Fallen Trees and Trail Maintenance
By David Mcmahon
When a tree falls in the woods, whether or not anyone hears it, the result is often a dead tree trunk laying across a trail. The usual response of an earnest trail worker is to cut all the way through the log at either side of the trail, remove the severed section between the cuts, returning the trail to its original status. This is some people's version of trail maintenance, but another approach is possible. There are at least four alternatives to just cutting out the log.
First, leave the log as it is. If the log is less than eight inches in diameter, most mountain bikers can ride over it. Easy! (Even if it is more than eight inches thick, many riders can still ride over the log by using their big chainring to claw over the log.)
Option two: Make a detour trail around it. A detour trail puts three new turns in the trail, which makes it slower, but more interesting. A detour also lengthens the trail. Detour trails are particularly useful if the top of the tree with all of its branches landed across the trail.
Widening a trail is rarely desirable, but creating a detour is often okay. A detour even improves the trail if the detour dips downhill and then back up to the original trail, or goes uphill and back down to the original trail. Even if this elevation change is small, the detour will have created a "broad-based dip." A broad-based dip serves the same purpose as a water bar or rolling grade dip. During the next thunderstorm water should drain off the trail at the low point of the dip. It is this storm water that runs down undrained trails and erodes them. And this occurs when bikers are not out riding on the trial, and over time, so most riders do not notice.
Option three: Notch the log. If the log is too big around for most folks to ride over, and if a detour will not work, then go ahead and cut it, but don't cut all the way through the log. Cut a notch in the log deep and wide enough for mountain bikes to get up, over and through what's left of the log. What's left of the log is a natural water bar, and riding over and through the notch is fun and slows bikers. Cool! (Be sure that the notch you leave is at least 16 inches wide so bikers don't catch a pedal on the edge and take a bad tumble.)
The fourth option is to make a ramp over the log. Pile smaller logs parallel to the log on one or both sides, if necessary. Big rocks also make decent ramps. It's a good idea to put pegs in the ground to keep the outermost log from rolling out from under the pile, and maybe daub some mud on top the logs to hold them.
So don't just cut downed trees and remove them from the trail. Leave them, detour around them, notch them, or ramp them.
David McMahon is the Mountain Bike Chair of the West Virginia Environmental Council. He often performs trail maintenance in the local Kanawha State Forest.
The author rides over a log.
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