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  1. #1
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    The real price of leaf blowing

    Anyone who rides all winter in the mid-latitudes must be aware of the downsides to leaf blowing. Leaves are critical to controlling soil erosion in woods, especially in winter. Please view my video:

    http://youtu.be/u5Onv1q7iys


    In the mid-atlantic region, the real price we pay for a few weeks of fast, leafless mountain bike riding in the fall is about 4 months of poor walking or riding conditions and significant trail degradation throughout the winter and early spring.

  2. #2
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    Watched your video with interest, and wish to add..

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    Occur regardless of ground cover, and in colder climates wreak havoc on roads, and buildings.

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    While ice needles form by soil's capillary action. Different soils are more prevalent.

    Yes, leaves provide an insulative layer that lessens ice needle formation.
    I'm not for, or against leaf-blowing, and ride a SS due to snapping derailleurs, yet in the video a bias comes through loud & clear. Without trail maintenance this regions trails would disappear in only a few years, as evidenced by the # of blowdowns that become log piles. And I feel that soil erosion is more a matter of grade % than it is leaf cover.

  3. #3
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    I haven't watched the video yet, but if you are relying on leaf cover to prevent soil erosion, then you are dealing with poorly designed trails.
    Grit, spit, and a whole lot of duct tape!

  4. #4
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    Leaves *may* help insulate bare soil, but freeze/thaw will still occur, especially in flat or poorly drained areas (as your video seemingly portrays). If leaves are left on, and riders/hikers use the trails regardless of conditions, when wet/thawing, the leaves will be pushed into the soil which introduces slower drying/less stable organic materials into the mineral soil, which will take longer to dry, perpetuating the freeze/thaw problem.

    Leaves also create a moisture barrier, which works two ways. Yes the do help disperse rain, but also takes forever for the bottom layer of compacted leaves, and the trail underneath, to dry out.

    Trails designed to allow water to sheet flow across, rather than down the trail, carry minimal sediment, and dry much faster without leaves.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by ameletus1 View Post
    Leaves are critical to controlling soil erosion in woods, especially in winter.
    In the mid-atlantic region, the real price we pay for a few weeks of fast, leafless mountain bike riding in the fall is about 4 months of poor walking or riding conditions and significant trail degradation throughout the winter and early spring.
    Not true where the trails are snow covered in winter. Can't speak for your area though.

    Walt

  6. #6
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    I prefer spot treating the leaves.

    First, it's a helluva lot of work to get all the leaves off all the trails. Labor that could be better spent making existing trails more fun, or repairing problematic spots, or even building new trails in the first place.

    Second, I don't believe it is necessary to remove them all.

    If riders are using the trail, the leaves will get crushed and broken down, and the wind will blow away the smaller pieces. In places where leaves collect and hold moisture, it is important to clear them out, but there is probably a problem with the trail in that place, anyway. Maybe it just needs to be debermed. But something needs to be addressed to prevent the leaves and moisture from collecting there in the first place.

    I'm seeing that many new riders get too used to the heavily maintained and heavily used "park" type trails that they get really whiny about trails that are allowed to be a bit more rugged. They get whiny about leaves that are left in place, not because they create a maintenance issue, but because they crash. Sometimes it's because they're riding balls-out into a leafy corner and there is less traction so they go down. Sometimes it's because the leaves covered up a rock or a root. The result is the same. These people think that leaves should be cleared from ALL trails and that trail conditions are always supposed to be the same.

  7. #7
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    Unfortunately there is no real cure for freeze thaw. You may get a few rides in early in the fall if the leaves are left on, but once you are in full on freeze thaw, riding on leaf covered trails will only mix the leaves into the soil and create a solid that dries very slowly.

    Each trail is different and each winter is different. There is no correct answer on leaf blowing, and it really is up to those who maintain the trails to make the decision. If you think you can do better, then get involved with the group maintaining your trails. If you don't have time under your belt maintaining trails, then posting videos on MTBR pushing you agenda (which I suspect is wanting to ride in freeze thaw conditions), is just a waste of time.

  8. #8
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    I have no bias but every spring it seems the leaf blown trails are the 1st to be ready to ride and in the better shape then the non-blown ones.
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  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by irishpitbull View Post
    I have no bias but every spring it seems the leaf blown trails are the 1st to be ready to ride and in the better shape then the non-blown ones.
    That makes sense, and it would fall under my spot treatment philosophy. Early in the spring, the wind probably plays more of a role in drying things out than during other times of the year, so getting wet leaves off the trail that are still covering parts of it would help.

    Riding the trail when it's frozen helps crush out some of that frost heaved soil and seems to help pack it back down somewhat.

    I would counter that in your video, you are drawing spurious conclusions based on what you think you are seeing. You are comparing sites with different positions on the hillside, and other differences that govern the behavior of soil moisture far more than frost heave. You have drawn these conclusions with no testing or statistical analysis to support them.

    While it is generally correct that leaf litter dissipates the energy of rainfall and reduces soil displacement, you are not controlling for soil compaction. The soil on trail tread is heavily compacted, while the soil throughout the rest of the forest is generally not. We WANT compacted soil on trail tread. It makes for an enjoyable riding experience, and keeps the trail durable. Root exposure on trails has more to do with that compacted soil than with erosion. Those roots were sitting at the surface already, and became more exposed as the soil compacted.

