"Getting good mud". It is a term that gives ATV enthusiasts a shiver of excitement and gives ATV anti’s a shudder of disgust. True, there is good mud, and bad mud. The so called "bad" kind is tied to real or imagined environmental damage of one kind or another. Sometimes damage is unavoidable and even necessary. There is a minority of people who abuse the privilege ATVing, and unfortunately that casts doubt on the integrity of all ATVers. Responsible trail maintenance is a must for all ATV enthusiasts.
Unless an ATV trail is over hard ground, or is improved with road rock or Class 5 gravel, mud is inevitable. Nubbly ATV tires bite at the earth and can quickly shred vegetation in wheel paths. Ensuing ruts collect water and do not drain, creating more mud. Add wet weather, and you have a real mud party. A little mud is fun, but a little can turn into a lot in a heartbeat. Soon an area can become impossible to cross. Corrections and repairs should happen before a mud problem grows to insurmountable proportions. The right fix will not only correct trail problems, but will prevent them from happening in the future. There are a number of ways to fix a mud mess, ranging from bridging, to shoring, to filling. Which method you choose depends upon how "bad" your mud is and often you travel a particular trail.
For trail areas that are just beginning to show muddy patches, the easiest fix is often a simple planting of vegetation. Hardy grasses, as well as clover and other perennials can do the trick. Mowing or trimming are not needed. Thirsty plants wick up excess water and put a plant layer between your quad wheels and the soil. In areas more frequently traveled, ATV tires may kill some of the plantings, but the center path will still hold enough water seeking flora to help keep trails more dry.
Fill er’ Up
Small muddy areas, dips, divots or wash boarding are the next easiest trail problems to fix. It is best, but not mandatory, to let the area dry out some before you begin. Generally, a fill of 1-1/2 inch road rock topped with class 5 gravel are all that is needed. Loosely fill the problem area with road rock. Add a 1-2 inch layer of class 5 gravel and finish it slightly rounded. Don’t worry about smoothing and pack finishing the Class 5. Between riding over the area, and the leveling effect of a good rain, your "patch" should set up within a two or three weeks. Some hot sunny weather will further "set" the clay in the Class 5. If rain is not in the forecast, you might consider lightly watering the area to help set the gravel. Some additional gravel to the rough spots a month or so later will finish up the job.
For areas that are alternately wet and dry, like swamp edges or drainage deltas, a substrate of chain link fencing with road rock over drain tile can be a fast, easy and relatively inexpensive fix. The area to be repaired should not be completely muddy, but not completely dry either. First fill deeper pockets with road rock or even put unopened bags of Quik-rete in deeper divots. Choose drainage areas, dig them out, and put in 6 inch fabric wrapped drain tile shoed up with road rock. Put the drain tile just deep enough so that 3 inches of soil over it brings it even with your trail. With the base and drain tile in place, roll out 6-7 foot wide chain link fencing over the surface and finish with another inch of so of road rock. With water directed through the drain tile, the area will settle and dry in a few days or weeks, depending on weather. The chain link also will keep your quad from sinking in holes until they fill in naturally.
For swamps, streams, drainages or other areas that are simply too wet to be traversed, you will need to build some sort of crossover structure. A simple crossover could be a string of palettes. Palettes made of hardwood, like oak, are best. Problematic with palettes however, are tire popping nails that come out as the wood ages. If an area is not highly traveled and not wet year round, palettes could be a simple a solution.
A more permanent type of crossover is "corduroy". Imagine the look of corduroy fabric. Place fresh cut logs 4-6 inches in diameter and 8 feet long, perpendicular to the trail for the entire length of the area to be crossed. Make sure the logs are tight against each other. Shore up the ends with road rock, ramping the access points so the logs don’t roll. Corduroy has the advantage of allowing water flow without causing a dam effect, but has the disadvantage of washing out in heavy drainage situations. Corduroy works in areas with shallow mud or wet areas, but deeper wet areas require more structure. Corduroy can be topped with road rock or Class 5 gravel for added stability.
The most permanent solution is bridging. A bridge structure can be simple instead of engineered. Stream crossings may require an engineered bridge and that is beyond the scope of this article. Drainages, swamp funnels or other narrow crossings can be bridged with a simple structure called a "floating" bridge. The bridging does not actually float, but it is not attached to or supported by poured cement pilings. Instead, start with cement blocks, placing blocks 4 feet apart widthwise, and every four feet the length of the area to be crossed. You can make your crossing straight, or curved. Place 8-foot, 4x6, or 6x6 green treat lumber, railroad tie fashion, using the blocks for support. Shore up areas that are uneven with brick or rock placed under the cement blocks. Using galvanized 4 inch twist nails, affix 8 foot green treat 2x12’s perpendicular to the 6x6 support beam stringers. Ramp each end of your bridge for easy on and off. Oak palettes are useful for ramping. Use them as a base and nail 2x12’s to connect the palettes to your bridge. Even though this type of bridge is not permanently attached to the ground, the enormous weight of it keeps it from washing away in all but the worst flood conditions.
Divide and Conquer
Sometimes an area becomes just plain hopeless and you will have to abandon your trail and reroute it to higher dry ground with better drainage. A rule of thumb for blazing ATV trails, is to first mark your way with surveyors tape or reusable FireTape, marking out the path your want your trail to go. Mark trees to be cut by notching them. Take your compass so your trail goes the most direct route without meandering. Once this planning step has been done, cutting a new ATV trail can go three times as fast, especially if you have a helper or two. Remove logs, fill holes, and level areas that tilt more than a 20 degree slant to avoid tip-overs. Helpful tools in blazing ATV trails, are a chain saw, brush whacker, pruner, crescent saw and shovel.
Timing is Everything
Like most things in life, your timing for the use and repair of ATV trails is important. Racing around on your quad in early spring when the frost is coming out of the ground makes a huge mess that will require a lot of work later. Better to wait till the ground dries out. Repairing trails when there is standing water will often result in doing the work twice. Better to wait for trails to drain. However, a damaged trail that gets too dry is equally difficult to repair, especially in clay type soils. And don’t be tempted to do a quick fix or to cheap out on repair materials. You will likely be doing the whole job over again next year.
With wise use, proper care and smart maintenance, your ATV trails will provide years of recreational and utility use, and all your mud will be good!