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During this time of year, there are many looking to get in a trail ride during long stretches of sun. While no one wants to do any permanent damage, what are the long term effects of riding through mud? Why is trail widening a bad thing? What types of work do volunteer trail builders perform each year and what types of damage make this work difficult?

Please use this opportunity to educate those like myself who may not fully understand the repercussions of riding when the trails are wet.
 

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nitecrwlr said:
During this time of year, there are many looking to get in a trail ride during long stretches of sun. While no one wants to do any permanent damage, what are the long term effects of riding through mud? Why is trail widening a bad thing? What types of work do volunteer trail builders perform each year and what types of damage make this work difficult?

Please use this opportunity to educate those like myself who may not fully understand the repercussions of riding when the trails are wet.
Long term effects of riding in mud: Trail looks bad. Other user groups complain. Trail gets closed. Wide, muddy trails increase sedimentation and erosion. Increased sediment in waterways kills fish. Erosion can compromise root systems of trees and cause trees to fall. In extreme situations, erosion can result in compromising an entire hillside, endangering people and buildings, too.

Why trail widening is bad: A linear feature in the landscape like a trail can be a corridor for some wildlife, or a barrier to others. The narrower the trail, the less of a barrier it will be to wildlife. A wider trail will be an impassable barrier to a wider variety of wildlife species. A trail consists of heavily compacted soil. In a moist environment with vigorous growth (frost heave helps by loosening compacted soil), vegetation can reclaim an area quickly. In a more arid environment with slow growth, it can take decades or even centuries for vegetation to reclaim a trail.

When people ride in excessively wet conditions (what is acceptable varies for each trail according to many factors including precipitation, slope, temperature, soil type, growing season, etc), it creates spots that hold water, and volunteer crews need to keep on top of those or the trail will be excessively wet for increasingly longer periods of time. Repairing these spots will keep volunteer crews too busy to address other needs, add trail, or add technical features into the trail. Trails in different locations require different maintenance tasks, so I can't really describe everything to you. I can describe my local trail.

Annual tasks along my local trail consist of trimming back vegetation. Here, greenbrier vines (with thorns) can grow feet in a week or two, so they need to be kept on top of. Most soil in the area is very sandy, so we spend a lot of time trying to make sure the trail design itself doesn't encourage erosion of that sand. Some places don't suffer from erosion, but rather accumulation of lots of loose sand. We need to amend that sand to make it a more solid riding surface or we need to move the trail. The trails are in pine forests, and pine trees have this handy self-pruning habit where they will naturally drop their lower branches. We're also in hurricane country. We clear lots of downed timber. Right now, our biggest problem is with unsanctioned trailbuilding. We have approval to build some chain link gates across a water pipeline right-of-way, and now we need to come with the funding for that project. Because idiots are bombing down that right-of-way which is crossed several times by our other trails, and we've already had one idiot t-bone someone. Some unsanctioned builds have involved digging which has altered drainage patterns and f'd up some of our most fun features. We don't yet know who's doing it, but we will find out.
 

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Big Gulps, Alright!
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On trail widening...singletrack is singletrack for a reason. Much preferred over doubletrack (by most) and significantly more fun. Wide trail is an eyesore visually, and any time you avoid a mud puddle by going around it, that mud puddle gets wider and wider until it becomes swamp-like. Then it stinks and the chances of drying up (ever) decrease dramatically. Wide trail also encourages use from ATVs, motos, horses, whatever. They tend to rip trail up. It's very difficult to fix this sort of thing from a traibuilding standpoint. It requires lots of time, labor, dry weather and a lack of traffic to patch it up - most of which are difficult to get all at the same time.

As Natehawk said...it's pretty easy to figure out what's damaging the trails. Tire tracks through mud puddles are a dead on indicator and our user group seems to catch more flack than other user groups. Trail access takes a long time to acquire and can disappear in the blink of an eye.

I'm itchin' to ride as much as (or more than) the next guy, but if it's super muddy I won't go. Not only will I not enjoy myself as much, but as a trailbuilder, dealing with the consequences later on sucks.

Obviously this depends on a lot of factors. Places with little precipitation and lots of sun dry out way faster. Soil types and elevation dictate how fast an area will drain. Different user groups, and specific amounts of traffic have varying effects on how much damage will occur.
 

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Terrain Sculptor
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NateHawk & Berkley took my answer.

