Park lovers are natural explorers and we love our visitors’ passion for adventure.
Sometimes we see our visitors create their own shortcuts when passing through sensitive habitats. This is also known as creating a social trail.
Social trails can have a wide range of harmful effects on protected areas and we would like to ask our visitors to always stay on designated trails.
What is a social path?
A trail that runs around a fence or gate (like this one in Bronte Creek Provincial Park) often damages a sensitive ecosystem.
Simply put: it’s a shortcut.
Have you ever made your own direct route to access a beach or viewpoint, without taking into account the designated trail? You just created a social trail.
It may seem innocent to you, but other visitors will likely follow your example. When many visitors do this over time, a new unwanted trail is born.
Social trails are created very easily in some areas, such as anywhere with sandy soils or in wet conditions.
The effect on the environment.
Social trails have a huge effect on the area in which they are run.
Foot traffic damages plants and eventually leads to erosion, the loss of topsoil necessary for healthy plant communities, and results in lower water quality in local streams.
It also creates compacted soil, which makes it difficult for plant roots to grow and decreases the amount of water the soil can hold for living things.
Aerial photographs of Pinery Provincial Park show the extent of its social trail network. Dune plants die easily from being trampled, meaning social trails directly impact the health of the dune ecosystem.
They increase habitat fragmentation. Narrow trails may not be a problem for larger animals like squirrels and white-tailed deer, but they can be a big problem for smaller animals like insects, frogs, and salamanders that have to traverse a wide (to them) open expanse. where you are vulnerable to predators.
Social trails decrease available habitat for nesting birds. Animals have what scientists call a “Flight Initiation Distance.” That’s how close a perceived threat (like a hiker) can be before an animal flees.
More trails mean less space for a bird to nest, and a network of trails may mean that a bird cannot successfully nest there.
When going off the trail, you could accidentally trample on rare plants, mosses or lichens. The parks protect some of Ontario’s rarest habitats and species; Some of the species we protect are only found in one or two places in the entire province. His loss can have a great impact on the provincial population.
Wherever humans step, invasive species come to accompany us. Small seeds hide in the mud and twigs stick to the soles of shoes. Park staff already spend a lot of time removing invasive species along official park trails.
Social trails spread invasive plant seeds across protected areas, creating an unmanageable problem for staff. To reduce the spread of invasive species, follow trails, keep your dog on a leash, and clean your shoes after each walk.
The effect on our visitors
Social trails can also be risky for hikers.
Many designated trails like this one have boardwalks built, limestone barriers, small signs or markers showing the way.
Social trails are not included in the official trail system, but our visitors frequently confuse them with official trails maintained by the park. You could get lost or contribute to someone else getting lost! This can result in dangerous situations.
The park does not maintain social trails. Staff do not remove dangerous trees, do not patrol them, and park staff have not designed the trail to follow a safe route.
If you are lost or injured, it may take a long time for someone to find you. We always recommend that you stick to trails that are well marked and included on park maps.
Going off designated trails increases the risk of encountering species with unfortunate effects on humans. It could increase your exposure to ticks, since ticks settle in grass and brushy areas. You can also encounter Poison Ivy. Oh!
What you can do
The creation of each designated trail in Ontario parks is researched and planned.
Always stay on designated trails within the park and tell your friends to do the same.