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  1. #1
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    Hardening your trail surface

    Looking for anyone who's done this type of trail work. We've made a smaller burm that we'd like to try a surface hardner on. Hopefully the top 2 photos are the smaller burm, and the bottom 2 are another area that we'd like to try hardening. Second set of photos is a sandy mix of bench cut that will need some hard love...any ideas?
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  2. #2
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    was thinking of the EMC SQUARED system but I've read very mixed reviews.
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  3. #3
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    It looks like you have some nice, flat rocks in the area. Rocks are hard....

    We've had good luck with berms built from rock, filled with ledge pack, then finally covered with a little local dirt to make them blend in visually. It's a lot of work, but it comes out great.

  4. #4
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    That is def. an option, was a little worried about newbies and moisture slickness. Hell we can't keep the newbies on the trail to ride exposed roots
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  5. #5
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    Depending on the dirt, usually if you pack it very hard when wet (introduce water as needed) then let it dry before riding, it should compact quite nicely. Ask the dirt jumpers; masters of hardening dirt berms
    what would rainbow unicorn do?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Squirrely1 View Post
    Looking for anyone who's done this type of trail work. We've made a smaller burm that we'd like to try a surface hardner on. Hopefully the top 2 photos are the smaller burm, and the bottom 2 are another area that we'd like to try hardening. Second set of photos is a sandy mix of bench cut that will need some hard love...any ideas?
    Concerning soil hardener. You don't need it.

    After cutting trail you need a bit of rain to work the tread. If you're trying to build trail in the dry you're stuck in neutral.

    IF you're going to think about some form of stabilizer you would want it on a steep surface, which is going to be lips on jumps and faces on steep berms.

    Otherwise if you build working with moist dirt, you can shape it with a shovel, McLeod, then Tamper.

    Learn your dirt. Study up on the difference between clay loam and sand loam. If you can find some clay get some for the places where you would use soil stabilizer. What happens with Sand loam in the dry is it will sluff off and break down. If you get a good clay loam if your "flow" is correct it should hold up fine.

    2 comments from your pictures.

    On your berm, that dirt looks like Organic Loam. Looks dark, and while it will hold a shape on a berm and look good now, as the rain comes it's going to turn into grease.

    On your bench turn, think about putting some inslope into your bench, the on the low reverse the grade. You're also half-benching a bit, and unless you tamp it in good build conditions your going to sluff, and as your compaction sets in the outer half of your tread will sink and you will have an outsloped corner. Wheels work against it, sliding out, no flow, no sustainable.
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    We just tried an experiment with 'Soil Cement' for a troublesome fall line that we could not re-route and didn't want to lose.

    It's basically a 12-1 mix of sandy loam and portland cement, mixed uniformly with a tiller, shaped and tamped hard, then moistened. On the plus side, it's inexpensive, you don't have to move a lot of material out to the trail, and the appearance is pretty natural - it's mostly just dirt.

    Early results look promising, but check back in a couple years for a real report.

  8. #8
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    Skookum, Thanks I always enjoy your depth. I believe our dirt at least for the top two photos is Clarion Loam. Packs very well, and yes becomes crisco slick when wet. We have lots of newbies rolling around and they really like to skid. That is my real worry. Once we finish the exit line on the burm (another 6 or so wheel borrows of rock), one would think skidding wouldn't be a concern. Hell we can't get these new kids to ride the roots without widening the tread.
    As for the bottom photos this area is an old mining operation that we are riding. A grand mix of everything here, obviously sandy in the pics. We have a couple other benches like this that have been in use for 5yrs, they are showing wear now. The guys may not have used the inslope because of sand, I wasn't there. Experimenting with a trail hardner here interests me, whether it be block, or chemical.
    Loren, thats what I'm talking about! Inexpensive and naturalish looking.
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    Cement/dirt mix will not hold up. It was tried at a park i volunteered at, and it breaks down quickly.

    Soiltac and other products are out there, i wish i could tell you i've had experience with them, but we never got around to using it. (I-5 Colonnade a park underneath a Freeway deck)

    From what i hear though it's a yearly to bi-yearly application.

