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  1. #1
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    Blow Job

    Is it a good idea to clear tree litter off the trail with a leaf blower (or other leaf moving instrument)?


    Why or why not?
    Last edited by SSINGA; 11-15-2007 at 08:36 AM.
    Nothing to see here.

  2. #2
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    Yes, because leaves decompose, creating greasy muck, Better for it to break down and feed the growth on the side of the trail, where healthy topsoil is encouraged.
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  3. #3
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    Probably depends on the climate, soil type and amount of rainfall. Some soils need the Organic Matter, some don't.

  4. #4
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    Removing the leaves allows the underlying trail surface to dry out.
    A good steel leaf rake is more efficient, lighter, and dang near silent.

    My neighbors make it a marathon every weekend in the fall running their leaf blowers - what a waste of time. I wave when I pedal by on my bike.

  5. #5
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    I could take it or leave it. (no pun intended)

    I've never seen a trail ruined by decomposing leaves.

    I don't complain when someone blows the leaves off the trail, nor do I complain if they are left alone.

    I just don't spend my trail maintenance time doing this. If I'm not riding and I'm working on a trail, I try to spend my time doing something that will have a more lasting impact than removing the leaves in the fall.

  6. #6
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    I can't think of one good reason to leave the leaves on the trail. I can think of these reasons to take them off:

    Clearly marks the trail for night rides and newbies

    allows the trail to dry faster (the trail becomes harder and faster)

    makes the trail less slippery

    use a rake, less pollution !

  7. #7
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    At our local state park we have a trail day in the early spring when we rake all the trails. It gives them a quick start to dry out after the snow melts.

  8. #8
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    I'm a big fan of blowing the leaves. Maybe it's from my days working with local race promoters, who knows. We have this argument locally every year. I believe that it helps the trail dry faster. It also allows you to see the trail better (especially on more remote trails that don't see as much traffic) and allows for better turning traction.

    I don't know about the rest of you, but I'd vote for the backpack blower over the rake, especially when I have 10 miles of trail to de-leaf. Slap on the headphones, crank the throttle and walk as fast as you can. Easy cheese.

  9. #9
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    Depends

    I have about 11 miles of trails to take care of. Even with the most powerful Stihl backpack blower:

    http://www.stihlusa.com/blowers/BR600.html

    I only average about 1 mile an hour in good conditions. That's several days of work for me (it's dark now anytime after 4:45PM), less if I get some help. The fuel tank is only good for about 1:45 or so. I double my range with two of the largest size fuel bottles from REI fastened to the shoulder straps with lightweight caribieners (spelling?) Strategic gas can drops are necessary for longer runs. Trust me, you don't want to cary a gas can by hand for several hours.

    Upsides: The trails stay useable later in the year due to improved visibility and less frozen [email protected] on the trail. I think they dry better. A lot of deraileur-removing sticks get taken off the trail too.

    Downsides: A pretty big investment of time for something that is not essential, and not every rider benefits from. Pretty much impossible for longer trails.

    Walt

  10. #10
    Who turned out the lights
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    Luckily for us, we have 5 backpack blowers owned by the club, so we drop one guy off at the top of a connector, and then two each down two loops. We all meet at the same spot a couple of hours later and we're done. We still usually have to carry MSR bottles with us though to get the job done.

  11. #11
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    I have some dirt on my trail

    Can you blow it off?

    Leave the leaves where they fall, makes the trail experiance feel more natural. Nothing like manicuring a trail for absolutly no reason. Sounds like similar arguments of those people who pull rocks out of the trail.
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  12. #12
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    The best way to blow leaves is to ride fast and lots.

  13. #13
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    For those of us living on the east coast, removing leaves and organic matter to get down to the mineral soil is almost mandatory for good long term trail survivability. The leaves can really build up, so we let them drop where they may in the fall and rake in the spring. 30 people with rakes can do alot of trail in a short time.

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    A few places that definitively need a good cleaning are the drainage lines some switchbacks have, rolling grade dips, and nicks. They need to be cleaned out, so leaf dams don't form, trapping water on the trail. (If not kept clear to let water drain, why put them in in the first place....)

