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  1. #1
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    Is there such thing as "all-weather" sustainable trail?

    I've been reading up on sustainable trail, as I'm really curious about this. Of course, location of trail, type of soil, etc are important factors in how a trail will fare when wet. So, is there such thing as an "all-weather" sustainable trail (for the mid-Atlantic states, anyway), or is it impossible to have an "all weather" sustainable trail?
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  2. #2
    Single(Pivot)and Happy
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    There are trails that are hundreds of years old. Your goal is to get water off the trail. The trail will of course get wet, it's outside. You want to avoid letting water pond or flow along the trail. Check out http://imba.com. The IMBA has a vast amount of information on trail design. If your serious about trail building, you should join the IMBA.
    The suspension of your bike sucks if it's different than mine. Really. It sucks. Big time.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by hanshananigan
    I've been reading up on sustainable trail, as I'm really curious about this. Of course, location of trail, type of soil, etc are important factors in how a trail will fare when wet. So, is there such thing as an "all-weather" sustainable trail (for the mid-Atlantic states, anyway), or is it impossible to have an "all weather" sustainable trail?
    Being how i'm not from the mid atlantic area i'm not qualified to answer.

    But i highly suspect the answer is yes.

    Smart trail building techniques especially applicable to mountain bikes is fairly new. Using proper drainage techniques, being extremely careful on routing trail, and the ability of using trail construction material such as wood for bridges, rock for base. i think it's possible just about anywhere, of course is it feasible with your budget, volunteers, resources etc. That's the more important question, especially in a difficult area.

    Sometimes an all-season trail happens naturally with great draining soil and excellent terrain. With heavy use even these trails need volunteers to help out with problem areas.

    i would use the North Shore B.C. as an example. You have tons of rain, lots of super steep grades, and people from all over the globe riding big bikes there. What people who haven't ridden there and studied the trail work wouldn't guess, is the vast enormous amount of trail work that's been put into the trails there. If you think the level of riding is off the charts from looking at videos from there, really the craftsmanship of the trailwork there is quite advanced as well.
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  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Skookum
    i would use the North Shore B.C. as an example. You have tons of rain, lots of super steep grades, and people from all over the globe riding big bikes there. What people who haven't ridden there and studied the trail work wouldn't guess, is the vast enormous amount of trail work that's been put into the trails there. If you think the level of riding is off the charts from looking at videos from there, really the craftsmanship of the trailwork there is quite advanced as well.
    The trailbuilders up there are amazing. There's a guy in Pittsburgh looking at ways to apply some of the rock work those guys do in BC to 'burgh trails. Sustainable all-weather trails can happen, but it's not easy. Sometimes they happen by accident (hey, this section of trail is ALWAYS dry). When you get a section like that by accident, you want to try to replicate those conditions elsewhere. Develop a formula for your local trails that works.

    For our trails in the 'burgh, we've got a ton of them, but a lot of them suck. They're old road grades that have DEEP u-shaped profiles because of the heavy equipment used to build and maintain them for years before they became trails. Most of the newer singletrack tends to be awesome and VERY durable since it sheds water better.

    Things that help:
    Compactable soil (clay, silt) that doesn't retain a lot of moisture.
    Lots of rock...either trail on rock outcrops or lots of rock in the soil.
    Rolling topography (steep slopes and flatness need more work)
    Enough land to actually follow the contours without shortcutting drainages to avoid property lines, roads, etc.

    Things that make it harder:
    Lots of sand. Sand on a slope with nothing to bind it ends up at the bottom of that slope really fast.
    Floodplains. Nuf said.
    Deep, organic soil that soaks up water like a sponge.
    Flat terrain of any kind.
    Seasonal seeps/springs
    Extreme weather (very heavy rain, very high winds, wildfires)
    Unfavorable geology (ie areas prone to landslides)
    Small area within which to work.