    If you are having to use it in a normal scenario, you're probably better dialing in your berm, re-working and reshaping where it runs so smooth, the flow is such that people are too busy railing it, to even think about skidding on it.

    Hardly ever a time where you can build a berm and not have to re-shape it at least a bit after it's first rough-in.
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    Anyone have any experience with calcium chloride? I was going to try a bag at our local pump track.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by craftbrewed View Post
    Anyone have any experience with calcium chloride? I was going to try a bag at our local pump track.
    It works, but validate with your local environment agency if you can use it because it pretty nasty. We use it on BMX track and DJ when we don't have the budget for Soiltac.

    Also, beware that it will hurt as hell if you fall on that and scrape some skin...
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    and rot the eyes out of your head if it gets in them.

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    Not sure that the environmental concerns are a major factor. It's the same compound that is in a lot of ice melts and highway departments use it in place of rock salt. I just looked at a bag of ice melt we use on sidewalks and it is calcium chloride. And yes it can become an irritant.

    Thanks for confirming that it works but how do you apply it? I was going to apply it to the top and tamp it in. Or do you mix it with the top layer of soil/clay?

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    Quote Originally Posted by craftbrewed View Post
    Not sure that the environmental concerns are a major factor. It's the same compound that is in a lot of ice melts and highway departments use it in place of rock salt. I just looked at a bag of ice melt we use on sidewalks and it is calcium chloride. And yes it can become an irritant.

    Thanks for confirming that it works but how do you apply it? I was going to apply it to the top and tamp it in. Or do you mix it with the top layer of soil/clay?
    It's enough of a concern that many town are now back to spreading sand/fine gravel on the road instead of salt because it's destroying the ecosystem. It's still used for safety reason, not for environmental question.

    Spread calcium by hand on the thread, rake/compact, let the rain do the rest. Tadam! Clearly not the best solution but it works.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Skookum View Post

    Learn your dirt. Study up on the difference between clay loam and sand loam. If you can find some clay get some for the places where you would use soil stabilizer. What happens with Sand loam in the dry is it will sluff off and break down. If you get a good clay loam if your "flow" is correct it should hold up fine.

    On your berm, that dirt looks like Organic Loam. Looks dark, and while it will hold a shape on a berm and look good now, as the rain comes it's going to turn into grease.
    Skookum,can you recommend any online reading for soil types?my local riding spot seems to have a different soil type every half mile!

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    I understand what you are saying, I don't like the thought of harming the environment either. But the area I'm in still puts down rock salt on the roads. I stopped to talk to a local agronomy place about it and he said local townships sometimes use it for dust control. Plus the track drains into drywells that infiltrate into an area that were once coal bins. I'd imagine its rather polluted under the track. Just trying to justify trying it

    I tried contacting Soiltac about getting some of their product but I have not heard back. Where do you get this product?

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by craftbrewed View Post
    I understand what you are saying, I don't like the thought of harming the environment either. But the area I'm in still puts down rock salt on the roads. I stopped to talk to a local agronomy place about it and he said local townships sometimes use it for dust control. Plus the track drains into drywells that infiltrate into an area that were once coal bins. I'd imagine its rather polluted under the track. Just trying to justify trying it

    I tried contacting Soiltac about getting some of their product but I have not heard back. Where do you get this product?
    I've tried a couple of times to get samples without luck.

    I think Gorilla Snot is the one you want.
    They use it on BMX tracks.

    As far as salt, Magnesium Chloride (MAG) not Sodium Chloride or Calcium
    Chloride, is what you want. We use it for dust control. I work in DOT
    instead of Parks now. I'm also an Agronomist by degree.

    I can't say I support using salt for trail stabilization. I'm sure it works on
    roads where water is drained in larger volumes and the salts are diluted.
    I'm just not so certain that in a trails situation you aren't closer to more
    sensitive vegetation, not roadside grasses.

    I'm with some of the other guys. IMHO rocks are the way to go.
    Build up a nice berm out of really big rocks. Fill in the cracks with soil then
    lay a top layer or two of flat rocks for armoring.

