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  1. #1
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    Green trail in the Fall: Leave leaves or what?

    For as long as I have lived and ridden here we have had this argument. Ugh.

    We have some machine built trail that is new for us this year. Our riding community splits into two camps. One pines for the more technical riding well north of us and likes to leave blow downs, leaves and other natural stuff. The other is fond of taking the leaf blower out on our urban/suburban trails to keep the hardpack showing all year round.

    In the case of this new tread, my contention is that a few years of just leaving it alone will eventually help narrow the line. Seasons of leaves, plant growth, leaves, plant growth....that's my argument. I figure if they want the leaves off, they can just ride all Spring and Summer and let their wheels do the work.

    Is this just a stupid argument or is there a hard and fast rule to hew to either way for trail maintenance? In particular, what do you suggest for machine built trail that you don't machine wide forever?



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    Grant B.
    "Bikes aren't fast--people are fast. Bikes are overpriced. It's an important distinction."---BikeSnob NYC

  2. #2
    Delirious Tuck
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    Leave em. Your logic about narrowing the line is true. Raytown/Allegripis really showed this, first year wide and buff, now tighter and more confined.

    Clear the deadfall, it causes braids. Or cut a pass through so there's a good go round.

  3. #3
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    You are correct that the leaf question has both a user experience and trail maintenance dynamic.

    You will never make everyone happy, so just accept that what ever you do, some will complain about trails that are leaf blown and others will complain when they are not.

    From a trail maintenance stand point, there is no hard answer. It is going to depend on the soil type, your winter weather, localized trail issues, tread/backslope width, traffic levels, etc...

    On trails in areas with freeze thaw, I feel like the leaves help in late fall and early winter. But as we get into late winter and spring, the leaves can hold ground moisture and slow down the trail from drying out. Also, as the leave decompose they can leave a thin organic layer on the trail that holds moisture. Leaves on the back slope can also hold water and slow down trails from drying in the spring.

    If you have new trails or trails that dry slowly in the spring, I would recommend trying to blow the leaves in late winter or early spring. Make sure to blow the leaves off the back slope as well. Don't worry, this will not prevent your trail from narrowing up. While you are at it, make sure to blow the leaves out of the drains and low spots to ensure water can drain off of the trail.

    I do have some sandy trails that could use some more organic material. In that case I do not leaf blow. If you have really good clay, I would suggest getting the leaves off at some point.

    There are so many variables, that you will just have to experiment. Also the weather can play a role, the correct answer on a dry cold winter may be different than a warm wet winter. There is no clear right or wrong answer.

    As for the user experience part. I generally let the core trail volunteers determine if they want a leaf or no leaf experience. They do most of the work, so they should decide. I personally like the leaves, but some of the tails crews in my area blow the leaves. I am happy to be out riding regardless of leaves or not.

  4. #4
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    Re: Green trail in the Fall: Leave leaves or what?

    There is no hard and fast rule. It has to do with a lot of factors. Your tread composition, freeze thaw cycles, the level of winter traffic, and the type and amount of precipitation are some of the big ones.

    Try doing a section and see how it goes over the course of the winter. It doesn't have to be all or nothing either. You can just do the drains and low spots and you can influence or even tighten the line where appropriate. I recently blew the leaves off a section that needed to be lightly debermed and the new line was adopted and compacted.


    No matter what you do, some will love it and some will hate it.
    Last edited by 2bfluid; 12-05-2013 at 01:20 PM.
    He/she who works the trails does so in their own image.

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  5. #5
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    We blow the leaves to help keep the tread dry. If we were to leave them, a single fall rain could turn the entire network into a slicktrack. Combine that with early winter freeze/thaw, and you cut a big portion of the riding season out as you risk trail damage but also a degraded user experience.

    Having the trails clean in the fall also allows the snow to melt/dissipate quicker in the spring, if it's not sitting on a bed of matted leaves.

    I disagree with leaves allowing the line to narrow. The best/most common line will develop regardless of what's covering the trails, even a three foot wide ribbon has a best line through it, and either moss or small stones or other chunder will slowly occupy the wider lines.

    As stated though, this will depend on your trails, your soil, your weather, your trees/forest, and the direction your slopes face.

  6. #6
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    I agree that there are too many variables to make useful rules. If it doesn't make some aspect of using or maintaining your trails better, why bother?

    I blow leaves because the trails disappear in the fall otherwise. Also, our trails take a long time to dry after rain. Also, the trails are shared and the runners get even more out of the cleared trails than the bikers.

    We now have 2 Stihl BR600 backpack blowers which makes the job more practical.

    Walt

  7. #7
    I build my own.
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    I have both kinds of trail.
    Needs clearing or it will become a bog, or disappear.
    Shouldn't be cleared because it needs organic matter to help hold it together.

    I generally just pull a small leaf rake down the "needs to be seen" tread. It just clears a 6" to 8" wide ribbon. I can usually do a "needs to dry out" tread with a wider plastic leaf rake. I'd use a blower for these trails but I don't have one.
    I have a device that can access the total knowledge of man. I use it to look at pictures of cats and argue with strangers.

  8. #8
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    Our local conditions are: silt/clay loam soils (easily eroded and very soft when saturated), hardwood forest ground cover (oak & maple), and lots of leaves in the fall which form a "mat" over a majority of the trails lasting well into spring. The trails are well defined and used frequently by those who are familiar with the layout.

    We usually have a lot of freeze/thaw action transitioning into/out of the winter months. It seems that keeping leaves on the trail helps insulate the ground and reduce the severity of the freeze/thaw cycles (mostly by blocking radiant heating from direct sunlight).

    In the early spring, leaves can be problematic for the same reason because they block sunlight and wind from reaching the wet soils and retard drying. However, they are good at slowing overland water flows on the frozen ground during intense rain and snowmelt and help prevent erosion. There can be a lot of surface runoff from even minor rainstorms when infiltration into the soil is nearly impossible and even with our sustainably designed trails rills will sometimes form across the tread in areas with concentrated flows.

    I think the best time to clear the leaves in our situation is after the soils thaw completely in the early spring and no more freeze/thaw cycling is expected.

  9. #9
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    Leaf blowing is ruining trails in my region. The real price for a few weeks of fast, leafless mountain bike riding in the fall is about 4 months of poor winter walking or riding conditions and significant trail degradation throughout the winter and early spring. Those who worry about leaves obscuring hazards should maybe spend less time wielding blowers and more time honing their riding skills. Please check out my youtube video at: Fair Hill leaf blowing - YouTube

  10. #10
    I build my own.
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    Thanks for the triple post ameletus1 but if you had taken the time to read the three threads you posted your video in you would have seen they were discussions about that and many other topics regarding leaves on trails.

    Your video was worth a watch though and I agree that in your area on those cupped trails with the type of weather you have maybe it's a good idea to leave leaves on.
    I have a device that can access the total knowledge of man. I use it to look at pictures of cats and argue with strangers.

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