I will add that I've spent 30 hours in the past 2 weeks helping to reclaim a trail damaged by mud riding. There is still a lot of work to go. The trail has been officially closed until we can show the land owner that it has been repaired. Granted it was poorly designed in the first place but it would have been OK if people had obeyed the signs and stayed off it in wet weather. Now we will be elevating large portions of the trail and digging faster drainage for other portions. It drained OK, just not quickly.

I took myself off a new trail build to help out with this repair. That will put the new trail back a couple of months and riders will miss a season on the new trail.
 

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NateHawk said:
Long term effects of riding in mud: Trail looks bad. Other user groups complain. Trail gets closed. Wide, muddy trails increase sedimentation and erosion. Increased sediment in waterways kills fish. Erosion can compromise root systems of trees and cause trees to fall. In extreme situations, erosion can result in compromising an entire hillside, endangering people and buildings, too.
This is a pretty generic statement that doesn't apply to all trail systems. The Pacific NW, for example, handles mud riding just fine... it has to or there'd be a 3 month riding season!! lol

If you find yourself on a muddy trail, ride right through the mud... NOT AROUND IT!! Or if you come on a muddy patch, you can get off and walk the bike through to "tread lightly".

Of course, the hoof divots in the mud don't really help with trail conditions. :rolleyes:
 

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skiahh said:
This is a pretty generic statement that doesn't apply to all trail systems. The Pacific NW, for example, handles mud riding just fine... it has to or there'd be a 3 month riding season!! lol

If you find yourself on a muddy trail, ride right through the mud... NOT AROUND IT!! Or if you come on a muddy patch, you can get off and walk the bike through to "tread lightly".

Of course, the hoof divots in the mud don't really help with trail conditions. :rolleyes:
You missed something later in my post. :rolleyes:

When people ride in excessively wet conditions (what is acceptable varies for each trail according to many factors including precipitation, slope, temperature, soil type, growing season, etc),...
 

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is buachail foighneach me
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NateHawk said:
Why trail widening is bad: A linear feature in the landscape like a trail can be a corridor for some wildlife, or a barrier to others. The narrower the trail, the less of a barrier it will be to wildlife. A wider trail will be an impassable barrier to a wider variety of wildlife species. A trail consists of heavily compacted soil. In a moist environment with vigorous growth (frost heave helps by loosening compacted soil), vegetation can reclaim an area quickly. In a more arid environment with slow growth, it can take decades or even centuries for vegetation to reclaim a trail.
Out of curiosity, which species wont cross a trail? I've seen everything from insects, to worms, newts, mice, squirrels, rabbits, porcupine, lynx, coyote, mtn lion, bear, deer, caribou and moose happily cross or even travel along a human built trail. Are we talking microorganisms? What is the limit on trail width for them? Subterranean creatures that are affected by the width/depth of compaction of the trail?

edit: Their crossing may or may not have been done "happily", I never got a response from any I may have asked...
 

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It's about showing up.
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I think a lot of this depends upon the nature of the soil and its substrate. I recognize a number of posters here are from very different parts of the continent. Because of the nature of the soils riding in wet can either be terrible or just part of the experience. Slop and puddles don't necessarily mean that damage will be caused to a trail.
 

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sean salach said:
Out of curiosity, which species wont cross a trail?
... one species in particular is repulsed by all MTB trails ... the MOHAs.

The Miserable Old Hiker's Association people. MOHA members hate coming across MTB trails ... with a fervour exceeding that of rabid wolverines." (From the Dictionary of MTB slang).

In Australia, dogs are (mostly) banned from National Parks because dogs are predators. With mammalian trails that may run into our human trails (or vis a vis), trails used by animals like the Pygmy Possum and the Mala, if a dog leaves a scent on a trail, the animals can abandon the trail, abandon their range lands, and even abandon their young. Many animals in Australia are threatened, endangered, critically endangered or believed to be heading rapidly towards extinction. Causing minimal impact is giving some animals a bit more breathing space.

It is a hard ask to not be selfish as riders. I for one, want to see as much of my home range-lands as I can, before I cark-it. It is just as well that many riders are happy to ride MTB park circuits often, and not venture too far from suburbia with their blatant lack of respect, overt destruction and the polluting of their environment.

I once read that, "For every Australian rider in a pristine environment, there are 10 North American riders in their pristine environments, and for every 10 North Americans, there are 100 Japanese riders not taxing their tiny environments."

Think globally, act locally?

