The decisive post on raking...- Mtbr.com
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  1. #1
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    The decisive post on raking...

    20 years ago I first saw people rake a MTB trail. These were primitive trails, trails that were basically "Built" by raking through eastern hardwood forest. These trails were rogue, unsigned, not mapped, and by our current standards very lightly ridden. It was, in some cases, the only way a rider would be able to follow the trail after a fall and winter of leaves, sticks, and limbs coming down.

    Then things changed and trails got mapped, signed, excavated and marketed. Traffic increased 100x...maybe more. The raking also continued, and leaf blowing...to the point of excess. We started to notice that the narrow, sinuous tracks were gone. In their place were more roots, more width, more trail creep, more mud, and a debate on is clearing leaves good, bad, needed, or was there a real reason to not clear leaves.

    Around 2007 paid trail work entered Vermont and I got on with VMBA and then private contractors. We built trails, rehabbed old trails, watched and worked on some of the most popular networks in the East, and I paid attention. Simultaneously I was building out a network in my new town, one I moved to because there was no advertised MTB, no real MTB at all, and started building.

    The oldest single tracks are now 8 years old. For the first 6 years I raked every spring. I watched the tread wear deeper into the earth, and as roots appeared the tread widened as well. It's amazing where MTBers will ride these days to avoid roots and small rocks. I started adding material back to cover tread features so people would stay on track, and not ride around the root beds that were being exposed.

    Then I stopped raking. For the last 2 years no leaf clearing. Here is the result. The trails have reverted back to 10" wide ribbons of well burned in, but not blown out, trail. The small obstructions that used to cause people to wander from edge to edge, ride off tread ect, are not as visible, they are constantly being covered by a naturally replenishing source of organic material that rapidly gets mulched into soil and mixes with the top layer of dirt. The tread wear has virtually stopped. Also, in the fall when we ride during freeze/thaw cycles the new mat of leaves prevents damage. The trails do not stay wet longer as is sometimes argued and during the summer in very dry times, when a lot of raked trails turn to moon dust and we watched inches of dirt blow away, trails with a high ratio of organic material mulched and mixed in to the top layer hold valuable moisture and the dirt stays in place.

    So, the result is if a trail becomes popular, stop clearing the leaves. Nature is trying to work with you to keep you trails nice, let it. I hope this is the final word on raking.

  2. #2
    WillWorkForTrail
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    100% agreed. This has been my observation as well.

    There are a few select places where raking has been beneficial, but the majority of trails I work with should be left alone when it comes to rakes and blowers.

  3. #3
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    Can I get an amen brother. Feel the power of the mulch.

    Nicley said.

  4. #4
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    sorry far Western NY here.... we leafblow, if not, no way could folks find the line once the undergrowth dies off. folks would be braiding the singletrack. unless we blazed every 10 feet...

    I understand your experience and those of others may differ.. but for my area blowing out nicks and drains and siltpools allows us to keep track of water related issues...a plugged nick or drain and a nice rainfall will remove a lot more mineral soil from our trails than a blowing wind would..

    criss crossing the trail system I care for is a County trail system with no raking and blowing, remains in very poor shape much of the time. granted it probably does not get the attention ( County park system budget rather stretched) that some of our other trails in the area get.

    Roots will appear as trails age and usage increases

    we have primarily clay based soil no need for mulched up organics...and a lot of undergrowth that helps maintain the integrity of the singletrack.

    but totally understand different areas and different soils, different experiences...

    glad you found what works well for you.... ( and believe me i'd rather not spend 8 hours with leaf blower strapped to my back in the Fall and Spring)...

  5. #5
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    I was going to comment in the dry west aka California, it is a rare anomaly to see organic matter on trails other than the trails directly through forests. Most of the “organic” matter I rake on my system is literally shit ... cow shit to be exactly. Hopefully fellow riders don’t mind me doing it ...
    2018 Trek Farley Ex 8 - One bike to rule them all!
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  6. #6
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    +1!

  7. #7
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    I think part of it relates to trail traffic. I have a small local that sees very little traffic in some areas. I do what's called a rake drag. Just taking off the loose top layer of leaves and sticks. Helps define the line too. 2 years and the trails just disappear without it. In those areas that have some wet spots or a few drains, it helps to rake just those areas to keep them clear.

  8. #8
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    We've tried both raking and not raking leaves from the trails in the city park I steward in western PA. The park gets a lot of use so it's hard to say how much of a difference the leaves make, as within a month of falling they get ground up into mush anyway. Our soil is mostly clay based and we have some areas with heavy undergrowth and other areas with big old trees and heavy leaf cover in the fall.

    Last year we did not rake leaves except in a few critical places and some drain dips. The problem we are facing right now is the ground up organic matter left on the trails from the leaves does not get reincorporated into the tread. It just sits on top and holds water. Now that the trees have leafed out again and sun does not hit the trail tread, the trails are not drying out as quickly from rain in these areas with heavy organic matter. So we are going to have to remove it, except now it is much harder to scrape off wet muck than rake the dry leaves in the fall.

    One way or another, the leaves need to be removed from the trail in most places. It's easier to do it in the fall when they are dry, but they do provide a little bit of mud and erosion protection throughout the fall and early winter.

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