    If your local terrain/trails have any of the characteristics in the bottom list, you need to engineer solutions to those problems. Depending on the extent of your limitations, it could be very costly (money and/or labor) to impliment them. Are you at least willing to work to overcome that?

  5. #5
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    I'd agree with most of the above. Except in my corner of the world, clay holds water longer than any other type of soil. I know this from experience. Certain kinds of clay hold water longer than other kinds of clay. If you have shiny white specs in your clay you are in for years of wetness. Pure red clay holds water longer than I'd like, but not as long as the clay with the shiny white specs. These sections of clay always react negatively to being agitated when wet. It is a catch 22, the clay gets wet, riders come along, agitate it and it just stays wet longer. Armor this stuff with rock, stay on the rock and the clay dries out much faster as the rock is being ridden on not the clay. I've seen this with my own eyes within the last month.

    In addition to the design of the trail and it's soil content, the age of the trail is huge in regards in how quickly riders can get on the trail w/o making a big impact.

    Trails that are older just have had more use, a longer period of time for gravity to push on it and are generally more solid.

  6. #6
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    Yes, some clays have polar surfaces and really absorb & retain water. The types that work especially well are the types that are just especially fine soil particles that lack the affinity for water.

    I agree, though, that clays are best mixed with rock to offer a solid trail surface.

  7. #7
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    Thanks for all the swell, informative responses so far!

    I should probably be more specific. I am talking about trails that can be ridden rain or shine. Of course, I don't mean a paved nature trail. I'm talking about getting out and enjoying a trail in it's many natural presentations: dry and fast, wet and uncertain, frosty and slippery. Is it possible to build and maintain "sustainable" trails that are truly open in all (non-monsoon) conditions?
    Last edited by hanshananigan; 03-28-2008 at 12:35 PM.
    Hi!
    Location: Richmond, VA
    Style: XC, Mid-Atlantic roots, rocks, & poison ivy
    Rides: '06 K2 Apache 6.0, '01 K2 Razorback Team

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by hanshananigan
    Thanks for all the swell, informative responses so far!

    I should probably be more specific. I am talking about trails that can be ridden rain or shine. Of course, I don't mean a paved nature trail. I'm talking about getting out and enjoying a trail in it's many natural presentations: dry and fast, wet and uncertain, frosty and slippery. Is it possible to build and maintain "sustainable" trails that are truly open in all (non-monsoon) conditions?
    We have answered your question. And you are answering your own question by using the word "sustainable".

    Re ask your question without the word sustainable.

    Then we answer yes make it sustainable....

    Your ideals are straying you from what is reality if i'm reading your response right. Nothing of what we are talking about is a paved nature trail.

    Nature rarely provides you with ideal conditions in every nook and cranny. At a certain point you'll run across a swamp, creek, steep or what have you. Again i repeat if you route your path correctly you'll minimize areas that need special attention. Bridges, rockwork, retention, ditching whatever... Or you can just leave it like you say and just go with nature, but eventually it will likely be unrideable to most. In which case it's not sustainable...

    i guess if you want semantics you could only consider a deer trail a real natural trail, unless i'm still missing your point.
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  9. #9
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    I agree with skookum...it looks like you're either not realizing that we answered your question, or you are wanting some kind of trail condition that's unsustainable.

    I know of some trails that can be wet, but not muddy (even during a downpour). Traction is good and I would hardly call them uncertain. Trails I know of that are uncertain when wet are unsustainable. Where I live, you can pretty much ride any trail if it's frozen, so that's kinda moot. Probably the ONE weather condition that wrecks any trail I've ever seen is the 'spring thaw' condition where winter ice has heaved the soil (reducing or eliminating the accumulated compaction). During the thaw process, the surface soil has thawed (and loose), but frozen soil remains underneath. Riding the trails at this time is a recipe for trashing any soil surfaced trail I've ever seen. The only thing that is rideable under this condition is rock.

