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  1. #1
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    My Backyard Trail & Dealing with Soft Soil

    I'm building trails along the river in my back yard. We're cutting away natural vegitation in order to create a flowing singletrack. I'll use this thread to update with pictures, as well as hopefully address some concerns with erosion & other aspects of trial building.

    First, I'd like to bring up something that might yield an embarrassing(ly) easy answer. The soil that makes up the path for the trail has been untouched for as long as the river has carved its way through our valley. Bottom line = the ground is soft. Super soft. Is the simple solution to packing the trail to just get on it and ride? Anyone deal with this before?

    If you notice one of the pictures appears like a tree trunk semi-covered in leaves & debris, I'm planning on making that into a log ride. The top of the log stands roughly 6' off the ground.

    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails My Backyard Trail & Dealing with Soft Soil-photo5.jpg  

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    My Backyard Trail & Dealing with Soft Soil-photo7.jpg  

    My Backyard Trail & Dealing with Soft Soil-photo8.jpg  

    My Backyard Trail & Dealing with Soft Soil-photo9.jpg  


  2. #2
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    Looks like a lot of shoveling you've done there! Post a video of your first finished ride.

  3. #3
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    We've done some, but have more to do as we continue. If I can figure out how, this could be an 8 mile out & back trail. I could follow the river from our house to the park which is located in town.

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    ... and if we just ...

    It looks like you will get more erosion in the future as rain will wash out the soft soil between the roots. I don't know if it is possible to add some sort of fill on top of the trail to protect the roots and keep the hard work in place. Maybe you have to add some wood skinnies to the trail as well. I don't know if this is at all possible both financially or physically but it seems like a great trail in the making.
    Current ride(s) 2011 Santa Cruz Blur LT

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    Quote Originally Posted by OscarW View Post
    It looks like you will get more erosion in the future as rain will wash out the soft soil between the roots. I don't know if it is possible to add some sort of fill on top of the trail to protect the roots and keep the hard work in place. Maybe you have to add some wood skinnies to the trail as well. I don't know if this is at all possible both financially or physically but it seems like a great trail in the making.
    I thought the same. The whole trail is partially shielded under the thick river area vegetation. I'm hoping that this partially shields the trail from erosion.

    I'm actually following the natural rise/fall flow of the river bottom, so I haven't done a whole lot of digging. It probably appears this way because I have used landscape rakes to pull back the weeds & remaining stick/vines from when I mowed through here with pruning shears & gas powered hedger.

    This is fun stuff!

    I just spent some time riding & trimming the trail. Yeeeee!

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by gonathan85 View Post
    I thought the same. The whole trail is partially shielded under the thick river area vegetation. I'm hoping that this partially shields the trail from erosion.

    I'm actually following the natural rise/fall flow of the river bottom, so I haven't done a whole lot of digging. It probably appears this way because I have used landscape rakes to pull back the weeds & remaining stick/vines from when I mowed through here with pruning shears & gas powered hedger.

    This is fun stuff!

    I just spent some time riding & trimming the trail. Yeeeee!
    Welcome to the dark side gonathan. Be careful you don't lose your job, wife, house... nevermind, once I got rid of all that crap I had more time to build trails.
    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.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by gonathan85 View Post
    I thought the same. The whole trail is partially shielded under the thick river area vegetation. I'm hoping that this partially shields the trail from erosion.

    I'm actually following the natural rise/fall flow of the river bottom, so I haven't done a whole lot of digging. It probably appears this way because I have used landscape rakes to pull back the weeds & remaining stick/vines from when I mowed through here with pruning shears & gas powered hedger.

    This is fun stuff!