    It could be that berms just aren't meant to be in your location or you might
    need to reroute the trail to take advantage of the lay of the land.

    Best of luck!

    Oh!
    Got one of these?

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    Working on a brand new trail system. We just did our first offical trail cutting day this past Saturday. We have a natural berm that is already sandy. It was mentions taking bag concrete and dusting the area, and then wetting it down. That this would harden, but look natural. This has been done on another local trail just over a year ago and working well.

    Thoughts?
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    Quote Originally Posted by JMHZ2401 View Post
    Working on a brand new trail system. We just did our first offical trail cutting day this past Saturday. We have a natural berm that is already sandy. It was mentions taking bag concrete and dusting the area, and then wetting it down. That this would harden, but look natural. This has been done on another local trail just over a year ago and working well.

    Thoughts?
    Read Skookums post above about that.
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    Skookums, could you elaborate on exactly what was tried and how it failed? Was cement or concrete used, what was the initial soil like, what mix ratio, how was it mixed, and how thick was the application?

    Just looking for another real world data point. I know what we did with our experiment, but it's too recent for any conclusions yet.

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    I have tried the soil-crete trick in sandy areas and found that it breaks down over time. I like my good ole North Carolina clay best.

    I see you are useing logs in the berms. Done that. To slow down the rot it is a good idea to completely cover the logs with a good clay loam. Making it as anerobic as possible.

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    never had a reason to try it,, we have clay just a few inches below organic around here.. but I've heard people talk of hardening other types of soil with supplementing clay kitty litter....

    google clay kitty litter and trail hardening...]IMBA Resources: Trail Building and Maintenance: Curb Erosion By Hardening Problem Spots

    good luck on your berms

  23. #23
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    kitty litter is made out of bentonite clay. clay works well when it is dry, different story when wet.


    look at the resource industry for solutions. lots of products out there that will met spec, be safe, and met any enviromental concerns

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    Quote Originally Posted by singlesprocket View Post
    kitty litter is made out of bentonite clay. clay works well when it is dry, different story when wet.


    look at the resource industry for solutions. lots of products out there that will met spec, be safe, and met any enviromental concerns

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    Most kitty litter is bentonite, but there is also zeolite in kitty litter, as well
    as silicates. You need to read the label.

    Nevertheless, bentonite used in kitty litter is "fired" in a kiln to harden it
    before pulverization. "Kiln fired" bentonite isn't going to act like a clay soil
    in the sense that it acts as a soil binder. Neither will zeolite after kiln firing.

    They don't easily break down into fine particles in soil so they actually
    resist soil compaction (not good for soil stabilization). Yes, they do absorb
    moisture, but act more like a sand, physically speaking, when added to soil.

    Ask any greenkeeper or baseball field caretaker. Kitty litter and zeolites are
    used as soil amendments to increase porosity and reduce soil compaction,
    just the opposite of what you need for soil stabilization.

    Besides modifying that much soil will suck IMHO. You're talking about
    bringing in a lot of material.

    I don't have any easy answers for your situation, it's quite common
    actually and frustrating that there is no easy solution, but I'm highly
    skeptical that kitty litter will act as a soil binder. That's my professional
    opinion as a soil scientist/greenkeeper/parks & trails planner. Could be
    wrong, but kitty litter sounds like an old wives tale to me.

    As far as concrete (lime). I would be concerned with creating an alkaline soil in
    proximity to the trail and killing vegetation/trees.

    Personally I would pound the crap out of it with a tamper and/or add rock armoring.
    Maybe rent a mini-ex and build larger berms then compact the soil with the mini-ex.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by Loren_ View Post
    Skookums, could you elaborate on exactly what was tried and how it failed? Was cement or concrete used, what was the initial soil like, what mix ratio, how was it mixed, and how thick was the application?

    Just looking for another real world data point. I know what we did with our experiment, but it's too recent for any conclusions yet.
    i don't have ratio's nor did i actually use the method myself. Have a few pals in concrete, and know enough from their observations to know that it wouldn't have worked. i advised against it just from their explanation on concrete and how it breaks down. Foreign additives and no support structure, it's just elementary.