    The problems you are seeing are exacerbated by the fact that the trails in your video are "built" (I say that loosely) on very low-relief trail. Soil compaction creates the cupping of the trail that indytrekracer mentioned. That is what allowed for the soil displacement you illustrated in your video. The coverage of that soil on the bridge suggests that most of that soil displacement occurred in one or more high energy events. Heavy rainfall, where the soil's infiltration capacity was exceeded by the precipitation rate. That causes surface runoff. With proper trail design, we want surface runoff to flow off the SIDE of the trail, not down its length. This allows that surface runoff to flow into areas with leaf litter and downfall to reduce the energy of the flow, it allows that water to go to places where there is higher infiltration capacity (uncompacted soils underneath leaf litter).

    On to your discussion about the leaf litter preventing freeze/thaw cycles. You are correct about one thing, that the leaf litter serves as insulation, reducing how frequently the soil is frozen. However, you have drawn the incorrect conclusion based on this observation. That soil under the leaves never froze. The reason it's not muddy is because it is higher on the hill than the muddy portion of the trail you illustrated. You shouldn't be out riding or hiking the trail when it just squeaks above freezing and begins to thaw out. When the soil sticks to your boots or to your tires, you're damaging the trail. Time your visits to the trail such that you're using them when the trail is still frozen. That means early in the morning and late at night. No mud.

    Deep snow serves the same insulating function as leaves. Ever been on a snowy trail and your tire or boot tracks turn brown, even though it is well below freezing and the sun is not shining on the trail? It's actually better for riding conditions if the snow is shallow and the trail is frozen solid. During the cold season, appropriate riding conditions occur in a pretty narrow range. Visit the trails when the conditions are appropriate. Stay off when they are not.

    The criteria begin to change in the springtime when two things occur: First, when the worms start coming out. They start becoming active when the freeze/thaw cycles have really dissipated and you start having warmer days (that help dry the trails out). Whether the trails are ready to ride depends heavily on local conditions. Recent precipitation, soil type, and topography make big differences. The next thing to affect trail conditions may seem odd, but leaf out makes quite a difference. When the trees begin leafing out, that means they're pulling up soil moisture. This helps wet soil to dry out faster.

    None of these factors have anything to do with dead leaves on the trails. However, as irishpitbull mentions, in the springtime, trail tread exposed to the air may dry out faster. In part, this has to do with allowing air to circulate around the soil. As the wind blows over, it will help moisture evaporate more quickly from the surface of the trail. It also affects the sun exposure to the trail tread. Warm sun on that soil also helps accelerate evaporation. The insulation of the leaf litter on the trail will prevent those two factors from affecting the evaporation of the moisture on the trail tread.

    In some places, that won't be a big deal. The trails see such low traffic that the small amount of moisture won't affect much and they'll have plenty of time to dry. Spots high on the hillside, on south facing slopes, soils with high infiltration rates (sandy or rocky soils), or areas exposed to a lot more wind or sun have factors that help dry the trail tread, so some leaf litter won't be a big deal. However, some spots need it. Deep valleys oriented perpendicular to the prevailing winds will tend to be sheltered and need all the help they can get. Trails on northern slopes won't get much sun exposure, if any at all, and will need all the help they can get. Areas with difficult drainage issues should have the leaves removed, as those leaves not only provide insulation and prevent evaporation, but they act as sponges as they decompose and keep keep the trail wetter longer. This is great for forest plants, but not for forest trails.

  10. #10
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    While I'm in the leaf-blow-the-trails camp, here's a different reason: *Safety.

    Clearing trail of leaves does several things to make the trails safer for users.

    1. Better traction on most soil types
    2. Exposes roots, rocks, stumps, and other obstacles in the tread
    3. Exposes stumps and rocks on the edge of the tread


    While some will argue for the experience of leaving the leaves on to counter my second reason, personally, it's not the experience I'm going for. I'm blind in one eye and don't need extraneous stuff like that to have a great ride.

    I acknowledge that blowing leaves doesn't expose all the risks on the edge of the tread, it helps.

    *I design, build, and maintain trails where this matters for risk of closure if something untoward happens.

    D

  11. #11
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    Real afficianados use rakes, as it makes the trails taste better. More 'terroir' , if you will.
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    And then we eat them."

  12. #12
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    Your trails aren't mine. All leaf blowing is not bad here in New England. I find better thawing and drainage on cleared trails. Drainage easier to keep clear as well. I think the issue comes down to local topography and soil conditions, all will vary for each area.

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    Ridiculous

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    I actually did a test on the trail I designed and built here in NC. Having the luxury of seeing the trail mature/evolve from the very beginning is nice and makes it easier to really quantify the effects of trail maintenance. I tried a full year of not blowing leaves off the trail and there were two things I noticed: Lot's of clogged/bermed up drains that stayed muddy well into the Spring and trail creep where there is a lack of physical barriers. Especially around muddy areas. That was the longest, hardest Spring cleanup of the 5 miles of trail I've ever had to do! Now I remove the leaves in 2-3 stages in the Fall after the majority of the leaves are down. Then leave what ever falls after that until the Spring. Some leaf litter usually gets moved by riding without having a thick mat of leaves on the trail. Plus a back pack leaf blower blows more than just leaves out of the drains and actually makes drain clearing easier and more efficient!

    I deal with many trail coordinators in our area (Charlotte) and I leave it up to there best judgement on whether to remove the leaves or not. Most usually do remove and the one that doesn't actually benefits from it due to a high volume of sand content. Plus, they're the ones that have to clean/maintain the trail. Riding time usually trumps trail work time in the Spring so the less time doing trail work leaves more time for riding! Which is why we all do this anyway, right?