  15. #15
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    What got me started thinking about this was my local trail. Someone took it upon themselves to go out there and blow off the trail, that in the 5+ years I have been riding it, hasn't shown any adverse conditions by it not being blown off. Sure the pine straw was slick but that was part of the challenge. It gets enough use that the trail tread was always visible even though it was covered. Many other local system get blown but they are properly designed and constructed trail systems. This is most likely a copy-cat "crime".

    My thought now is that with out the tree litter the water will be able to flow faster and further (this is not a "designed" trail system so it doesn't meet all the general trail construction rules) than it did before. this also exposes the dirt directly to the freeze/frost where before the top layer took the abuse.

    CU-Murph - I understand the need to clear drains and such and don't have a problem with that. Like Fishbum stated, I could probably better stomach this type of cleaning in the spring after the threat of freezing weather is over.
    Nothing to see here.

  16. #16
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    in our very special part of the florida panhandle, we have sand. if it wasn't for leaf litter and pine straw, we wouldn't have a trail. i purposely ran our new trail under and around thicker parts of the forest to help add leaf litter and to keep the trail from getting deluged by rainfall. we actually seem to get more falling leaves in the early spring. the leaves stay dead on the trees until the new growth pushes them off. pretty weird.
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  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by fishbum
    For those of us living on the east coast, removing leaves and organic matter to get down to the mineral soil is almost mandatory for good long term trail survivability. The leaves can really build up, so we let them drop where they may in the fall and rake in the spring. 30 people with rakes can do alot of trail in a short time.
    I doubt that one, having spent the early part of my life in new england the leaves would fall and riding would be just fine and eventually the trail would be clear again, no one came out with leaf blowers.

    Leaves and other debris in drains is one thing but leaf blowing a trail is just sanitizing.
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  18. #18
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    In south Florida, we usually welcome some of the organics as a form of mulch to stabilize our sandy sections although the east center of the state is really sandy and they would welome anything that stabilized the beach sand on most of their trails. I like using the really wide plastic rakes to move as much material as possible. We do not get much in the way of actual leaf litter as we get cuttings from tall (4' to 8') sawgrass and other tall grasses that tend to choke the trails in the summer and fall months. We do not get the wholesale tree clearing everyone else gets with the change of seasons. trails up in the northern part of the state get more litter than we do and I'm for both methods as far as clearing the trails but I also like to do a little leaf surfing too.
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  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by jeffscott
    The best way to blow leaves is to ride fast and lots.
    awesome....

    Quote Originally Posted by fishbum
    For those of us living on the east coast, removing leaves and organic matter to get down to the mineral soil is almost mandatory for good long term trail survivability.
    To a lesser extent the same is true here in the PNW.

    Big fat maple leaves plus all the rain in the fall, creates alot of trail goo.

    Of course we have alot of deep forest trail that are almost all evergreen trees, where it's not an issue.

    i don't look at leave clearing as sanitizing a trail (making it easier). And i don't view it as reducing the nature experience. A trail is in effect a "beaten" path, devoid of soil that stuff grows on. Nature will reclaim trails if left alone, one of the ways of course is leaves creating fertile topsoil. If i really liked riding on decomposing leaves i'd ride through my neighbors mulch pile, that's effectively what you're riding on.

    Of course the posts from Florida are really interesting, and it makes total sense where you want soil to stabilize the path. How is the drainage on trails down there?....
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  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by smilycook
    I doubt that one.
    You may. Our trail network is in a state park with over 30 miles of planned and well managed trails, this is what we do to keep the trails clean and dry. It works great. We can certainly ride on the leaves, like we are doing now since they have all dropped, but in the spring we rake and it dries quickly and doesn't get muddy except in a rare heavy rain.

    These are multi-use trails, so it's not just a 12" ribbon thru the woods, but we also ride many other trails that are unmanaged and covered in leaves, they are full of mudholes and take a long time to dry out. Eventually they clear themselves to a clear 12" ribbon thru the woods. Yes, State Park = sanitized riding to minimize risk and provide a great trail experience to ALL users. Still many miles of great challenging singletrack.

