lisaius, Waterbury’s recreation director.

“We want to make sure that visitors, while they might see on Google Maps that this a great place or a cut through or an easy way around town, actually may be a really challenging road to get through,” Lisaius said. “And because it’s going to be, we think, a popular event or have more visitors in town than we normally do, getting to them may be challenging.”

Follow all of Vermont Public's eclipse coverage here.

None of this is to dissuade visitors, rather to encourage them to avoid dangerous situations. Alford, the parks manager, recommended signing up for Vermont Emergency Management’s text alerts by texting VTECLIPSE to 888-777 to get traffic alerts and road closures, and to check this blog page for information on state parks.

“Ideally [the eclipse] would be once our state parks are open, but the moon and stars don’t wait for anyone,” Alford said. “So we’re just doing the best we can with what we’ve got.”

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

More eclipse resources

See all of Vermont Public's 2024 eclipse coverage.

Corey Dockser is Vermont Public’s first data journalist, a role combining programming and journalism to produce stories that would otherwise go unheard. His work ranges from complex interactive visualizations to simple web scraping and data cleaning. Corey graduated from Northeastern University in 2022 with a BS in data science and journalism. He previously worked at The Buffalo News in Buffalo, New York as a Dow Jones News Fund Data Journalism intern, and at The Boston Globe.
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