  15. #15
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    follow-up from ameletus1

    My post and video generated more response than I expected, but I am glad to see it. Some responses seem to imply that I have some sort of "agenda"--I do, but I think it is the same as everyone else's, namely I love mountain biking on woodland singletrack, and I want to preserve the best riding experience. I have been riding the trails at Fair Hill (where I shot the video) for 20 years, logging over 18,000 miles in that park alone! I am also a biologist. I frequently walk the same trails and pay close attention the plant and animal communities, right down to the soil-inhabiting fauna. Beginning in 1996 I constructed and continue to maintain a small trail system in the woods behind my workplace in adjacent southeastern PA which I ride daily at lunchtime. I have monitored the changes wrought by leaf blowing at Fair HIll (a practice that only really took off about 5 years ago) and compared to my trails where leaves are always left on the trail (by the way, this does not mean mine are not maintained--there is plenty of other work to do!).


    I do not advocate a "one size fits all" philosophy of trail management. I made it clear in my post that I was talking about the mid-latitudes, where for most of the winter there is no snow cover but there are daily freeze-thaw cycles. My video is specific to trails in northeastern MD where this is the case. I agree that farther north, where there is snow cover all winter, we have a different situation (although there will still be transitional periods in late fall and early spring where I believe you will see trail degradation due to leaf blowing). In more southerly climes, frost heave is less likely to be an issue.


    NateHawk, who posted the most elaborate reply, says, "Early in the spring, the wind probably plays more of a role in drying things out than during other times of the year, so getting wet leaves off the trail that are still covering parts of it would help." Where I live, early in spring you are still experiencing freeze thaw cycles which, on bare soil, brings up moisture from the deeper soils. So bare trails stay wetter. And in my local climate, it is not as if spring is a time of zero precipitation, when you are just waiting for things to dry out from winter.


    NateHawk also says: "While it is generally correct that leaf litter dissipates the energy of rainfall and reduces soil displacement, you are not controlling for soil compaction. The soil on trail tread is heavily compacted, while the soil throughout the rest of the forest is generally not. We WANT compacted soil on trail tread. It makes for an enjoyable riding experience, and keeps the trail durable." I agree that soil compaction on trails is a good thing, but this occurs with or without leaf cover. Just brush aside leaves in the middle of the trail (as I do in my video) and compare with adjacent off-trail areas. The problem in my area is, the nightly frost heave that occurs on bare sections of trail loosens up the (previously compacted) soil, which then makes it highly susceptible to erosion from rain events. The rain that caused the soil to wash over the bridge in my video was a minor event; the freshly thawed frost heave just made it ripe for erosion. With leaf cover you maintain soil compaction (i.e., no frost heave) AND the benefits of raindrop energy dissipation.


    No soil conservation expert would recommend bare soil as good conservation practice. For many years the Soil Conservation Service advocated that sod is the best way to stabilize soil in open areas. Heavy bike or even foot traffic through a grassy area tends to pack down the soil to a nice fast surface, but eventually kills the grass, which results in trail gullying even where gradient is modest. Thus, at Fair Hill, in open fields we often see a succession of tracks. Once a track becomes gullied a few inches, riders then avoid those and start a new, parallel track. A succession of 3 or 4 tracks is often evident. Sod must be living to afford soil protection. Leaves on woodland trails perform the same function, but since they are already dead, heavy traffic does not compromise their conservation abilities (unless it is horse traffic, of course--then all bets are off!).


    NateHawk also suggests that one should stay off the trails in winter when they are muddy (which at Fair Hill where I ride means most of the time, except for night and very early in the day, when they are frozen). Problem is, trails at Fair Hill are only open during daylight hours, which leaves only an hour or two at dawn on most winter days when the ground on blown trails is still frozen--not long enough for the 25 mile ride I usually do. The good news is, leaf covered trails are never muddy! Why should we stay off the trails all winter just so the bare ground lovers can have their leaf-free trails for a few weeks in the fall?


    Regarding safety concerns many trail-blowing advocates invoke, I can't believe people riding around on 29 inch fat tires complain so vehemently about leaves concealing roots and rocks. Perhaps those folks should either stick to roads or work on their riding skills.

  16. #16
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    Your bias is unfounded, and while you may ride lots & care greatly - it's misguided. Besides exerting bias, getting into the age old wheel size debate further weakens the stance.

  17. #17
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    Very interesting thread. Our local group is very much in the "Non-Leaf Blowing" crowd.

    We have very rocky trails here and can ride pretty much year round. The thing keeping me from riding now is the snow/ice. I'll even shred in the powder but not after we got a 1/4 inch of sleet..

    My view of the situation is leaving the leaves while in my area is a total push whether it hurts or helps the trail is one based upon the group not wanting to work on the trails.

    They justify there lack of trail work by using the leaves decision to support them.

    I have one trail that I consider my home trail and we come in and clear the leaves and cut out trees when they fall and it is my goal to be removing leaves as my little group of trail builders grow.

    In a high traffic, soft soil area I could see the leaves as being a "means to an end" to help the trail survive.. as well as keeping some ppl from riding cuz the trails are difficult to follow at speed..

  18. #18
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    I guess I am just more surprised some one is actually out their blowing leaves off a trail. Jesus people it's nature not a f'ing shopping mall. If you have problems riding on wet nasty leaves either use tires better suited it, slow down, work on your skills or all of the above.

    Not sure where you live but trails in my area have way to many remote miles, and leaves to even consider this a part of trail maintenance. Especially when there is so much real maintenance that needs to be done.

    Now I will agree it can be used a tool to clear areas that need to have drains cleared, create, or work on an out slope.
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  19. #19
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    Stay on the trail. No braiding. Go.