    We had a scenario with silt fill dirt, extremely dry underneath a freeway deck. Lips and landing, and just about every section of jump trail even off of the tread needed reinforcement. It was tried and it failed.

    What it CAN do is create a temporary shell that can hold the shape of your dirt, for a month or two. If you're just trying to give it a chance to harden because you know traffic will be on it sooner than later it's not a bad idea in a pinch. But as soon as you get a nice dry spell it will break down, and then you have the other negative factors listed by some. As well as you should apply it like a shell and not introduce it to the tread surface you want lying underneath. Otherwise what happens is you'll get pocks/divits real bad.

    Most of the soil hardening materials that are sold are not going to be hard on the environment and not hard on the rider. The recommendation of a tamper is spot on, you need to pack your berms, and finding young backs to do it is a recommendation.

    Harvesting clay loam is like searching for gold, sometimes your area is just not going to have any. But check around and see if you can harvest some from your area. And mix the clay into your sandy loam for the steep surface of your berm. Note that i say loam as it indicated a mix. There are different types of mineral soil, and having the other components in your soil will add their positive characteristics to what you're shooting for. In most situations sandy loam is fine for flat, and risers, as it's tough and compacts well. But when you have a steep surface like a berm, with the way the wheels work on it, it will start sluffing. If there is a bit of clay to the loam what happens is it had the tendency to bind the soil where it is resistant to that. And when it's wet, the sand will reinforce the clay resisting displacement.

    Another tip is to filter out rocks out of your soil for the final topping. A nice smooth surface work best as when your berm settles (shrinking many times up to 30%) rocks will work their way off the tread creating pocks.
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    Okay, thanks. We're doing something quite different then, not using it to make something hard like concrete or a shell to retain shape but instead using it to change the properties of the soil to improve the bearing and shearing strength. There's a lot of research on the web supporting its use in this area for things like stream bank stabilization and improving soil to support building foundations. I found the equestrian and feed lot experiences pretty interesting - if you can stand up to hooves for years near a feeder, you probably can deal with mountain bikes. But time will tell...

  27. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by Loren_ View Post
    Okay, thanks. We're doing something quite different then, not using it to make something hard like concrete or a shell to retain shape but instead using it to change the properties of the soil to improve the bearing and shearing strength. There's a lot of research on the web supporting its use in this area for things like stream bank stabilization and improving soil to support building foundations. I found the equestrian and feed lot experiences pretty interesting - if you can stand up to hooves for years near a feeder, you probably can deal with mountain bikes. But time will tell...
    Do you have links to those successful uses? We need to do something on some fairly remote locations of our west coast, dry summer, sandy soiled area. We often go 90+ days with no rains from late spring to late fall, and get heavy traffic from all three user groups. We do not have clay to mine, and will need to haul whatever we can use with BoB trailers about two miles and 1000 feet of climbing. Thanks.
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    Jan and Mike Riter, Subaru/IMBA Trail Care Crew

    The sustainability of our trails has a lot to do with the kind of soils we have to ride on. If your mountain biking area was once covered by glaciers, or if you live on the coast or in a desert, it is probably more difficult for you than the rest of the country to keep your soils in one place. You may also face serious erosion problems on a fall-line (steep) trail that ideally should be rerouted, but for whatever circumstances, you cannot alter the trail placement. Or you have a high equestrian or motorized use causing soil to end up at the bottom of the hill. Our goal in this column is to introduce you to three trail hardening techniques that will help in problem areas.

