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  1. #1
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    Sustainable trails???

    So Driftwood wants to know if we have any sustainable trails is WNC?

    I think we have quite a few, with more coming every day. I think that Dupont has the highest rate per capita in the area for major destination riding. But maybe not.


    To name a few within DSRF; Burnt Mountain, Cedar Mountain, Ridgeline , Wilke, Micajah, Cascade, Jim Branch...

    In Pisgah I think there are mostly sustainable sections of trail. But due to the back log of maintenance and small budget for the trails system in general that it hasn't really taken hold.

    In Pisgah I think Laurel Mtn is pretty sustainable, except for the hike a bike.

    More importantly, what is your personal definition of a sustainable trail?

    I will post up my definition shortly.

    Its kinda like defining "natural or organic", harder than it seems once you really dive in....

    One thing is for sure, all trails need maintenance. Especially new ones that are becoming established. So maintenance free should not be in anyone's def. And let's keep it to our ecosystem. Deserts are another story.
    Last edited by 2bfluid; 08-02-2013 at 05:01 AM.
    He/she who works the trails does so in their own image.

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  2. #2
    thecentralscrutinizer
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    To me, for a trail to be sustainable means that the trail will always be there for its intended use, with minimal maintenance requirements, and does not impact the surrounding area in a negative way.
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  3. #3
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    Any trail, hand built or machine built, that receives the least amount of water erosion due to the water sheeting off the trail tread and down the down slope or is directed off. Directing off does not mean a tight narrow drainage that channels water and erodes the down slope but should direct water off with the least amount of sediment.

  4. #4
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    Laurel Ridge in DuPont. It has not changed much since we built it close to 10 years ago. I got an email after the big storm of 2004 (We were in ID working and watching the storm in NC on the news):

    "Woody, I now understand what you mean by sustainable trails. We got 19" or rain in 24hrs and I went on Laurel Ridge the next day. Not only was there no damage to the trail tread, it was also dry".

    There are plenty of examples.

  5. #5
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    I'm not about to post my definition of sustainability; I've watched that game enough and it always ends up a mess (if you want to play, fine: the first card you flip over says "define a trail").

    Regardless of which definition you choose, sustainability is an equation that includes perceived need for maintenance as one of many variables. The goal should be to solve the equation for perceived need for maintenance such that it is <= the amount of maintenance available.

    Anything less will be labeled "unsustainable" and potentially closed - unless there's no funding to close the trail. Ha.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by 2bfluid View Post
    ....

    In Pisgah I think there are mostly sustainable sections of trail. But due to the back log of maintenance and small budget for the trails system in general that it hasn't really taken hold.

    In Pisgah I think Laurel Mtn is pretty sustainable, except for the hike a bike.....
    I may be interpreting this incorrectly, but I don't think the existence of sustainable trails in Pisgah has anything to do with the backlog of maintenance. In other words, some trails or sections of trails are sustainable even if they haven't been "designed" or maintained as such. With regards to the hike a bike section of Laurel mountain, I would say it is also sustainable. It is steep, yes, but hasn't changed hardly at all over the last three years I have been riding it frequently, and I am pretty sure none if any maintenance has been performed on it.

    With the exception of a few well known issues on the downhills of Black, Avery, Trace, and maybe somewhere else, I would say that the majority of the trails in Pisgah are sustainable as is. This is based on the geology, vegetation, and climate. Pisgah trails are very impervious to damage and erosion, even while wet.

  7. #7
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    Re: Sustainable trails???

    Quote Originally Posted by sidener View Post
    I may be interpreting this incorrectly, but I don't think the existence of sustainable trails in Pisgah has anything to do with the backlog of maintenance. In other words, some trails or sections of trails are sustainable even if they haven't been "designed" or maintained as such. With regards to the hike a bike section of Laurel mountain, I would say it is also sustainable. It is steep, yes, but hasn't changed hardly at all over the last three years I have been riding it frequently, and I am pretty sure none if any maintenance has been performed on it.

    With the exception of a few well known issues on the downhills of Black, Avery, Trace, and maybe somewhere else, I would say that the majority of the trails in Pisgah are sustainable as is. This is based on the geology, vegetation, and climate. Pisgah trails are very impervious to damage and erosion, even while wet.
    For the most part I agree with you.

    Years/decades of erosion and then compaction has resulted in what is well draining tread. Eventual sustainability by default? And is what is sustainable today, still sustainable when trail traffic doubles, quadruples?

    DRSF saw 350k users last year. A lot of times there are more out of state plates in the parking lots than local ones. The trails are going to get hammered by larger and larger numbers.

