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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Stick with me on this one.

I'm pondering on the long term sustainability of the trails in my (new, moved from the UK) area. Whilst the volunteer builders and maintainers are great (I am one), there is a limit to what they can do. Now I know this will be weather and geology / geography dependent, but the 'equation' in my head goes something like:

X days of labor can maintain Y miles of trail with Z riders per year

This is a finite capability. There is a limit to what can be maintained within a certain number of days of labor. Let's stick with manual labor for now.

So. We like trails to be popular. We might even be trying for Trail Center status to draw more people in and more people ride those trails. So there has to be a break point. That break point is where the trails are degrading and the maintenance can't keep up because the rider numbers have increased / the weather has changed / volunteer numbers have stayed constant or even gone down.

I think that this is a sensible question and it would help groups understand their own capabilities if they thought about it. I want to think ahead and do something now to prevent what must happen if trails get more popular but other facets don't change. I think that understanding what you can actually cope with informs what you try to do in the future.

This all comes from my experiences in Bristol, England where a honey pot area was getting trashed. The solution is a mix of volunteer maintenance and pro-built and pro-maintained trails that sees 140,000 riders per year and copes with it! I just want to help people learn from the solutions other people developed from the same problems.

What do you think? Do you know what you can cope with?
 

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A lot depends on sustainable trail design. If your trails are designed well to begin with (shedding water, frequent grade reversals, avoiding fall lines, etc) the dirt-moving part of the maintenance burden becomes negligible, even with hordes of riders. If things aren't well-built in the first place, you'll spend all year trying to fix corners and reroute around eroded lines.

As a point of reference, in my area, between two parks we spent ~600 hours maintaining about 20 miles of trail total. One of the parks is recent construction according to IMBA guidelines, so most of the dirt moving there was improving entrances and small issues, and the rest was seasonal stuff (branch clearing, pruning, leaf blowing). The other park has a longer history of unsustainable construction and needed some reroutes.

Another trail network we maintain has excellent trail design for sustainability and a more resilient soil makeup. It probably received around 50 volunteer hours last year to keep its 10 miles in good shape. That's a pretty huge difference.

So my recommendation is to figure out what exactly is sucking your volunteer hours and figure out how the trail can be redesigned not to require so much work, regardless of the volume of riders.
 

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Dirt Monkey
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Hopefully everyone keeps good records of the maintenance tasks preformed (# of people, # of work hours, work summary notes, & dates). It is then trivial to go back through them to find the average "hours per distance per person" figure alluded to. If not, start doing this!

So my recommendation is to figure out what exactly is sucking your volunteer hours and figure out how the trail can be redesigned not to require so much work, regardless of the volume of riders.
This. Work smarter not harder. If an area requires frequent maintenance or repair throughout the year take it as a sign this area needs to be redesigned. A proper redesign, while more work initially, often reduces the maintenance load in the future and frees up time to devote to other projects.

We have been steadily eliminating high maintenance areas on local trails with reroutes, armoring, and improved drainage solutions over the past few years and the reduction in repair work we now preform is astonishing.
 

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I would first concentrate on improving existing trails before considering new ones. Prioritize the worst spots and work your way down the list. Once you get everything dialed, maintenance should be less and then you can start gradually adding as time allows. Don't think there's any magic equation, as maintaining say, Moab's Slickrock trail will be a lot easier than maintaining Fromme's Ladies Only.
 

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Excellent thread. My hometown was great in that we had far more manpower than was needed for maintenance, allowing us to keep building authorized, sustainable, fun trails.

Now I'm in the Bay Area CA and it seems to be the opposite. Any kid with a new bike thinks it's the cool thing to go out on some land, poach some hiking trails and scratch out some fall-line trails with his bros:madman:
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
I'm all for working smarter, not harder - hence this question and my belief that it needs answering.

Saying that one trail is easier to manage compared to another is included in what I said - geology, geography and weather all play a part. I'm not after a magic equation but trying to identify the variables that need to be thought about. Yes, the numbers will be different everywhere, but it still boils down to knowing how many people can maintain how much trail with how many riders - tht group doesn't need to know those numbers in the next state, just theirs!
Even when you work as smart as you like, there is still a finite number of miles and riders that a group can support. With the growth of mountain biking (more mountain bikers than golfers I'm told), we need to try and make our trails sustainable in every meaning of the word.
 

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OK, where I live-in forested country- I can put a 24" chainsaw on a pack, and carry a Mcleod to do "spring cleaning". Conservatively figuring, by myself, I can maintain an average of around 5 miles of trail in about a 10 hour day. On average that includes cutting 5-10 trees from 6" to 30" diameter, raking debris, blocking any shortcuts, cleaning out drains, and outsloping where needed. That also figures for an out and back trail-on a loop trail I might get more done. Generally not time to do extensive stuff like rockwork, so that might take a return trip to do that kind of thing. I seem to be able to do more work in a day than most volunteers, so I would probably figure 1 person to maintain 2 miles of trail in a 5 hour day, on average. Now this is considering the trail is well designed and doesn't need major work like reroutes or rock armor. In desert areas you won't have the saw and rake work, but keeping folks on the route and off sensitive soil etc. becomes an issue. Where I live, it actually takes more work to maintain the lesser used trails, as the tread is not worn in as well and tends to get messed up from livestock, gophers, and debris from the trees. Rutting by bike skids is not so much a problem as it used to be because of armor in critical spots, reroutes, improvement in bike technology, and education of riders. If your trails are getting trashed by mountain bikers, I think the problem is probably rooted in the design of the trail, which will take more than basic maintenance to cure. Anyway, as someone else mentioned, keep a log of your trail work and you will develop a good idea of person hours to miles of trail maintained. Someone may chime in and say my numbers are off base, but that is the nature of the game!
 

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Try checking with Whistler Bike Park and Mt. Washington Ski Resort (and any such bike parks in your area). They will have very detailed records of hours spent, miles and type of trail and numbers of riders.
 

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Our IMBA chapter has averaged 17 hours/mile/year over the past three years maintaining our trails. Best case with a very stable, easy to maintain trail was 4 hours/mile/year. The most work intensive trail required about 46 hours/mile/year, but that includes building new bridges, technical trail features, and other detailed work.
 
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