***Originally posted 3/22/19 on @publiclandshateyou***
The number of people who defend their off-trail travels as not having an impact is astounding. The thing is, humans are inherently lazy. We tend to take the path of least resistance. So, if someone wants to travel to the other side of a field, and they see a slightly beaten path that may have been taken by one or two people before them, they take it. This is how new trails are formed. The hiking community calls these “social trails”. They are unofficial trails that people take as the path of least resistance from Point A to Point B.
The problem with social trails is that as they become more frequently used, they become permanent. First the vegetation is slightly disturbed. The people that follow beat the vegetation flat. Continued use compacts soils to the point that they won’t support new growth. This breaks up what was previously homogenous habit into small fractured pieces. It's not good for vegetation. It’s not good for wildlife. And it certainly doesn’t make for good pictures. .
The 1st picture is from a drone taken last week by @waterproject. The 2nd is a Google Earth satellite image of the same location taken a few years ago. Notice the difference? How can someone look at these two photos side by side and say that there hasn’t been an impact? How much longer do you think this area can withstand this amount of abuse before it comes a dirt hillside with a couple of flower patches protected behind wooden fences?
The next photos are close up pictures of what these new trails look like, progressing from slightly disturbed vegetation, to fully flattened and dead vegetation, to fully compacted soils and new dirt "trails" that will require either human intervention or decades of natural forces to recover. This is the progression that we want to avoid. Resist the temptation to use social trails. Stick to the official dirt paths. They are obvious. They are generally wide enough for two or more people to walk side by side. They are a fully dirt surface with no vegetation present. You don’t need to create new trails for beautiful pictures that others will love, as seen in the last two photos. .