    The real price of leaf blowing-find-trail.jpg

    The real price of leaf blowing-st_10-600x450.jpg
    Quote Originally Posted by Trail Ninja's Son
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  20. #20
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    EXACTLY, man! Ten or 15 years ago, the very idea of blowing leaves in the woods would have seemed preposterous. Leaf blowers are a solution looking for a problem! And NOT leaf-blowing is a not sign of laziness (as suggested by the previous post). In fact, I would say walking around with a backpack leaf-blower is about the least physically-challenging form of trail maintenance. If we were to limit trail crews to only non-powered tools, how many leafless trails do you think we would see?

  21. #21
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    Ride it for a week or two and the leaves will mat down. If you are still having trouble following it, maybe you should stick to roads.

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    Re: The real price of leaf blowing

    Quote Originally Posted by Trail Ninja View Post
    Stay on the trail. No braiding. Go.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Perfect, and fitting. ^ This is actually me doing VA's Southern Traverse (SMT) on 11/13/10.
    It's a remote ridgeline singletrack that sees little traffic, or maintenance.

    Never had I seen so many leaves, it was like skiing deep powder, impossible to see rocks, stumps, or the trails edge. On sidehill exposures it was very sketchy.

    This is not the situation near Metro DC, where tails are easily accessed, maintained, and used heavily.

  23. #23
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    This is a great conversation... I really appreciate the time and consideration the author put into sharing his observations. It is the discussion for me that will advance greater awareness regardless of conditions or region you live.

    In N Calif in the Western Sierras, we can get massive build up of organics on the trail. Both Oak leaves and Pine Needles. In addition, each winter brings lots of sticks and pine cones onto the trail. This becomes a major problem when it gets more than a inch thick. With many miles of trail to maintain... regional solutions and tactics are key.



    I have found that blowing the trails removes too much of the darker mulched organics in addition to the top cover, leaving more of the base clay soils exposed. This definitely is more muddy when wet and degrades the surface more both through traffic wear, greater compaction/displacement and splash erosion. The real problem though for us is, if blown clean, halfway through the year (no rain in summer), the trail is covered with mercury like dust. (further erosion through displacement and not healthy)

    My new solution is to pull a light chain link drag behind my ROKON. This scatters surface rocks, sticks, pine cones and most leaves and pine needles off the tread without disturbing the base layer that is Knit together, partially broken down litter. This removes the majority of the fresh spongy type material while leaving enough other organics to reduce wear.

    The real price of leaf blowing-dscf2648.jpg

    I got to say, my biggest surprise is reading that people still believe that out-sloping trails is effective. Narrow surface trails with moderate use compact and displace soils fast enough to cup a tread every year defeating out-sloping. That is a lot of maintenance! California is plagued all up and down our coast with (once) beautiful trails that have suffered massive failures due to the lack of annual outter edge maintenance(side slope built). When out-sloping fails, water can travel 100s of feet accumulating enough energy to erode. I have found that trails with frequent grade reversals do not have this problem. (different discussion )

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by zachi View Post
    I got to say, my biggest surprise is reading that people still believe that out-sloping trails is effective. Narrow surface trails with moderate use compact and displace soils fast enough to cup a tread every year defeating out-sloping. That is a lot of maintenance! California is plagued all up and down our coast with (once) beautiful trails that have suffered massive failures due to the lack of annual outter edge maintenance(side slope built). When out-sloping fails, water can travel 100s of feet accumulating enough energy to erode. I have found that trails with frequent grade reversals do not have this problem. (different discussion )
    We mostly build our trails with a much wider base, but keep the active thread narrow. When you factor speed, flow and intended usage, building in a 4-5ft wide corridor can actually be pretty narrow with the newer bike that are intended to ride like way faster. A 4ft fully-benched & properly outsloped trail w/ 2ft thread is actually pretty darn easy to maintain. After many years of building with this technique, I still have to return to fix a single cup on a trail.

    I agree that a grade reversal is, by itself, a better drainage solution than outsloping. Efficiency come from a mix of various techniques well blended together.
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  25. #25
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    I admit, I still generally out-slope where it does not contradict needed cambering. I feel I need to kick out-sloping in the nuts often though because I see so much defensive resistance from our own state parks and others to do anything else. This is especially frustrating where multipurpose trails have out-sloped turns that fly in the face of needed cambering causing excessive lateral wear on the trail and dangerous riding environments.

  26. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by ameletus1 View Post
    NateHawk, who posted the most elaborate reply, says, "Early in the spring, the wind probably plays more of a role in drying things out than during other times of the year, so getting wet leaves off the trail that are still covering parts of it would help." Where I live, early in spring you are still experiencing freeze thaw cycles which, on bare soil, brings up moisture from the deeper soils. So bare trails stay wetter. And in my local climate, it is not as if spring is a time of zero precipitation, when you are just waiting for things to dry out from winter.

    No soil conservation expert would recommend bare soil as good conservation practice. For many years the Soil Conservation Service advocated that sod is the best way to stabilize soil in open areas. Heavy bike or even foot traffic through a grassy area tends to pack down the soil to a nice fast surface, but eventually kills the grass, which results in trail gullying even where gradient is modest. Thus, at Fair Hill, in open fields we often see a succession of tracks. Once a track becomes gullied a few inches, riders then avoid those and start a new, parallel track. A succession of 3 or 4 tracks is often evident. Sod must be living to afford soil protection. Leaves on woodland trails perform the same function, but since they are already dead, heavy traffic does not compromise their conservation abilities (unless it is horse traffic, of course--then all bets are off!).
    [/FONT]
    Quote Originally Posted by Stupendous Man View Post
    I haven't watched the video yet, but if you are relying on leaf cover to prevent soil erosion, then you are dealing with poorly designed trails.
    I also didn't watch the video and agree with Stupendous Man, quoted above, and Nate Hawk, who I didn't quote. In your post I quoted above, it sounds like you're describing cupping, which happens when you build trail on ground that is too shallow/flat for drainage; the tread compacts lower than the surrounding ground, and the water that gets on the tread has no where to go. Build your trails on a slope of no less than 7 percent, depending on the soil, amount of rock, annual rain fall, tree cover, etc. with a good bench cut, back slope, etc., and you're likely to see less of an issue regardless of leaf litter.