    The first method is our favorite because of the look of disbelief it provokes: kitty litter. A generic, low-grade kitty litter has a substantial clay content which, when added to a trail, will act as a binder to help keep things together. The cheaper the litter, the better it will harden. The good folks of Michigan Mountain Bike Association discovered this gem. Let's say that at the bottom of a hill there is a sand pit that has the potential to pull down riders like quicksand. Purchase enough kitty litter to mix 50/50 with the sand, and you'll soon sail through with ease. The trick is to mix it thoroughly and if possible, install it just before a rain. Or, if your weather person is as inaccurate as ours, bring your own water. The Wisconsin Off Road Bicycling Association (WORBA) has perfected the God-like act of rain-making by using a pressurized fire extinguisher to spray the trail with water. This way, once the litter is blended as deep as possible, you can form the tread to drain water and the moisture will cause it to pack firmly together. (Be careful not to create a berm.) Another option discovered by WORBA is to add a limestone road base to the mixture with the kitty litter. The end result is a stable riding surface that is a lot more fun.

    so my bad, I should have read more..
    I guess for outsloped tread surface the IMBA guys thinks it's great, but not berms and ramps and such...

  29. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sofakinold View Post
    I see you are useing logs in the berms. Done that. To slow down the rot it is a good idea to completely cover the logs with a good clay loam. Making it as anerobic as possible.
    I always thought that allowing the wood to breathe made it last longer?

  30. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by twright205 View Post
    The first method is our favorite because of the look of disbelief it provokes: kitty litter. A generic, low-grade kitty litter has a substantial clay content which, when added to a trail, will act as a binder to help keep things together. ....
    ... the moisture will cause it to pack firmly together.
    Please forgive me I'm not trying to be argumentative, but this subject
    obviously interests me due to my background in soils and I'm really
    interested and only want to understand what is occurring.

    Based on my own experience with fired clays...
    I for one am very skeptical that kitty litter clay itself is acting as a soil
    binder in the traditional use of the term "binder" as with the polymer
    products like Gorilla Snot.

    Perhaps what you are actually seeing is the water molecules that are
    attracted to the kitty litter holding everything together, which may give
    the perception of the clay in the kitty litter acting as a "binder"?

    For one kitty litter is kiln fired. i.e. turned into a clay pot then pulverized.
    This creates macro and micro pores for water molecules to adsorb to. Kiln
    fired clay is not sticky like un-fired clay though.

    Yes indeed the extra moisture created by adding the calcined clay does
    give the perception of a heavier/clumpier soil. That has been my
    experience using these fired clays. When it dries out though the stickiness is gone.

    What do these areas you've applied kitty litter to look like when they dry out?

    Anyway... I have quite a bit of experience with one double-fired calcined
    clay in particular. Profile perhaps I'll check with a local vendor to see if I
    can get a sample and scratch his brain for thoughts on what you're seeing
    with kitty litter.

    I'm not saying it doesn't work, obviously you have seen results. It's just
    that after many years of using these products myself, cutting literally
    thousands of cups into golf greens and looking at the soil on a daily
    basis, I just haven't seen this binding action you speak of. A wetter soil
    yes, but sticky soil no.

    If it were acting as a binder the greens would be rock hard and cutting a
    cup would be next to impossible. I just haven't seen that.

    So I think what you are seeing may not be due to the "binding action" of
    the clay, but the extra water the kitty litter retains in the soil and the
    adsorptive properties of water holding the soil together. ???
    I don't know.... just thinking out loud. Please don't take my
    musings the wrong way.

    You have me intrigued to test it out. So I will buy a bag of kitty litter and
    some sand and test it myself to see what happens.


    EDIT:
    I guess the other option is that you are using kitty litter which is not fully
    kiln dried and may exist in a more natural "clay-like" state. That I could
    see working as a binder.

  31. #31
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    I didn't save any bookmarks, but a google search for "soil cement" or "cement modified soils" should return a lot of reading material. A couple clicks down I found http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/id/id176/id176.pdf

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    One other thing. I'm just back from a national park where the main multi-use trail see up to 25,000 users per day during the colors season. That trail, despite being unsustainable according to the general standards (overly steep, fall line in many places, bottom of gully, flat area, etc), is holding damn well with a surface mix of 50% crushed stone (0-3/4"), 40% fine (crushed fine granit) and 10% mixed dirt with high organic content. It was surfaced 5 years ago and, while some drainage features have issues, the trail thread is bombproof. That trail is used 365 days a year for mtbiking, hiking/jogging and XC skiing.
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    Quote Originally Posted by dk11 View Post
    I always thought that allowing the wood to breathe made it last longer?

