There are a number of reasons why it is important to travel on durable surfaces and stick to the trail, in areas where there is an established trail. You want to travel on the trail even when you come to a puddle in the middle of the trail. Here are some of these reasons why Leave No Trace recommends this practice: (from www.lnt.org)
*Concentrating travel on trails reduces the likelihood that multiple routes will develop and scar the landscape.
*It is better to have one well-designed route than many poorly chosen paths.
*Trail use is recommended whenever possible. Encourage travelers to stay within the width of the trail and not short cut trail switchbacks (trail zigzags that climb hill sides).
*In winter conditions, stay on deep snow cover whenever possible; in muddy spring conditions, stay on snow or walk in the middle of the trail to avoid creating new trails and damaging trailside plants.
*If you are in desert environments, however, avoid traveling through puddles, as water is such a finite resource in these areas!
So, as you get outdoors this winter, remember to travel and camp on durable surfaces!
Safe travels...Kate and Tracy