    And what I should've lead with is: I doubt anyone here will have his mind changed on this topic. This is the Internet. No one goes on the Internet thinking they want someone to change his mind about something. Some people like leaves on the tread; some don't. As I stated above, I clear leaves for safety/liability reasons. I hear from many of the riders that they appreciate the trails being leaf blown. No one has told me that they prefers leaves, but I kind of think someone wouldn't complain about that.

    If you like leaves on the trail, leave them. If you don't, remove them. And ride your bike. But no one here needs to be told that.

    D

  27. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by dburatti View Post
    ... Build your trails on a slope of no less than 7 percent, depending on the soil, amount of rock, annual rain fall, tree cover, etc. with a good bench cut, back slope, etc., and you're likely to see less of an issue regardless of leaf litter.
    ...

    D
    I'm in the rake-just-enough-to-find-the-trail camp.

    Has anyone EVER observed such an accumulation of organic "fill" (decomposing leaves and whatnot) that it actually became a problem? I don't mean a berm of leaves. I mean where the trail gets so filled in that it basically has a new surface on top of the original one, then develops a groove, then accumulates water. A lot of people use that reason to support leaf-blowing, but it seems an unlikely eventuality.

    Over the last 2 riding seasons I have observed that anywhere that the trail is properly constructed, it will drain no matter if it's leaf-covered or not. If the leaves break down, they typically get dispersed if there is any traffic. So I don't see a huge need to leaf blow - just a need to clear the drains and maybe define the tread to keep users on track.
    And while I do slow down for slick, leaf-covered trails, I think it's a good skilz test and lots of fun.

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  28. #28
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    The correct answer is that it depends. It depends on the soil conditions, amount of traffic, trails construction, etc...

    We are trying leaf blowing all the trails at Brown County State Park this year. We have really good clay that is rock solid when dry, but can be nasty when it becomes water logged. Because of the elevation and geographical formations, we get a lot of seeps. Some seeps only run in the early spring, and other can run year long. When the moisture source is from seeps, the leaves act as a tarp holding in moisture and blocking drainage. Eventually the leaves start to rot and leave a dark organic layer on top of the clay. The organic layer holds moisture. When leaves get pushed off of the trail then generally get pushed to the down hill side of the trail and block up drains.

    At my local trail, Town Run, we have sandy soil that could use some more organic material and no seeps, so we do not leaf blow those trails.

  29. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fleas View Post
    I'm in the rake-just-enough-to-find-the-trail camp.

    Has anyone EVER observed such an accumulation of organic "fill" (decomposing leaves and whatnot) that it actually became a problem? I don't mean a berm of leaves. I mean where the trail gets so filled in that it basically has a new surface on top of the original one, then develops a groove, then accumulates water. A lot of people use that reason to support leaf-blowing, but it seems an unlikely eventuality.

    Over the last 2 riding seasons I have observed that anywhere that the trail is properly constructed, it will drain no matter if it's leaf-covered or not. If the leaves break down, they typically get dispersed if there is any traffic. So I don't see a huge need to leaf blow - just a need to clear the drains and maybe define the tread to keep users on track.
    And while I do slow down for slick, leaf-covered trails, I think it's a good skilz test and lots of fun.

    -F
    On flat trail where it would fill has never been the issue in the NC Piedmont. What is the problem are the drains and how water carries leaf litter to those drains and clogs them up. I blew the leaves off and concentrated heavily on blowing the drains deep and wide. Rode recently and was pleasantly NOT surprised how well the drains have been working with all the rain we've had this year. I keep telling people this but the have a hard time listening. Ah, well. Nothing like reinventing the f'ing wheel every few years... :P

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fleas View Post
    I'm in the rake-just-enough-to-find-the-trail camp.

    Has anyone EVER observed such an accumulation of organic "fill" (decomposing leaves and whatnot) that it actually became a problem? I don't mean a berm of leaves. I mean where the trail gets so filled in that it basically has a new surface on top of the original one, then develops a groove, then accumulates water. A lot of people use that reason to support leaf-blowing, but it seems an unlikely eventuality.

    Over the last 2 riding seasons I have observed that anywhere that the trail is properly constructed, it will drain no matter if it's leaf-covered or not. If the leaves break down, they typically get dispersed if there is any traffic. So I don't see a huge need to leaf blow - just a need to clear the drains and maybe define the tread to keep users on track.
    And while I do slow down for slick, leaf-covered trails, I think it's a good skilz test and lots of fun.

    -F
    Not sure if the situation you described could actually happen, but leaves can and do cause issues with drainages and hold extra moisture in the soil when matted over a trail. This results in a greater probability of rutting and accelerated cupping in softer soils when people don't obey trail closures (there are always a few). This is the main reason I remove leaves.

    We have a local trail that is very flat, has rocky soil, is well used, and gets a lot of leaf cover in the fall. We don't usually remove the leaves from the trail and after years of accumulation and decomposition they have created areas of black thick organic dirt that get really nasty when wet and take weeks to dry as opposed to hours for the rest of the trail. This organic material sits on top of otherwise well drained rocky soil.