  21. #21
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    This has turned into a really interesting thread. It seems that the answer to the original question about leaf removal is "It depends, depending on weather, soil type, volume of traffic, availability of labor, and other factors.

    There's a particular trail I ride that has a section of clay type soils that turn into a gooey mess when they are wet. That stretch of trail benefits from having a layer of organic material thrown on it, so you can hopefully get over the goo without getting bogged down.

  22. #22
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    I call poppycock on this.

    I don't "dumb down" trails. I do plenty of layout, construction and maintenance of technical trails, and I'm a fairly skilled technical rider. I simply find that for my climate and soil/trail conditions, leaf blowing is an effective way to help the trail dry faster during the winter season. It also helps to define the trail for both race-pace riding and night riding. It's not dumbing down a trail.

    It it's not your preference to blow a trail, then don't blow it. Just because it's not your preference doesn't mean it's only for pu$$ies.

    Quote Originally Posted by smilycook
    Can you blow it off?

    Leave the leaves where they fall, makes the trail experiance feel more natural. Nothing like manicuring a trail for absolutly no reason. Sounds like similar arguments of those people who pull rocks out of the trail.

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    Go with the hand job

    From an enviromental standpoint, blowers suck! The emissions from small engines are not well controlled. If leaves must be removed, the handjob with the rake is more envirnmentally friendly.

    But then again, the environment isn't given much consideration until riders are horking up a lung from bad air.

  24. #24
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    I removed the early leaves (birch and maple) but will let the oak leaves sit over the winter. The leaves act as kind of a diffuser for the heavy spring rain/melt off protecting the soil under them. Oak leaves clog up the knobbies less than late winter mud does. I'll clear them off the turns and climbs and let the trail dry up better in the spring, usually about the time the trees bud out.
    Well my days of not taking you seriously are certainly coming to a middle.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by SSINGA
    Is it a good idea to clear tree litter off the trail with a leaf blower (or other leaf moving instrument)?


    Why or why not?
    The #1 reason why we blow off Blankets Creek is to keep it open more through the winter months. The trail will dry faster without the leaves holding moisture in. As you know, GA clay can hold the smallest amount of moisture for a long time then ad freezing temps to create the dreeded freeze/thaw cycle making for a sloppy mess and rutted trail.

    We only had 3 days of closed trail last winter as compared to 30+ days prior to blowing the fall leaves off. People can cry all they want about wanting to ride it natural, they cry more when the trail is closed.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Francis Buxton
    Slap on the headphones, crank the throttle and walk as fast as you can. Easy cheese.
    Yeah, nothing says "wilderness experience" better than some guy with headphones on blowing leaves...Besides, what is the proper trail etiquette when passing or being passed while leaf blowing? Is it "blowing on your right", or " Blowing on your left"?

  27. #27
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    au natural BABY! Ride it like nature intended. oooooo it's slippery! eeek I can't see my racing line! Cleaning a trail for these reasons is "DUMBING IT DOWN." Take the time to learn the skills to ride a trail on it's own terms or buy a road bike!
    Cleaning a trail for "safety" is a slippery slope, Where do you start and more importantly where do you stop.
    With few exceptions: Clean a trail only to preserve the trail.
    Last edited by Shelbak73; 12-11-2007 at 07:36 PM.

  28. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by smilycook
    Can you blow it off?

    Leave the leaves where they fall, makes the trail experiance feel more natural. Nothing like manicuring a trail for absolutly no reason. Sounds like similar arguments of those people who pull rocks out of the trail.
    I agree.
    But being from a different area we don't know what kind of trail they are refering to. I picture a guy with a leaf blower out on Fisher creek or Porcupine ridge, walking back to get more gas.

  29. #29
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    I guess you might call it "Dumbing Down" in Utah, but here on the coast Of SC where the highest point on my trail is 38 ft above Sea Level, we call it being able to find it and keeping it dry enough to ride. Some sections you would never know where the trail was except for the blazes if we didn't blow it off in the winter. And there is nothing like riding across those nice dry leaves to find 10 inches of pure muck beneath.

