Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Save The Tread?

I've been seeing this "Save the Tread" banner on Facebook posted by local trail groups, bike shops, and mountain bikers:

At first it sounds like a good idea.  The trails are wet and muddy in the springtime and hiking and biking them makes a mess.  So I should avoid the trails for the next month, right?  It's not quite that simple.

Good trails are constructed in a way to shed water.  Other trails are created without such thought and it's left to chance whether they will have chronic mud problems.

In the spring thaw, even the good trails will have slow-draining frozen earth and ice dams that prevent them from drying quickly.  Given a few warm weeks, these good trails will generally dry up.  Using them before they're dry would be a shame because any extra trail work it causes could have been avoided with just a little more patience.  So staying off these good trails during the spring thaw and after heavy rain makes sense.

On the other hand, some trails are chronically muddy.  Usually the problem is the trail has no elevation change or camber to allow water to shed and often have loamy soil that holds water.  With no solutions to the water problem and nobody actually trying to fix them, these trails are chronically muddy.  If you had patience to wait for a month or so, these muddy sections might dry out, though I've seen some sections stay muddy for the entire spring and people are not going to wait a month for the trails to dry out.  Plus the areas closest to the trail-head are more likely to get some maintenance and be dry, which invites trail users to use them.  When trail users move further in, they encounter muddy sections but push forward, walking through or around the edges, hoping for better conditions ahead, but leaving boot-prints and ruts.  So staying off these poorly constructed trails is futile because too many people don't.  You can't hold back the masses for the entire spring.  So should those of us who really think about the maintenance of the trails stay off?  I don't think so.  Nobody can tell the difference between a wrecked trail that's had 900 users pass by versus 1000, and we want to go out and play in the mud too!

Look at the poster again:

I feel rather certain that muddy area is chronically muddy.  There is no elevation change, no camber, and, although I'm no botanist, the vegetation in the muddy picture just looks like the type that I see local chronically muddy areas.  It's practically a rice paddy.  With spring rains, that mud pit is gonna be big, fat and happy for a long time.  The smaller inset image is a completely different trail.  It's beautiful because it was built to stay dry.  It probably only takes a few hours to completely dry after a rain

So if you're going to use the bad trails in the spring, it's important to know which trails are the good ones and which are the bad ones.  It's easiest to classify entire parks, through even parks with mostly good trails sometimes have a few trails or sections that tend to stay wet longer.

In my opinion, the well constructed, well maintained parks in the area are:  Bay Park West, Tryon, Dryer, and Ontario County Park.  Let these dry out before using them.

Pretty much all trails in Webster are chronically muddy including Whiting, Webster Park, the Hojack, Chiyoda, and the Big Field.  I'd suggest allowing Whiting to dry out, but nobody does and it gets wrecked every spring anyway, so go have fun.

After they're destroyed, one thing that does help these trails heal is using them heavily when they are getting close to dry.  The cratered dirt is easily flattened when it's still soft.  If it dries before people flatten it the trails stay riddled with bumps for most of the summer.

So there you go.  Don't feel bad about riding chronically muddy trails!  If you don't, someone else will!

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