Why ATV Trail Maintenance is Important
By Midwest Traction on July 27, 2018
ATV maintenance is crucial to the ATV riding community. Without it, trails would fall by the wayside and riding could become treacherous. Land that’s designated for ATV use is often multi-purpose, so it’s imperative that the community bands together to ensure respect and care of the land. One of the best ways to do that is to be educated and assist in trail maintenance.
Trail Maintenance and Erosion Control
When doing any kind of maintenance, the goal is to maximize natural structures to prevent erosion while using Best Management Practices (BMP).
Why does it matter?
Erosion causes a host of problems for an ecosystem. Sediment runoff into water changes the temperature which can encourage algae blooms that then suffocate out plants and fish due to lack of sunlight. Sediment transports contaminants as well, but erosion creates potholes, ruts, washouts, and more.
Runoff tends to be the biggest problem. Water takes the path of least resistance, which is usually with gravity down a hillside. Depending on the slope, water can gain speed and cause mudslides, washouts, and take away entire ATV trails.
As an ATV rider, it’s important to be mindful of puddle jumping. While it’s fun to splash around on your ATV, too much splashing can create serious problems that eventually erode riding surfaces to narrower widths, expose underground hazards (boulders, stumps, culverts), and boost the potential of contamination. Control where and how water moves in nature by restricting your water play to areas where water is well insulated from the trail and other natural structures that could wash away (think rocky waterbeds for ideal places).
If you notice on your rides that trails lack the following items, report it to your local trail crew so that they can make adjustments during the offseason. Look for:
- Water drainage built into trails that whisk water down and away and make sure it's clear of obstructions
- Culverts, which are drainage pipes used to improve trail health. Check for proper drainage and obstructions
- Dams typically are created by nature through logs or rocks to slow water flow and catch mud/debris. Monitor this for sturdiness
- Water bars are diagonally dug into a path, with a design similar to that of a trench with the purpose to move water off the trail. Make sure this is free of blockage
- Bridges should be checked for rot or damage
Always consult with DES (Department of Environmental Services) before creating new paths or proceeding with erosion control, when working with water crossings, dredging, filling in, or disruption of soil anywhere close to water sources.
Land character refers to the slope or grade of the land. The steeper (higher) the slope/grade, the more challenges it presents to erosion control and maintenance. The best practice is to maximize land layout benefits, post clear signage, use natural path areas where possible, and make sure you’re using the proper ATV tires. Incorrect treads cause further damage to terrain that’s easily avoidable.
Wait until things have thawed and properly drained before proceeding with prep maintenance. Use the Forest Service National Quality Standards for trails which can be found on page 25 here. A brief overview of items to remove or fix:
- Drainage systems
- Inspect trails
- Check bridges
It's also a good idea to check the wear on paths, drains, and structure repairs, and reroute trails if they're getting beat up.
The most basic tool needed for trail repair is a shovel. With an ATV tool holder, the shovel handle easily snaps into the 1″ clamp. Shovels are versatile; beyond digging holes and moving dirt, they can be used to roll downed branches out of the way, control prescribed fires, and dig stuck OHV's out of holes.
A quick release chainsaw holder could be invaluable in deep woods during spring. Heavy mountain snows devastate some of the weaker, older growth. Decaying timber falls under the weight winter snow, creating trail blockage. Moose brand chainsaw holder allows safe carriage of dangerous tools to maintenance areas.
A 5-gallon bucket holder would be useful for its varied uses: carrying small tools or water, to name a few. Most hardware or paint stores stock five-gallon buckets with removable lids. A lid-equipped bucket prevents spillage.
Winches are extremely valuable, especially in conjunction with a chainsaw. Logs can be removed with the winch. Winches are also useful for getting unstuck or assisting other riders out of a jam.
Useful for pulling small cargo trailers to haul tools, rocks or even timber for bridge repair.
Volunteers are a crucial component of maintaining trails. Many local clubs will host outings that are publicized to draw resources and volunteers. Check to see if they have a schedule or an email list you can get on. Often these gatherings involve people from the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, county tourism representatives, state park employees, and law enforcement.
Note: Forest Management should be present when using volunteers to ensure proper methods and safety measures are being used.
National Trails Day is the first Saturday of June. This is often a time where people come together to take care of trails they use regularly with projects like:
- Trash collection
- Barrier placement to avoid rutted trails
- Picnic table installation for rider rest stops
- Water bar creation for erosion control
- Fence building
Other ways to contribute?
If manual labor isn't your preferred method of volunteering, there are plenty of other ways to help the ATV community!
- Writing for magazines, blogs, etc
- Teaching safety courses and riding etiquette
- Guiding local rides
- Patrolling trails
- Attending expos
- Lobby official for support
- Land access scouting
If you want to help, join a club, trail committee or contact a local land management agency in your area. If organized groups aren't your thing, bring trash bags on your ride to collect litter, contact local officials to vocalize your support, or just be a responsible, respectful rider who helps keep trails clean and safe.