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    Quote Originally Posted by donwatts
    I guess you might call it "Dumbing Down" in Utah, but here on the coast Of SC where the highest point on my trail is 38 ft above Sea Level, we call it being able to find it and keeping it dry enough to ride. Some sections you would never know where the trail was except for the blazes if we didn't blow it off in the winter. And there is nothing like riding across those nice dry leaves to find 10 inches of pure muck beneath.
    Sorta, We like to play by mother natures rules, and she loves to play hide and go seek. Schadenfreude: Winter riding? Salt Lake?Yeah right!
    For what you lack in elevation, you gain in year round riding. Enjoy your"winter"riding my friend.

  31. #31
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shelbak73
    I agree.
    But being from a different area we don't know what kind of trail they are refering to. I picture a guy with a leaf blower out on Fisher creek or Porcupine ridge, walking back to get more gas.
    Here is the type of trail I was referring to in my orig post.

    This one was blown off


    This one was not
    Nothing to see here.

  32. #32
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    [QUOTE=SSINGA]Here is the type of trail I was referring to in my orig post.

    Sorry Ssinga, I guess you lost me. Both trails look OK to me..(?)
    I'll have to admit, trail #2 looks more apetizing to me, you know, the trail less traveled. Adventure is a strong element in "trail appeal" to me.

    Wow...you know, I keep scrolling back and forth between pictures, and #2 looks like the healthier trail to me. It seems the leaves would lessen the wear on the trail and the velocity of a leaf blowers air thrust would needlessly erode valuable soil, you know what I mean? We have to think in the long term. Two decades of leaf blower erosion would be a considerable amount, versus two decades of what?? crushed leaves? (shrug)

  33. #33
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    One more time now: for those of us that have trails in areas with high organic content in the soil its almost critical to remove the leaves to allow the trail to dry properly. If you don't remove the leaves then every time it rains you have a soggy, muddy, non-sustainable trail that doesn't dry properly. Remove the leaves and the trail dries in a matter of days, which means you can ride it earlier in the spring and ride it sooner after a rain.

    Both trails look line fun to ride. I doubt the leaf blower causes erosion, but then again we don't use them.

  34. #34
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    Quote Originally Posted by fishbum
    One more time now: for those of us that have trails in areas with high organic content in the soil its almost critical to remove the leaves to allow the trail to dry properly.
    I would disagree, there are a lot of places with highly organic soils which are not leaf blowen. The trails dry out when nature wants them to dry out and you add organic material back into the soil of the trail by not blowing away the leaves. Growing up in New England no one ever blew off the leaves and the trails were just fine...

    Blow all you want on your trails and I hope the rest don't get a blow job from you.
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  35. #35
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    Thats what you said earlier in this thread, So I guess I'll repeat myself again. I didn't say we blew off the leaves, we rake them in the spring. And this is in a state park with lots of traffic and multiusers. So after a rain the singletrack trails get closed for several days, but if we rake them to bare soil (and the trail is properly built by removing the organic matter down to the mineral soil) the trails can be reopened in one day. The trails also need to be clean so trail runners, for instance, don't roll an ankle because they can't see the rocks. So, feel free to blow yourself!

  36. #36
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    Quote Originally Posted by fishbum
    One more time now: for those of us that have trails in areas with high organic content in the soil its almost critical to remove the leaves to allow the trail to dry properly. If you don't remove the leaves then every time it rains you have a soggy, muddy, non-sustainable trail that doesn't dry properly. Remove the leaves and the trail dries in a matter of days, which means you can ride it earlier in the spring and ride it sooner after a rain.

    Both trails look line fun to ride. I doubt the leaf blower causes erosion, but then again we don't use them.
    Wooops! Sorry I brought this on myself. I saw the pics of what appears to be a dry trail and forgot about the wet/dry issue, because as you'll remember my earlier posts, I only advocate trail alteration,or cleaning for the preservation of the trail. my apologies to Ssinga and Fishbum for my mistake.
    After careful consideration I still stand by my arguement of "blower-erosion", but given the alternatives for leaf removal, I feel a "blow job" would be the less invasive on the tread, but not on the environment.

