First, compliance with trail closures and requests to avoid certain sections of trail has been excellent and that is hugely appreciated.
The reason for this post is that I owe everyone a better explanation of the issues. We also need to set some accurate expectations for the next 8-10 weeks and communicate the degree to which participation in trail workdays will impact how much the trails are open. I’ll get a video with some pictures up soon, but here are the cliff notes.
What We’re Worried About
We’re not worried about your bike getting muddy or your feet getting wet. What we’re worried about is loss of compaction. To have sustainable and fun trails, we must maintain good soil compaction. Using wet trails causes loss of compaction, and mud is the byproduct.
You can see the effect of trail use as the seeps (discussed below) and problematic drains get muddier and muddier even through it’s not raining. What’s happening is that when we open the trails, trail users are causing a loss of compaction on those sections of trail.
- New Trails – Even though the trails are compacted by machine as part of the construction process, it will take the trails a few years to become fully established, especially because . . .
- Soil – In many areas, and without getting into soil science I don’t fully understand, there are some compositional imbalances in the soil that inhibit compaction. Also, there is high mica content in some areas. Neither of these soil characteristics will prevent us from having an outstanding trail system, and I’ll get into how they affect design and build decisions later. However, where these conditions prevail, the trail will lose compaction more quickly, especially in combination with . . .
- Abnormally High Rainfall – We opened the trails in the fall of 2019. That December, we got double our average rainfall for that month. For 2020, we are more than 20” above our average annual rainfall. We normally get just under 47”, so 2020 rainfall represents a more than a 40% increase in normal rainfall. What this means is that the property never had a chance to truly dry out this year, and we rolled into December with an already saturated property. Having a dry property heading into the winter is especially important because . . .
- Seeps Caused by Terracing and Native Grasses – This is the least obvious but, other than abnormal rainfall, biggest issue. It deserves requires more in-depth discussion.
Seeps Caused by Terracing and Native Grasses
I’m using the terms seep to refer to 6 foot and longer sections of the trail that remain wet long after the last rain. When you come across these extended wet sections of trail and look uphill, you’ll almost always see two things: (i) terracing (flat areas) or very gentle side slopes and (ii) lots of native grass. The terracing causes water to soak into the hillside rather than run down it. When the water soaks into the terrace, it then slowly seeps out the side slope below the terrace. Native grasses similarly hold water on the hillside and slowly release it.
When you have the amount of rain we’ve had this year, the “sponge” created by the terracing and native grasses is already pretty soaked. So, when you get 3” of rain like we had right before Christmas and then again on New Years, the hillside gets absolutely saturated and the seeps persist for a prolonged period after the rain. This why after a few days the majority of the trail is quite dry, but some portions are still really wet.
This issue was avoided with trail alignment where possible, but it could not be avoided entirely.
- Time – Over time the trail will harden, and the seeps will create fewer problems with loss of compaction.
- Normal Rainfall – If the property could dry out over the summer and fall, then it would have the capacity to handle winter better.
- Trail Work – This is what we have control over and it can have a huge impact on much the trails are open – not only during winter, but also during other seasons.
The Next 8-10 Weeks
For the foregoing reasons, the trails may be closed frequently the next eight-to-ten weeks. However, if we are disciplined and protect the trails, we will see two benefits: (i) the trail time we get in during this period will be fun, because the trails will be in good shape and (ii) the trails will be in top shape much, much sooner this spring and will be closed much less this spring.
During this time, we are going to try to have trail workdays every weekend. The more participation we get, the more the trails can be open.
Happily, the benefits of armoring workdays are lasting and cumulative. The rock doesn’t go anywhere, and as we armor more and more of the problem areas, the trails will get and stay more and more durable and, as a result, will be closed less frequently in the years to come.
Very Generally, We’ll Be Doing Two Things During Workdays
- Clearing Drains and Deberming – we need to clear leaves, pine straw, and other debris out of the drains (i.e., dips in the trail) and knock off the small berms that naturally develop on the outer edge of the trail from hikers, runners, and bikers using the center of the trail. This is required maintenance akin to changing the oil in a car, and must be done a couple of times each fall and winter. It helps the trail dry quickly and prevents problems areas from occurring.
- Armoring – armoring drains and seeps that turn out to be problematic is the chief volunteer component of professionally built trails. During the construction process, it’s impossible to predict with complete accuracy where the problems will develop. When these problem areas reveal themselves over the course of a trail’s first few winters, they must be addressed by volunteers. I’ll get into the difference between drains and seeps and how we address them in a later post.
Given the factors set forth above and the high-level of trail use, there are a number sections that need to be cleared and debermed before we can reopen the trails. As soon as we can get that done, armor a few of the most problematic spots, and get some extended dry weather, the trails can be reopened. Please come to trail workdays to help this go faster.
What You Can Do to Help
I’ll do a separate post on this, but obviously the biggest two are respect trail closures and come to trail workdays. Workdays are posted on Instagram and Facebook. Beyond that, riders can do the following
- if you are descending, slow down and ease through the wet area, and be especially careful to stay off the backslope, which will be softest area of the trail.
- if you are climbing, please don’t let your rear wheel lose traction and spin out, as this will cause deep ruts that hold water; this may mean you need to walk your bike up some sections
There is no way to know with certainty, but my guess is that in future years with somewhat normal rainfall, the trails will do fairly well through December and a good portion of January. But, the increased rainfall, reduced daylight, and lower temperatures of winter will have a cumulative effect so that the trails may be closed a decent amount in February and early March. Fortunately, we have other trails in the area that handle winter much better.
While we still get a decent amount of rain in March and into the spring, warmer temperatures and longer days help a lot. Additionally (and this is often overlooked but crucially important), when all the trees, grasses, and other plants start growing again in March, they will suck tremendous amounts of moisture from the soil. So, the trails should quickly regain top form in middle-to-late March.
I hope this helps everyone understand what is occurring and be patient with the trail closures. Finally, please come to workdays so the trails can be opened more!