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It’s Been a Soggy Spring and Summer

You know we’ve had a lot of rain in the Southeast when the Seattle forecast is consistently drier than ours. Georgia’s summer is the 4th wettest on record, looking back 135 years. And, the long range outlook for the fall shows that the wet trend will continue. Our trails have been rode hard and put up wet, so Erik Rippon, President of SORBA Chattanooga offers some advice for riders, and it applies whether you’re riding in Chattanooga or elsewhere.

Please remember our trails must dry prior to use to avoid long-term damage.

Some ask, "why?", this is mountain biking, after all, and mud is part of enjoying trails." Well, that may be your perception, but that should not be the reality.

When trails are used during wet conditions (typically 18-24 hours after a rain, longer when we have had sustained rains) there are a number of negative consequences that can arise. One such example would be any area of the trail where water can puddle will often quickly grow in size as riders attempt to bypass, making the problem worse. Another consequence can be rapid wearing of grade reversals that are designed to shed water on downhill sections of trail. These grade reversals are what many believe are jumps on our trails. When these grade reversals become worn in the center they no longer allow water to shed properly, allowing H2O to gain enough momentum to erode the trail surface. As erosion worsens, the trail becomes ditch-like, and very difficult to repair.

What factors play a role in the amount of damage that occurs to a trail during wet conditions? First and foremost, soil composition; more rock means greater resistance to damage, more clay means much more damage during wet conditions. Secondly, trail design and grade; steep trails are more likely to erode in wet conditions, due to water running down, not across, the trail, and trail users slipping or skidding during climbs and descents. More opportunities for water to shed from the trail, like proper outslope and grade reversals and dips, allow the trail to be used more quickly after rain, but do not allow it to be used in rain or while the soil is saturated.

Lastly, the greatest factor that plays a role in how quickly a trail can be used after a rain is the volunteer workforce willing to repair damage to trails used in less-than-ideal conditions. If each of the trails maintained by SORBA-Chattanooga (or any SORBA chapter) had a small army maintaining them, much like White Oak Mountain, they would be able to be used more quickly after a rain and be in far better condition in general.

So, with the above said, here are some things you can do to help make our trails better:

  1. Avoid the trails for 18-24 hours after a rain (some days this time period is longer or shorter)
  2. If you see a puddle, ride through it, not around it.
  3. If you ride the trails in our community, please volunteer at 1 workday every 6 months. If riders did this in our community we would have nearly 4000 additional volunteer hours per year over what is contributed today (500 riders x 1 workday at 4 ours x 2 times per year). This would result in near-perfect trail conditions almost all of the time.
  4. Lastly, please heed the advice of those that care for and manage the trails in our community. When individuals ask that you avoid a trail due to conditions, please respect their advice and ride on the road, The Guild Trail, indoors, or at a trail that is considered acceptable for use.

Thanks for taking the time to read this! Happy Trails!