  10. #10
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    dry and fast, wet and uncertain


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  11. #11
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    year round riding and consistant conditions
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  12. #12
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    Yeah:

    http://www.7stanes.com/

    Groups and individuals in Scotland have done just that. Natural surface trails, normal xc level, ridden by anyone, no stunts (but they have that too, if you want), no elevated features (but they have that too, if you want) needed to accomplish. They're riding in rain, drizzles or downpours pretty much 24/7. It can be done, armoring, some fill material, and following percent grade rules meticulously.

    I got a chance to ride in Ft William and Laggan (spelling) and saw some of the work first hand, very impressive. Riding all day long in downpours, still had fun, and didn't cringe at mud/rutting, water running down the trail, cuz they mitigate it so well.

    But look into Scotland's efforts, take a road trip. Or get some IMBA folks that have been to the UK to visit your backyard and get your local IMBA affiliate club trained and building some all weather trails where you live.

  13. #13
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    Sparrow, that's just the kind of info I was looking for - nice description, solid example, and a link - thanks!
    Hi!
    Location: Richmond, VA
    Style: XC, Mid-Atlantic roots, rocks, & poison ivy
    Rides: '06 K2 Apache 6.0, '01 K2 Razorback Team

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by NateHawk
    I agree with skookum...it looks like you're either not realizing that we answered your question, or you are wanting some kind of trail condition that's unsustainable.
    Let me summarize a bit. It seems to me that the definition of "sustainable" has elements of subjectivity and contingency. The subjectivity come in regarding one's threshold for erosion, effects on flora, etc. If one uses a starting point for a definition such as the one that has been offered by the NPS of "minimal impact to the natural systems of the area" link, it is easy to see that "sustainability" is a matter of degree. Sure, there are objective measures of impact like soil compaction, but the amount of soil compaction that is considered "too much" is subjective.

    The sustainability of a trail is also contingent on a "natural terra" X "man-made modifications (e.g., bench cuts, bridges, armoring)" X "use patterns" X "resources for maintenance" interaction. For example, if you know the terra, how the trail is constructed, and use patterns, you can determine the resources needed for maintenance (e.g., man-hours/wk) to achieve a preferred level of sustainability. Thus, one trail may be "sustainable" if ridden by fewer than 50 users per day in dry conditions with little maintenance, whereas another may be able to handle hundreds of riders during a rainy race weekend if lots of volunteers work the trail.

    My question starts with the goal of riding in all weather (use pattern) in a particular defined geographic area (natural terra) (leaving number of riders/day out of this discussion, since the defined geographic area will modulate this). Therefore, there are two variables left (how much man-made mod is necessary and how much maintenance is necessary) that need to be varied in order to ensure that the "sustainabilty" criteria is met. However, the amount of man-made mods and maintenance cannot be determined until "sustanability" is objectively (and therefore measureable in practice) defined. For example, a 20% trail widening at any point on a section of trail at a 5-year follow-up could be used as an indication that the trail is not sustainable. The sustainability of a trail cannot be defined by the practices one uses to keep it sustainable - that is circular logic and does not allow for evaluation.

    I think what I'm hearing is that it is possible to have a trail that is open in all weather conditions, but it will depend on one's definition of "sustainable" and whether the (perhaps) four factors above can be balanced in such a way to maintain a trail that is sustainable by that definition. Of course, a sustainable trail is useless if land managers do not take into consideration "user preferences." If a trail needs to have little grade, few features, and can only be ridden on 20 days/year because of weather-related closures, or in some other ways does not meet the needs and preferences of local users, people may not ride. But then again, some folks like au naturale all the way, whereas others like sculpted trail.

    I apologize if I am using terms here that are not in lexicon of environmental engineering or trail design - I'm still learning.
    Last edited by hanshananigan; 03-30-2008 at 11:43 AM.
    Hi!
    Location: Richmond, VA
    Style: XC, Mid-Atlantic roots, rocks, & poison ivy
    Rides: '06 K2 Apache 6.0, '01 K2 Razorback Team

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