    I just blew the leaves off a different trail systems a couple of days ago hoping to get it to dry faster after the winter thaw by allowing sun/wind to act on the soil. There were more than a few areas where the leaves had matted down and were trapping excess moisture as well as blocking drains. Areas not covered by leaves were already dry enough where rut formation wouldn't be an issue but leaf covered areas a short distance away were still very wet and soft.

  31. #31
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dirt Engineer View Post
    ...What is the problem are the drains and how water carries leaf litter to those drains and clogs them up. I blew the leaves off and concentrated heavily on blowing the drains deep and wide. Rode recently and was pleasantly NOT surprised how well the drains have been working with all the rain we've had this year. I keep telling people this but the have a hard time listening. Ah, well. Nothing like reinventing the f'ing wheel every few years... :P
    I can see doing it one time, really well, and being pretty much done for the season as opposed to unclogging drains until all the leaves are finally washed down the trail. We def. have some spots like that.

    Quote Originally Posted by aero901 View Post
    Not sure if the situation you described could actually happen, but leaves can and do cause issues with drainages and hold extra moisture in the soil when matted over a trail. This results in a greater probability of rutting and accelerated cupping in softer soils when people don't obey trail closures (there are always a few). This is the main reason I remove leaves.
    We have pretty hard dirt/clay, which drains no matter what - although it can become saturated and soft this time of year. The always-soft areas seem to hold water no matter what.

    Quote Originally Posted by aero901 View Post
    We have a local trail that is very flat, has rocky soil, is well used, and gets a lot of leaf cover in the fall. We don't usually remove the leaves from the trail and after years of accumulation and decomposition they have created areas of black thick organic dirt that get really nasty when wet and take weeks to dry as opposed to hours for the rest of the trail. This organic material sits on top of otherwise well drained rocky soil.
    A little mud doesn't bother me, there is no erosion... I would leave it alone.

    Quote Originally Posted by aero901 View Post
    I just blew the leaves off a different trail systems a couple of days ago hoping to get it to dry faster after the winter thaw by allowing sun/wind to act on the soil. There were more than a few areas where the leaves had matted down and were trapping excess moisture as well as blocking drains. Areas not covered by leaves were already dry enough where rut formation wouldn't be an issue but leaf covered areas a short distance away were still very wet and soft.
    So you are probably into some labor no matter what: leaf-blowing to prevent ruts from early season users, or fixing ruts from early season users. A tough spot for sure.
    Increase enforcement!

    So now you got me thinking that the areas uphill of any drains should be cleared along with the drains. One time, early season, really well.

    Maybe I'll start there and see if that minimalistic plan can work on our trails.

    I very much appreciate the feedback.
    Thanks,
    -F
    It's never easier - you just go faster.

  32. #32
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fleas View Post
    ...Has anyone EVER observed such an accumulation of organic "fill" (decomposing leaves and whatnot) that it actually became a problem? I don't mean a berm of leaves. I mean where the trail gets so filled in that it basically has a new surface on top of the original one, then develops a groove, then accumulates water. A lot of people use that reason to support leaf-blowing, but it seems an unlikely eventuality.
    Yes, we have trails where leaves accumulate and turn to mud or completely block drains and low spots. One particular spot needs to be cleaned annually - it is rock armored so it requires only a few quick scrapes with a hoe to clean the mud out.

    I disagree with your statement above about leaving the mud. A good trail doesn't need to be crappy and riders will tend to go around mud spots and widen the trail. F that.

    I am not completely sold on leaf blowing but it has its place. I've also seen it done poorly and would prefer it not be done at all in that case.

  33. #33
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fleas View Post
    I can see doing it one time, really well, and being pretty much done for the season as opposed to unclogging drains until all the leaves are finally washed down the trail. We def. have some spots like that.

    We have pretty hard dirt/clay, which drains no matter what - although it can become saturated and soft this time of year. The always-soft areas seem to hold water no matter what.

    A little mud doesn't bother me, there is no erosion... I would leave it alone.

    So you are probably into some labor no matter what: leaf-blowing to prevent ruts from early season users, or fixing ruts from early season users. A tough spot for sure.
    Increase enforcement!

    So now you got me thinking that the areas uphill of any drains should be cleared along with the drains. One time, early season, really well.

    Maybe I'll start there and see if that minimalistic plan can work on our trails.

    I very much appreciate the feedback.
    Thanks,
    -F
    We try to make people aware that riding muddy trails isn't kosher and having muddy spots in a trail sends mixed messages which we want to avoid. There are already enough people who don't abide by the trail closures that we don't need to make the issue any more confusing.

    Unfortunately, increasing enforcement isn't up to us since the trail closures are managed by the county. We post conditions on our website and there are signs on the property displaying the trail status which are updated frequently. The worst part is enforcement isn't something the county is capable of doing at this point because of budget cuts and under-staffing. A proactive strategy is really the only way we can mitigate these issues. Plus, the quicker the trails dry and are open the more people can enjoy them.

    It took me about 2.5 hours to clear the leaves off 5 miles of trail. Fixing ruts throughout the system would have taken much much longer. Add to that any deberming needed from riding on plastic soil and that 2.5 hours is a huge time saver later in the season. I would rather be on the bike than swinging a shovel at that point. This issue is really only a problem in the spring when everyone is antsy to ride trails as it warms up but the trails are still too soft. We don't take the leaves off in the fall and it isn't a big deal other than occasionally loosing the trail.

