Stay on the Trail

Staying on the trail, whether you are walking, bike riding, or in or on an off-road vehicle, is important. The ground and soils beneath our feet are amazingly productive and important ecosystems. We can only see the larger inhabitants of these ecosystems, such as worms, fungi and insects, but there is a wide variety of inhabitants including billions of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes. These ecosystems are diverse, help keep plants healthy, and play an important role in the life-cycles of life on Earth. Here are some major factors that contribute to soil health: soil structure, soil chemistry, organic matter, soil biology, water and air. Have you ever noticed how spongy older forests floors feel? That is because of the organic matter that has built up over the years. It has structure with high organic matter. The four basic components of soil are 45% mineral matter (clay, silt, and sand) , 5% organic matter, 25% air, and 25% water. This differs depending on the type of soil it is. You can think of structure of the soil kind of like the macro world. We have roadways, building, waterways, and air (being very simplistic), and the same is true for the micro world. So when we walk, ride our bikes or off-road vehicle over the ground it would be like a giant walking on our world crushing the buildings and inhabitants. But below ground the airways and waterways get crushed also. And this is why it is so important to stay on the trails. It is also why trails tend to hold water after a rain and become muddy. Water is absorbed by the forest plants, mosses, and humus (the material that forms when plants and animals are decomposed; it is also rich in nutrients), and works its way down through the soil where it eventually makes its way into streams and waterways.

When soils become compacted it is very hard for plants to grow in, and it takes a long time for a healthy soil community to regenerate.

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