    However sections like Lower Trace, parts of Spencer, are actively eroding directly to a creeks. Butter Gap, Caney Bottom?

    Big organics filled pots don't really bother me personally. But they can cause trail creep and make MTB's look bad to the other user groups and more importantly land managers, just because there is a trench in a mud puddle.

    So other than saying PNF is sustainable, what is your definition?
    He/she who works the trails does so in their own image.

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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by sidener View Post
    I may be interpreting this incorrectly, but I don't think the existence of sustainable trails in Pisgah has anything to do with the backlog of maintenance.
    Au contraire. Let's use the Forest Service's definition for sustainability, directly from the Trail Strategy document released earlier this year (because it's the only definition that matters with regards to Pisgah's trails). To be considered "sustainable", the trail must demonstrate Environmental Sustainability, Social Sustainability, and Financial Sustainability.

    Environmental Sustainability
    To be considered environmentally sustainable a trail must conform to USDA Forest Service National Quality Standards for Trails.
    (ouch)

    Social Sustainability
    Social sustainability as related to trails considers how well user needs are being accommodated by a specific trail.
    (it goes on to list unmet needs - like nobody using the trail, or it not being part of a loop, destination, or long distance trail - which would make it unsustainable, but doesn't define it in the positive)

    Financial Sustainability
    Whether maintenance or relocation of an existing trail, or proposal for a new a trail, it can only be considered financially sustainable if it is fully funded, a long term maintenance commitment is made by a well-organized group, and National Quality Standards for Trails can be meet over the long-term with the above.

    This definition is not "law", but it's pretty clear that they want those extremely detailed and complex National Quality Standards met. One of the standards is "little to no deferred maintenance". Funding and maintenance to bring a trail up to those standards is key to whether they consider it sustainable. I think during the meetings they told us something under 20% of the trails in Pisgah currently meet those standards.

    So as it stands, officially, sustainability is a moving target and not much of Pisgah ...is.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by 2bfluid View Post
    So other than saying PNF is sustainable, what is your definition?
    It no longer matters what *we* think the definition is. The Forest Service "gave us a chance" to weigh in on that with the Trail Strategy process last year. That's done. The bulk of trails in Pisgah are very much unsustainable by their standards.

  10. #10
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    Re: Sustainable trails???

    Quote Originally Posted by mtbwnc View Post
    It no longer matters what *we* think the definition is. The Forest Service "gave us a chance" to weigh in on that with the Trail Strategy process last year. That's done. The bulk of trails in Pisgah are very much unsustainable by their standards.
    I think sustainability is bigger than one land manager. But as far as PNF goes, those who offer to help will have a HUGE impact on what the trails will be in future. And while the USFS definitions are a bit thick, if you look at them with some common sense they aren't all bad.

    Financially sustainable: Is the trail repeatedly costing the USFS a disproportionate amount of man hours and/or having to fix the same issue multiple times?

    Environmentally sustainable: Is it meeting the Clean Water Act? That seems to be the big hang up for district. The deferred maintenance is manageable. Most of this could be done with a minimalist approach. Volunteer groups and funding (grants and sponserships) are going to be what makes the difference. And, IMHO, ultimately the crew leaders and the diggers will be the ones that make the most impact. If you want it to ride/look a certain way, show up. Prioritize it.

    Social sustainability: Could be the toughest nut to crack. People are hard to please.

    And the Forest Service is also going to have the management plan meeting coming up in October. Not sure on the date but it might be a great idea for everyone to show up for that one.
    He/she who works the trails does so in their own image.

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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by 2bfluid View Post
    And the Forest Service is also going to have the management plan meeting coming up in October. Not sure on the date but it might be a great idea for everyone to show up for that one.
    Bingo!

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by 2bfluid View Post
    I think sustainability is bigger than one land manager.
    Yes, definitely; I should clarify that the above comments only apply to Pisgah.

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    OK, so there you go, Sustainability has been offically defined for Pisgah. End of discussion, end of arguments.

    The fact is, even their official definition of sustainability can be interpreted differently by each person that reads it, including the land manager(s). One could still argue that 95% of the trails in Pisgah meet those standards now. But, someone else could argue otherwise. There will never be enough money or resources allocated to bring everything up to a "defined" standard. So, at best, the standard is an "ideal future state" used to guide decisions along the way about where to invest the few resources or volunteers that may be available at any point in time.. The trails evolve with time, they have ever since they started out as hunting and logging trails. They will continue to do so. More and more people will come, and have as many different opinions as there are people. Some will have more than one opinion. If you want to contribute, then do whatever positive thing you feel like doing. If not, then don't. The Forest Service will likely never have enough resources.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by sidener View Post
    OK, so there you go, Sustainability has been offically defined for Pisgah. End of discussion, end of arguments.