    Clearing leaves around your drains sounds like a good plan if you are having to clear the drains anyways.

  34. #34
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    Who is Leaf and how come you are paying to blow him? This thread is weird.

  35. #35
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    Quote Originally Posted by aero901 View Post
    We try to make people aware that riding muddy trails isn't kosher and having muddy spots in a trail sends mixed messages which we want to avoid. There are already enough people who don't abide by the trail closures that we don't need to make the issue any more confusing.

    Unfortunately, increasing enforcement isn't up to us since the trail closures are managed by the county. We post conditions on our website and there are signs on the property displaying the trail status which are updated frequently. The worst part is enforcement isn't something the county is capable of doing at this point because of budget cuts and under-staffing. A proactive strategy is really the only way we can mitigate these issues. Plus, the quicker the trails dry and are open the more people can enjoy them.

    It took me about 2.5 hours to clear the leaves off 5 miles of trail. Fixing ruts throughout the system would have taken much much longer. Add to that any deberming needed from riding on plastic soil and that 2.5 hours is a huge time saver later in the season. I would rather be on the bike than swinging a shovel at that point. This issue is really only a problem in the spring when everyone is antsy to ride trails as it warms up but the trails are still too soft. We don't take the leaves off in the fall and it isn't a big deal other than occasionally loosing the trail.

    Clearing leaves around your drains sounds like a good plan if you are having to clear the drains anyways.
    Yeah, that's what the was for. Enforcing MTB trail closures is not a very high priority in the grand scheme of things.

    Quote Originally Posted by radair View Post
    ... riders will tend to go around mud spots and widen the trail. ...
    That is the screwed up part. There are people who won't touch mud, and there are probably the same number of people who will ride a muddy trail and rut it out.

    You def. can't please everyone.


    Thanks,
    -F
    It's never easier - you just go faster.

  36. #36
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    Wow, didya ever think a leaf blower thread would go so long. Should post this on the DH/Freeride forum to give 'em a laugh! My two (more serious) cents: Here in the Sierra, in the spring, I rake a lot of the pine needles, cones (some are 18" long) and sticks off the trails, especially on the lesser used routes, because the trails are a mess otherwise. A leaf blower would be useless, as the needles are all matted up. Within a month there is already a light needle cast to help protect the trail during an uncommon summer shower. Also above about 5000' there is virtually no clay in the soil, so gooey trails are not an issue, but dust is. I find leaving too much organics just pulverizes into sawdust, so it's best to rake the heavy pine needles, and leave the fir needles in place. If you Easterners are concerned about the negative impacts of leaf blowing, just take and drag a Mcleod behind you and lightly rake a narrow path to define the trail, and keep those noisy leaf blowers out of the woods. I'm sorry, but I hate those things!

  37. #37
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    Who has time to leave blow all of the trails? I rake out the wet spots and seeps so they can dry.
    There is not much choice between rotten apples.

  38. #38
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rod View Post
    Who has time to leave blow all of the trails? I rake out the wet spots and seeps so they can dry.
    I do.
    I don't use a leaf blower on my trails (I rake) but I do have the time.
    Quote Originally Posted by Trail Ninja's Son
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    It is interesting to read about all the different conditions and tradeoffs people face in regard to leaves on trails.

    Around here, leaving a thick mat of dense wet leaves causes some unexpected damage. For instance, all trails can be dry for over a week... except for under dense mats of leaves. The ground under the densely packed leaves can remain wet for weeks after a rain. These can be almost invisible to even experienced riders. On fast turns, the leaf mats can break loose and send a rider flying down the hillside, demolishing everything in their path. Then they have to climb back up onto the trail, trampling plant life once again. The leaf mats also keep soil from drying out, leading to muddy puddles that grow deeper and more permanent. Eliminating the leaves keeps the singletrack narrow and surrounding plant life intact.

    In city parks that see a ton of use throughout the year, raking has proven quite effective in preventing damage to the trail and surrounding growth. We would probably leaf blow instead of rake, but very few people have leaf blowers in Pittsburgh for some reason.

  40. #40
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    A leaf blower walked at a brisk pace and not pointed strait down can move the bulk of the leaves without beating up the trail surface below. It's an easy tool to over use no doubt.

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    worrying about if you should or shouldn't blow leaves off of the trail, is truly an urban issue.

  42. #42
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    Urban, or not - this sure beats raking..


  43. #43
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    ^^^ Well how about that! I'd do that just for the entertainment value.
    Quote Originally Posted by Trail Ninja's Son
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  44. #44
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    Quote Originally Posted by Trail Ninja View Post
    I do.
    I don't use a leaf blower on my trails (I rake) but I do have the time.
    I can't argue with that. It would take me awhile to walk 30 miles of trails. I need one of those bikes with a leaf blower attachment as shown in the video.
    There is not much choice between rotten apples.

  45. #45
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    On a more serious note, I have also observed leaves make mud bogs and very dangerous situations, especially at the bottom of fast downhills. I always try to remove them at these locations, even if I have to ignore the rest of the trail.
    There is not much choice between rotten apples.

  46. #46
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    [QU[/QUOTE]
    Quote Originally Posted by tim208 View Post
    worrying about if you should or shouldn't blow leaves off of the trail, is truly an urban issue.
    I disagree. Trails in the country and even the suburbs have leaves on them; it doesn't just happen to urban trails.

    D

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    That time of year again!

    So many variables based on region, traffic, etc. there is obviously no single RIGHT answer. Around here (piedmont NC) I think it helps to keep leaves off during the early fall to allow drying and then as the freeze/thaw cycle temps arrive to allow a final layer to cover for the winter.