Warren.
 

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Keep the rubberside down
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one species in particular is repulsed by all MTB trails ... the MOHAs.

The Miserable Old Hiker's Association people. MOHA members hate coming across MTB trails ... with a fervour exceeding that of rabid wolverines." (From the Dictionary of MTB slang).

Wild Wassa, this is great, seems like weve had some of these sightings around the Pac NW. Strange creatures, unusually gruff, frowning and known to snarl and show their teeth too.
 

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As a trailbuilder and maintainer of a trail system here in PA who dedicates EVERY Sunday to building/improving trails, I ask that people don't ride singletrack characterized by generally clay/woods loam soil types during wet periods in regions where the climate swings quickly between freeze-thaw. I realize that this doesn't generally apply in much of the PNW, Southwest, or South but in temperate regions during the late fall/early spring its a big deal on non-rocky trails here in the Northeast in particular.

The ruts are hazardous to those who properly wait until things freeze up (and discover their tires locking into the grooves) and they channel water to low spots causing erosion along the way and ponding in the low spot people then start riding around during warm, rainy thaw periods. It's not just that people are being anal - improper riding turns SOME singletrack under SOME conditions into a horsetrail muckfest, minus the turds.

I hate that this sounds like a lecture but most volunteer-maintained trail systems have limited manpower/available hours to fix damage and we care that people enjoy what we've built rather than ride away saying "Well, that's a lame-a$$ed crappy trail - somebody should do something about it." We just can't do regular trail maintenance and carry out improvements AND fix all the damage, especially when a lot of guys ride up on the work crew, look annoyed at the trail being closed, comment on the damage, and ride away. Only once have we ever had one of these guys offer to help work on what they're riding. And these are local guys, not out-of-state tourists, that we see regularly.

Spring's on its way! :) :thumbsup: :)
 

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nitecrwlr said:
During this time of year, there are many looking to get in a trail ride during long stretches of sun. While no one wants to do any permanent damage, what are the long term effects of riding through mud? Why is trail widening a bad thing? What types of work do volunteer trail builders perform each year and what types of damage make this work difficult?

Please use this opportunity to educate those like myself who may not fully understand the repercussions of riding when the trails are wet.
Trails resist erosion from rain by shedding water across their width. Ruts created by riders riding in the mud make highly effective channels to route water down the length of a trail. Once that process gets started, it creates deeper channels and increases erosion even more. (As has been so ably pointed out, this process is highly dependent on local condtions.)

If every rider in my area who currently rides in marginal conditions resisted the urge by helping out with trail work instead, I could build more trail for every one to enjoy when the weather is suitable for riding.

Is that enough reason? If not,

"YOU KIDS! GET OFF MY LAWN!!!"

Walt
 

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The White Jeff W
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roxnroots said:
As a trailbuilder and maintainer of a trail system here in PA who dedicates EVERY Sunday to building/improving trails, I ask that people don't ride singletrack characterized by generally clay/woods loam soil types during wet periods in regions where the climate swings quickly between freeze-thaw. I realize that this doesn't generally apply in much of the PNW, Southwest, or South but in temperate regions during the late fall/early spring its a big deal on non-rocky trails here in the Northeast in particular.

The ruts are hazardous to those who properly wait until things freeze up (and discover their tires locking into the grooves) and they channel water to low spots causing erosion along the way and ponding in the low spot people then start riding around during warm, rainy thaw periods. It's not just that people are being anal - improper riding turns SOME singletrack under SOME conditions into a horsetrail muckfest, minus the turds.

I hate that this sounds like a lecture but most volunteer-maintained trail systems have limited manpower/available hours to fix damage and we care that people enjoy what we've built rather than ride away saying "Well, that's a lame-a$$ed crappy trail - somebody should do something about it." We just can't do regular trail maintenance and carry out improvements AND fix all the damage, especially when a lot of guys ride up on the work crew, look annoyed at the trail being closed, comment on the damage, and ride away. Only once have we ever had one of these guys offer to help work on what they're riding. And these are local guys, not out-of-state tourists, that we see regularly.

Spring's on its way! :) :thumbsup: :)
I saw this first hand yesterday in Western PA.

The ground froze solid after a few warm day but a group of 2 or 3 rode when it was wet and the ruts were frozen into the trail. It looked like someone on a moto had been through there too as Ive never seen a mtn bike tire that wide before. Made for an interesting ride to say the least.
 
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