    I just spent some time riding & trimming the trail. Yeeeee!
    Current ride(s) 2011 Santa Cruz Blur LT

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    I don't think we would fit in with the "city life." Neighbors would constantly be suspicious

    My trail cutting buddy Mark next to the trusty JD Gator & I with the saw.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails My Backyard Trail & Dealing with Soft Soil-trail1.jpg  

    My Backyard Trail & Dealing with Soft Soil-trial-17.jpg  


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    Erosion is a hard battle to conquer. Rolling grade dips are a great tool (Google build directions). Roots stay; soil erodes. Soon you will have lots of wheel stopping roots. Cut down just below the roots with a matock and smooth off the packed soil from there with a Mcleod. You may end up with some uneven ground and holes or divits. Fill them in with rock and firmer type of soil like roadbed or clay and tamp it down. Be prepared to redo it a couple of times with user abuse and rains. The worst places may need cement pavers. Try for every 20/30 feet to have rolling grade dips if you are on a hillside. Otherwise aim for sheeting the water off (across) the trail instead of down the trail where it will form a rut and erode the trail downward over time a few feet! Sucks to fix that. Hope this helps.

  10. #10
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    soft soil

    My experience with soft soil is that it becomes less soft. Removing the organic matter, (high powered leave blower), rain, use and exposure to the air will all firm up the soil.

    good luck.

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    This does help, but unless you get to the soil below the roots you will eventually end up with a rooty trail. Exposing the soil just below horizontal roots and scraping off the layer of soft soil from that digging and you get a surface that packs well as you say.

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    Thanks Garry, and CJ. I have already encountered some of the roots of vines that have overtaken this area for a long time. I'm trying to leave any exposed roots intact, as I think they will help the erosion problem.

    This trail will change over time. At this point, it's a slow/technical trail with many twists and turns. I do have a few rolling dips in the trail at this point. I can see where continual trail without dips would create a nightmare for dealing with erosion. I imagine that if long enough, a gradually sloped trail will turn into a river, and eventually wash out completely...don't want that.

  13. #13
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    Have you done a soil texture analysis to determine what type of soil you have?
    That's where I would start. You could do it yourself and it doesn't take much time/effort. Soil Texture Analysis

    Take about 2 cups of soil and place it into a quart jar. Add water.
    Shake. Let it sit for a couple of days then measure the sand/silt/clay ratio from the layers.



    Determine what type of soil you have with this chart.




    Once you figure that out you can start looking at how/where to build the trail or even if you can build one that doesn't take a lot of work to keep up.


    Also, from the photos it looks like you are not clearing away the debris on your critical edges and also not benching the trail in enough on the hillsides. (don't put berms on the downhill side)

    The water should sheet across the trail tread and not sit on it.

    Bench needs to be cut.



    Proper bench cut. (maybe could have cut the backslope a little more.)



    It all grown back. Don't be afraid to make the trail wider when cutting the bench and then let the vegetation grow back in.

  14. #14
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    Thank you for the responses, Uncle. I'm going to take a soil sample and use your chart to ID our soil type. I'm assuming that it is very high in silt and sand, as this trail is in river flood area.

    I have done some organic matter & debris removal from the trial since taking the first pictures. I need to update the pictures with what we have done.

    I do note your recommendation about not piling dirt berms on the downhill side of the trail. Instead of taking out some major tree limbs, we elected to dig down the areas beneath them to provide clearance for a rider and his bike. This area does have some dirt berms on the downhill side of the trail. I had hoped that overhanging vegitation would prevent water from gathering at this spot.