    What I've witnessed first hand is that when uncovered, freezing temps squeeze soil particle loose from their packed state and up into millions of tiny strange inverted icicle formations. If you miss that part you'll just notice the dirt tread is loosened. At any rate, after this has happened then the exposed loose soil is now ready to get washed away at the very next rain event.

    BUT... if you allow that final layer of leaves to settle atop the tread, it serves two purposes:

    1. It will keep some weight on top to help resist the ice pushing the dirt up and loosening it in the first place.

    2. It forms a barrier against the direct rain impact that would also loosen the soil or wash away any that is already loose. Now the weight of the wet leaves can actually help keep the soil compacted.

    When Spring comes around and the frosts come to an end, blow that sucker off and let it dry out!

    YMMV

  48. #48
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    edit for unintelligent comment. Staying open minded and observing local trails instead.
    Last edited by bamwa; 12-07-2015 at 11:59 AM.
    Keep trying to do the awesomest thing you've ever done.

  49. #49
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    Quote Originally Posted by Markhpnc View Post
    That time of year again!

    So many variables based on region, traffic, etc. there is obviously no single RIGHT answer. Around here (piedmont NC) I think it helps to keep leaves off during the early fall to allow drying and then as the freeze/thaw cycle temps arrive to allow a final layer to cover for the winter.

    What I've witnessed first hand is that when uncovered, freezing temps squeeze soil particle loose from their packed state and up into millions of tiny strange inverted icicle formations. If you miss that part you'll just notice the dirt tread is loosened. At any rate, after this has happened then the exposed loose soil is now ready to get washed away at the very next rain event.

    BUT... if you allow that final layer of leaves to settle atop the tread, it serves two purposes:

    1. It will keep some weight on top to help resist the ice pushing the dirt up and loosening it in the first place.

    2. It forms a barrier against the direct rain impact that would also loosen the soil or wash away any that is already loose. Now the weight of the wet leaves can actually help keep the soil compacted.

    When Spring comes around and the frosts come to an end, blow that sucker off and let it dry out!

    YMMV
    NE Ohio

    The local trail manager leaf blew all of the trails under his management last Fall, and left a few test areas. In the Spring he regretted the leaf blowing.

    Here's why.
    - Our trails are already hardened clay. Once they dry they shed water very well. BUT, once they get saturated (usu. late Fall), the frost heaves pulverize and destabilize the soil. Soil gets displaced. Roots become exposed. Puddles form where previously they hadn't. Leaf cover helps resist the frost heaves.
    - Our trails are quite busy. Leaves do not accumulate very heavily, even at the peak of Fall in dense forest. They are constantly pulverized and redistributed so that they do not accumulate in one spot.
    - Most of our trails are fairly new. They were all painstakingly built with slope and drainage paramount. They require very little attention.
    - We have volunteers who observe trail conditions daily and report back to the trail manager. This amount of data (esp. in times of flux) combined with the trail manager's observations eventually led to cease leaf blowing.

    Drainages do get clogged from time to time after heavy rains carry leaves and debris off the hills. Clearing drains becomes an important maintenance task, but is only required after heavy storms - much like clearing downed trees.

    The test sections were a huge part of his decision to stop leaf blowing. They were carefully determined so as to gain the most information possible from various soil types, slopes, vegetation, etc.
    He also made a map of where different soil types existed and found that most of the trouble spots were in specific types of soil (independent of slope, leaf cover, vegetation, etc.). Future trail routes will avoid those soil types. Spring 2016 will show if he is right (This is the only reason I'm posting back in this thread. I'll follow up in the Spring).

    Each trail is different. YMMV.

    -F
    It's never easier - you just go faster.

  50. #50
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fleas View Post
    NE Ohio

    The local trail manager leaf blew all of the trails under his management last Fall, and left a few test areas. In the Spring he regretted the leaf blowing.
    etc..

    -F
    Good stuff. Basic soil science. Loamy soils are susceptible to frost heaving. Anything with large pores like sand, or too small of pores, like clay soils, will not heave as bad.

    A alternative management strategy would be to remove the leaf litter once the soil has warmed so it decomposes away from the tread and doesn't add any more organic matter to the soil. That would be a very long term strategy though.

    Short term I would want it there to insulate the soil and speed decomposition of organic matter already in the soil.

  51. #51
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    I am a proud member and evangelist of Leave No Trace. Trails themselves are okay to build for support; but the remainder should be left to nature. I ride an old ass 26" C'dale Caffeine built as a trail rig in the hollers and hills of Appalachia. Often our trails are muddy, frosted, leaf covered. I try to incorporate my love for LNT into my trail use as much as possible.

    1- If it's too muddy- don't ride we don't need more ruts. That said in our area completely staying off of wet trails would destroy huge chunks of our riding season; so use judgement but walk it before you rut it.

    2- Leaves are everywhere here. It doesn't matter what time of year, the duff is inches thick with new decaying leaves on top of it. Obviously it goes up and down with the season, but there is no natural 100% leafless time of year. This matter is all a huge part of a healthy forest. If I wanted to ride smooth sidewalks I'd be on a roadie and not knobby tires.

    3- Whether it's leaves or other issues if you are scared of roots, rocks, etc; ride somewhere else. I despise some of the root removal I've seen since moving near the NOVA area. I've seen trails with 4inch roots cut out to make it smoother, it's disgusting. Adapt your riding to your trail not the other way around.

    IMHO the experience of being tuned into the forest and the world is part of the reason I go out and ride. I don't do it to tailor the world to my tires, I do it to tailor my body to the world.

    YMMV

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