  37. #37
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    Quote Originally Posted by fishbum
    The trails also need to be clean so trail runners, for instance, don't roll an ankle because they can't see the rocks.
    What is next, removing the rocks... sounds like sanitizing to me.
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  38. #38
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    For trails that don't get much use and get night ridden, I have to say its worth blowing them off. I say this after going night riding last night and spending more time looking for the trail/line than actual riding. I would rather ride. :-) With all the leaves, everything just blended together.

  39. #39
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    Quote Originally Posted by smilycook
    What is next, removing the rocks... sounds like sanitizing to me.
    Quote Originally Posted by fishbum
    Our trail network is in a state park with over 30 miles of planned and well managed trails... Yes, State Park = sanitized riding to minimize risk and provide a great trail experience to ALL users.
    Start again at the beginning of this thread, it will all make sense to you.

  40. #40
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    Quote Originally Posted by CU-Murph
    For trails that don't get much use and get night ridden, I have to say its worth blowing them off. I say this after going night riding last night and spending more time looking for the trail/line than actual riding. I would rather ride. :-) With all the leaves, everything just blended together.
    This is case of where are "they" when you need them.

  41. #41
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    Quote Originally Posted by fishbum
    ..provide a great trail experience to ALL users.
    All users have a great experiance with your leaf blowing? Might as well just make all your trails greenbelts and get it over with..
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  42. #42
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    Why don't you try reading this thread a third time, for comprehension this time.
    1) We don't blow the leaves, we rake once in the spring so the trails dry fast and to remove debris from the winter.
    2) This is a state park, we have multi-use trails: for hikers, runners, horses, and MTB'rs. We all share them. Trails are designed for all users.
    3) None of the trails are super technical, but many of them are narrow singletrack, there are 30 miles of them and if you ride them fast I guarantee they will kick yer azz.
    4) With so many users the trails have to be maintained/improved constantly, keeping them dry is KEY to sustainability.
    Are we dumbing down the trails by doing so? YES - to manage risk for all users. It is a state park, remember? There are no hucks or drops, just loads of tight/twisty and fast/flowey singletrack.
    This is how we do it on OUR trail network, and it works great.

    So if you ever make it back to the east coast and want me to show you what I mean, let me know. Meanwhile, to each their own. Blow them if you want, leave them if you want.
    Last edited by fishbum; 12-17-2007 at 01:05 PM.

  43. #43
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    We have the same heated debate every year here in Charlotte, NC. I designed, built and maintain 4 miles of trail in Davidson. I decided to do my own scientific trials on the trails. Last year I left the leaves. This year I cleared them. Want to know the difference? Around here organic material belongs on the "side" of the trail or in your garden. NOT on the tread. I spent several hot weekends this summer fixing erosion issues from broken down leaves and organic material that built up berms and held in moisture. Now I will continue to blow the leaves off every year. It doesn't "Dump down" (not "Dumb down") the trail at all. I rode the other night after a light sprinkle of rain (which we sorely need in NC!) and the off camber and crooked roots were super greasy! Like ice skating in the woods...Anyway...instead of everyone criticizing everyone else's method of maintenance, why not be glad that there are all of us willing to build and maintain our trails. We're a lot fewer than the actual amount of users that ride the trail and never put back into it.

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  44. #44
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    No debate here in Charleston SC, it is a fact here that leaves fall, get crushed, decay, become organic matter, and then turns to muck when it does rain. I to will continue to blow off the leaves.
    I have a counter installed at the trailhead and average 600 plus hits a month, and have yet to hear a complaint about the leaf removal every winter. Well said about those of us that maintain.

  45. #45
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    Quote Originally Posted by donwatts
    No debate here in Charleston SC, it is a fact here that leaves fall, get crushed, decay, become organic matter, and then turns to muck when it does rain. I to will continue to blow off the leaves.
    I have a counter installed at the trailhead and average 600 plus hits a month, and have yet to hear a complaint about the leaf removal every winter. Well said about those of us that maintain.
    That's like 20 riders a day. At that rate, I'm surprised there are very many leaves left to remove! I would think they would break down from the traffic. One thing I've noticed in the area I ride in is that leaf or evergreen needle coverage are a pretty good indicator of whether a particular trail is being used regularly. I'm not taking a side here, just observing.

