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ATV Trail Maintenance – Erosion Control


A few years ago I attended a trails conference in South Dakota, and we learned a variety of ways to keep water from destroying pathways and roads. Runoff was the largest part of the conversation, focusing on rainwater and snow melt. 

Admittedly, when I hike, bike, or ride my ATV along a trail, water drainage isn't something I consider. In fact, when I'm jetting along the trail and I encounter a stream or mud puddle, my first inclination is to goose it and splash through the water.

H2O Destructive

Water likes the path of least resistance, and when it drains down a hillside, it quickly causes damage. As it gains speed, it becomes more erosive, sometimes eating away entire trails. While it may be fun to ride your ATV straddled over these water channels, unattended trail water can create chasms that erode the surface to dangerously narrow widths, exposing underground hazards like boulders, culverts and stumps. To keep trails safe and in proper condition, it's important to control how and where water crosses. 

Erosion Control

  1. Construction 
    Incorporate water drainage into trails during the build phase. The path should follow natural water control features (plants, trees, slope angle, soil types). Graded trails should have a slight down slope to the outside (0.5%-2%) to help water drain the length of the trail.
  2. Culverts
    Installing drainage pipes wher streams, runoff, or seasonal flow crosses dramatically improves trail health while reducing maintenance needs.
  3. Check Dams
    Use rocks or logs to slow water flow and catch mud and debris. Check dams should be perpendicular to the trail; these require maintenance over time.
  4. Water Bars
    Perhaps the most common and easy to construct, water bars are a quick fix to trail erosion. 

What's a Water Bar?

Water bars are placed diagonally across a path, dug into the earth similar to a dyke or a trench, to help direct water runoff away from trails. If you're interested in trail maintenance and want an idea of how to construct one, here's a quick breakdown. Note: Never perform maintenance on public trails without approval. 

  1. Look for areas where water naturally runs off the trail
  2. Dig a trench roughly 10-18 inches deep and wide at an angle to funnel water off the trail
  3. Line the downhill side with large rocks, packing smaller rocks and dirt around them. Reinforce the sides where water will hit hardest
  4. Pack tight and backfill with dirt. Build a sizeable mound to ensure ATV tires won't pack it down too far

This post was created by guest blogger Ryan Richards

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