Reducing rogue trails for wildlife
The Middlesex Fells is crisscrossed by approximately 80 miles of authorized trails. Even with such a high density of trails, many additional unauthorized, or rogue, trails have been established over time.
Rogue trails compromise safety because they are unmarked and can lead to visitors getting lost. They also cause erosion, fragment habitat, and decrease the size of undisturbed spaces where wildlife can thrive. Some rogue trails also occur in sensitive habitats and threaten endangered wildlife.
Recent efforts to address rogue trails in the Fells began in 2021 with a participatory science project led by Earthwise Aware. In the past two years, trained volunteers have assessed approximately 25% of the Fells and documented more than 20 miles of unauthorized trails. This result indicates a significant expansion of unauthorized trails over the past decade. In 2012, DCR’s Resource Management Plan documented that just 23 miles of illegal trails existed in the entirety of the Fells. Earthwise Aware’s Fells Fragmentation Map shows documented informal trails and can be viewed here. (Click on the “Informal Trails” layer in the Layer List to view the trails).
Earlier this year, Friends of the Fells and Earthwise Aware were invited to partner with the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) in a project to close unauthorized trails. DCR has allocated some capital funding to address this issue and has hired an ecological consulting firm to assist in piloting closures. Work is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2023.
Earthwise Aware’s participatory science program will collect data to develop a baseline understanding of characteristics of trail segments slated for closure and monitor changes over time to evaluate the success of the closures. Friends of the Fells will work with partners to develop educational messaging about the closures, conduct outreach to adjacent communities, and deploy our volunteers to monitor trail closures and perform any follow-up maintenance to ensure selected trail segments remain closed.
In the coming months, we expect to provide more information on these efforts, and will also publish volunteer opportunities related to this work. Stay tuned!