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    I feel that berms on the slope will result in a lot of ruts. At this point, my question would be how sustainable you expect the trail to be. A lot of "courses" aren't entirely sustainable and you see a lot of blown out berms and areas that constantly need to be maintained. This brings up a lot of struggles in the ideal trail. You'll see a number of trails that have been built with the intention of having a high speed DH track and you may recognize it wasn't built by a local trail organization that has a comprehensive understanding of sustainability. Most of the trails here have corners that let the water keep running down the slope. It promotes sustainability, but it feels like an "anti-berm" when you ride around it. It kind of sucks if you like to shred a bike around, but it reflects the conflict of interest between a great trail now and a trail that will be built to last.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by ehigh View Post
    I feel that berms on the slope will result in a lot of ruts. At this point, my question would be how sustainable you expect the trail to be. A lot of "courses" aren't entirely sustainable and you see a lot of blown out berms and areas that constantly need to be maintained. This brings up a lot of struggles in the ideal trail. You'll see a number of trails that have been built with the intention of having a high speed DH track and you may recognize it wasn't built by a local trail organization that has a comprehensive understanding of sustainability. Most of the trails here have corners that let the water keep running down the slope. It promotes sustainability, but it feels like an "anti-berm" when you ride around it. It kind of sucks if you like to shred a bike around, but it reflects the conflict of interest between a great trail now and a trail that will be built to last.
    I'm not opposed to regular trail maintenance. Since there is no serious elevation drop/rise, most of the trail is covered by trees & brush, and the surrounding area has excellent drainage, I'm hoping I don't have major erosion. Time will tell...it always does .

    I'm familiar with the feel of the "anti-berm" and its tendancy to make me "anti-smile."

    Has anyone had experience with using materials on the downhill edge of the trail to "shore up" & prevent erosion?

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    Quote Originally Posted by gonathan85 View Post
    I'm not opposed to regular trail maintenance. Since there is no serious elevation drop/rise, most of the trail is covered by trees & brush, and the surrounding area has excellent drainage, I'm hoping I don't have major erosion. Time will tell...it always does .

    I'm familiar with the feel of the "anti-berm" and its tendancy to make me "anti-smile."

    Has anyone had experience with using materials on the downhill edge of the trail to "shore up" & prevent erosion?
    As Uncle has said, the water needs to sheet and run off the trail on the downhill side. If it doesn't it will flow with the trail and form a gulley. Slope the trail about 5 degrees to the downhill side. One way we determine is to take a McLeod and stand it upright on the trail with the teeth pointing to the uphill side. You should be able to draw a straight line between the top of the handle and the back edge of the tool with a line perpendicular to level. This is an ideal slope for riding comfort, walking, and water drainage. As we build the trail, we pull all of the dirt, leaves, clutter a good 3 to 5 feet to the downhill side so the water will runoff with no barriers to stop it.

    We have built up switchbacks with huge rocks and packed dirt but they are not bermed. They still have a slope for water drainage.

    In some of your pictures I see gulleys forming in the future. We have rerouted around many of this type of feature because getting them back to Usable would take a lot of hauled in dirt. After a while you will probably lose the battle as more and more erosion occurs.

    You will have more fun on a trail you don't have to try and constantly maintain.I would build some wood skinnies, teeters, and such to liven up your trail in areas you think will remain wet.

    Good Luck - I wish I had a decent size chuck of land for that.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by ThumperGary View Post
    As Uncle has said, the water needs to sheet and run off the trail on the downhill side. If it doesn't it will flow with the trail and form a gulley. Slope the trail about 5 degrees to the downhill side. One way we determine is to take a McLeod and stand it upright on the trail with the teeth pointing to the uphill side. You should be able to draw a straight line between the top of the handle and the back edge of the tool with a line perpendicular to level. This is an ideal slope for riding comfort, walking, and water drainage. As we build the trail, we pull all of the dirt, leaves, clutter a good 3 to 5 feet to the downhill side so the water will runoff with no barriers to stop it.

    We have built up switchbacks with huge rocks and packed dirt but they are not bermed. They still have a slope for water drainage.

    In some of your pictures I see gulleys forming in the future. We have rerouted around many of this type of feature because getting them back to Usable would take a lot of hauled in dirt. After a while you will probably lose the battle as more and more erosion occurs.

    You will have more fun on a trail you don't have to try and constantly maintain.I would build some wood skinnies, teeters, and such to liven up your trail in areas you think will remain wet.

    Good Luck - I wish I had a decent size chuck of land for that.
    Now that you mention it, coupled with some more trail building time under my belt, I do see where I might end up with gulleys & mud puddles forming. I'm going to try the measurement trick this weekend to see where I need to make changes.

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