    The fact is, even their official definition of sustainability can be interpreted differently by each person that reads it, including the land manager(s). One could still argue that 95% of the trails in Pisgah meet those standards now. But, someone else could argue otherwise. There will never be enough money or resources allocated to bring everything up to a "defined" standard. So, at best, the standard is an "ideal future state" used to guide decisions along the way about where to invest the few resources or volunteers that may be available at any point in time.. The trails evolve with time, they have ever since they started out as hunting and logging trails. They will continue to do so. More and more people will come, and have as many different opinions as there are people. Some will have more than one opinion. If you want to contribute, then do whatever positive thing you feel like doing. If not, then don't. The Forest Service will likely never have enough resources.
    Yup. And since there are not enough resources, and ultimately a Forest Service official has to arrive at a conservative decision to make changes that they feel comply with NEPA law in a finite amount of time, I do fear that trail closures are on the horizon - despite all the discussions we could still have about them.

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    That is a valid concern, and I hope it doesn't happen that way!

    An alternate possibility could be looked at from a devils advocate perspective:

    The land manager(s) may do what most humans do and that is to take the path of least resistance (to them) and that may be to interpret the NEPA laws as that the majority of the trails are OK as is (i.e. don't need to do anything), and work on the small sections or "wheels that have the loudest squeak" and call it a day. A lot less resources needed, lot less headache.

    There would generally be a lot of resistence and frustration for them if they close significant trails. Including all of the various "customers" they will hear from, the local community whose economy is adversely influenced, and a healty dose of good ole' civil disobedience.

    I could be wrong in this next statement, but I believe their funding is somewhat affected by the number of annual visitors they get to the forrest. So, if the number of visitors significantly increases, and those visitors are low-cost visitors, then they will be happier.

  16. #16
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    Re: Sustainable trails???

    Quote Originally Posted by mtbwnc View Post
    Yup. And since there are not enough resources, and ultimately a Forest Service official has to arrive at a conservative decision to make changes that they feel comply with NEPA law in a finite amount of time, I do fear that trail closures are on the horizon - despite all the discussions we could still have about them.
    I don't agree that closures are imminent. When I spoke with the forest service it was more about reroutes for problem sections. But who knows for sure. If the back log of maintenance is taken care of then they shouldn't be targeting any trails.
    He/she who works the trails does so in their own image.

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  17. #17
    drunken pirate
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    Maintainable is a better word than Sustainable.

    I was kind of hoping you would cite Bent Creek as sustainable. After riding out there a few times last week it is clear that even trails that are built to current "sustainable" standards still require regular routine maintenance

    My biggest gripe with the term "sustainable" is all the mountain bikers who use it as a way to describe flow trails and try and make all trails resemble those same "sustainable" flow trails. I've been told many times that water bars are bad because they are not "sustainable" and that there is no reason to clean them out. Build a rolling grade dip instead. lol. Those grade dips are going to require maintenance as well...

    Fascinating topic. I'll think about it some more and post more later. But for now I think I'll go outside and play.

    Thanks for making me my own thread! Tell me more about sustainable trails with really good flow where you don't have to brake or pedal or even think.
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    Quote Originally Posted by 2bfluid View Post
    I don't agree that closures are imminent. When I spoke with the forest service it was more about reroutes for problem sections.
    I sure hope so. I think we're probably safe from major changes at least until this forest plan revision is over with. It's after that I start to get concerned.

  19. #19
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    Re: Sustainable trails???

    Quote Originally Posted by driftwood View Post
    Maintainable is a better word than Sustainable.


    My biggest gripe with the term "sustainable" is all the mountain bikers who use it as a way to describe flow trails and try and make all trails resemble those same "sustainable" flow trails. I've been told many times that water bars are bad because they are not "sustainable" and that there is no reason to clean them out. Build a rolling grade dip instead. lol. Those grade dips are going to require maintenance as well...

    Tell me more about sustainable trails with really good flow where you don't have to brake or pedal or even think.
    Maintainable is just a part of sustainable. If a trail is unmaintainable then I would doubt it would fall under anyone's definition of sustainable. Its a check in a box.

    While I like water bars and enjoy the challenges associated with them, they seem to encourage trail creep often enough. Look at Laurel Mtn. I also think that water bars are more prone to failure, more so than grade dips anyway. Especially in a trough or in a deep "V"ed out section of trail. Where they tend cause a cascade and actually scour the downstream side of the water bar.

    Flow trails are for another thread and a separate discussion
    He/she who works the trails does so in their own image.

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