    Let me explain, I have been building In areas that recieve 50" of rain a year. Most of the wood that grow here; pine, poplar, gum and hickory will rot easily. The sap wood of the oak and red cedar (outer white wood) will be gone in a couple years.

    The pourous wood holds the moisture. Moisture and O2 promote the growth of fungi and rot. It's much worse when the logs are in contact with the ground surface or other logs because moisture is maintained at contact points. Leaving the bark on also leaves an area for moistrue retention and habitat for bugs making things worse. Logs in organic soils also rot. Organic soils hold moisture and are habitat for fermenting organism and insects. Exposed areas of the logs allows that moisture and bug access.

    The clay I cover logs with seals the wood from O2 and is nonpermible to moisture. It drys very hard and does not promote habitat. Once sealed from air and water the wood is preserved.

    I have berms built this way 12 years ago with southern yellow pine logs buryied in them that have never had to be redone or filled in. Normally a pine log laying on the ground here would be gone from rot and termites in a just a couple years. I have a large log stack built without the clay around the same time out of the same logs that has gotten soft, logs added and added, and is now basicly a pile of pine dust with cedar logs on top.

  34. #34
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sofakinold View Post

    The clay I cover logs with seals the wood from O2 and is nonpermible to moisture. It drys very hard and does not promote habitat. Once sealed from air and water the wood is preserved.
    So if I try this and it doesn't work I can blame you for hard work wasted

    Luckily I'm usually never too far from rocks on my local trails so always use them.

    If I was to build a structure from wood that will last,(pretty much all conifer in the area)is it better to build it as,log then clay, then log,and so on,or is it good enough to just get a pile of logs and completely cover them in dirt?

  35. #35
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sofakinold View Post
    The clay I cover logs with seals the wood from O2 and is nonpermible to moisture. It drys very hard and does not promote habitat. Once sealed from air and water the wood is preserved.
    Do you have a lot of mushrooms growing on your structures?

  36. #36
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    Quote Originally Posted by dk11 View Post
    So if I try this and it doesn't work I can blame you for hard work wasted

    Luckily I'm usually never too far from rocks on my local trails so always use them.

    If I was to build a structure from wood that will last,(pretty much all conifer in the area)is it better to build it as,log then clay, then log,and so on,or is it good enough to just get a pile of logs and completely cover them in dirt?
    Hard Work is good for us. Blame me if you want. Who should I blame for all the hard work that has ended up, for what ever reason, going no where.

    Rock is better to buck up dirt structure . I use the wood because rock is harder to transport and in short supply in places. Mostly backing and fill for berms, not stacks. If you use the logs, close up as much of the gaps with the clay. And completely cover.

  37. #37
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    Quote Originally Posted by UncleTrail View Post
    Do you have a lot of mushrooms growing on your structures?
    Not once they're covered in clay.

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    In Florida we have this stuff called sugar sand. Great way to manage it is by putting pine needles down on the trail. Where pine needles aren't available (rare) we throw some leaves down and after a few people come through and pack it in, it creates a stable surface. Much more so than pine needles by themselves or sugar sand by itself. Not sure if this is something that could help or not, figured i'd throw it out there though.

  39. #39
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    Quote Originally Posted by buryurfear14 View Post
    In Florida we have this stuff called sugar sand. Great way to manage it is by putting pine needles down on the trail. Where pine needles aren't available (rare) we throw some leaves down and after a few people come through and pack it in, it creates a stable surface. Much more so than pine needles by themselves or sugar sand by itself. Not sure if this is something that could help or not, figured i'd throw it out there though.
    Can you bring me about 500,000 tons of pine needles here please?



    We have plenty of sand and crumbly limestone, and a summer with somewhere around 100 plus/minus days with no rain.
    "The physician heals, Nature makes well" - real fortune cookie

    CCCMB trail work for trail access - SLO, CA

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