    It strikes me from following this thread that this is actualy not a straight up yes or no situation. Whether it makes sense must depend on a fair number of variables, including soil and vegetation types, use patterns, climate, and land manager trail standards.

  46. #46
    Papa T
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    Here in NE FL we get upset if someone rakes or clears leaves and pine needles from our trails. The majority of my local trail is on sandy hills with a pine forest growing throughout. Without the needles and such, the trail gets dried out quickly and becomes a sugar sand marathon where there is little tree cover. In fact, for some of the really bad sections, we remove the loose sand, pack down the tread and add pine needles and leaves to help firm up the trail. Luckily our landowner is eager to let us improve and maintain our trail. They have even brought out loads of limestone for us to armor the super sandy areas of the trail. This assistance came about after we lost half of our trail for tree harvesting. Now those sections that were lost are rerouted and better than ever, especially where we have added limestone. But I digress...

    The need to remove leaves definitely depends on the local climate, geography and ecology. Since FL doesn't experience the "muddy winter" that most states further north get, we can't buy enough moisture for our sandy trails.
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  47. #47
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    As you can tell from the last post that there are many varibles, so there is no right answer. All we can do as Trail Builders and Maintainers is listen to our users and try to make the best decisions.
    Merry Christmas To All

    Don

  48. #48
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    Quote Originally Posted by donwatts
    As you can tell from the last post that there are many varibles, so there is no right answer. All we can do as Trail Builders and Maintainers is listen to our users and try to make the best decisions.
    Merry Christmas To All

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  49. #49
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    Surprised that this is such a hot topic, i still maintain my stance, but must divulge i've never nor probably never will be involved in a leaf clearing trail work party. It's pretty far down my personal list of priorities of trail maintenance.
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  50. #50
    jalepenio jimenez
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    Please don't blow me....

    Out west here (in Idahoe,) we definetly see things differently. In fact from the sounds of this discuss, there seem to be both east and west, north and south perspectives being spoken here.

    Iím of the same mindset as smilycook, as I personally would never think of clearing leaves, because we donít really have that problem out here. Our only leaves are in the creek bottoms, often in the shade of high ridges, frozen in winter and to be ridden with a little vigilence if slick. Aspen leaves are our only other real leaf problem and they exist at higher elevations, often covering the trails sporadically for miles in the fall, but being buried by snow for most of the winter.

    Therefore, as there is no ďleafĒ safety issue, so to speak, the trail in itís natural state, is best left alone: for aesthetics, if for no other reason.

    But, then there is the consideration of trail maintenance, and I think raking or blowing off the leaves would fall under that heading. As well as clipping the overgrowth and removing fallen woody objects. Every locale has itís own inherent maintenance needs.

    So where do you draw the line?

    If someone wants to take the time to do these maintenance chores, I say go for it. Just donít get too carried away if you end up using a rake and donít leave it laying in the trail (just kidding.) No one wants to ride a totally manicured trail, do they?
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  51. #51
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    If the trial sees a lot of traffic (like Raccoon Mountain in Chattanooga, TN) there is no reason to blow the leaves from the trail. The volume of riders crunches and displaces the leaves by themselves.

    I also believe, based on my experiences on Raccoon Mountain, that allowing the trail users to crunch up and displace the leaves move the biodegradable matter to a place just off the trail which allows the undergrowth to come back quicker, giving the trail a more natural vibe and a true singletrack feel. Considering we used a machine to cut the the majority of the trail on Raccoon Mountain, this narrowing process is much desired. The is a noticeable difference in trail width in the areas we construsted last winter before the leaves fell and the trial we constructed after the leaves fell. The only time you can expect to see us use a blower there is in the actual trail building process itself. It is simply easier to blow the leaves than rack them, but once the trail is done, leave it to the users to displace the leaves.
    Last edited by schaarschmidt; 12-30-2007 at 09:03 PM.

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