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Maintaining Forest Roads

For most forest landowners roads are considered an asset for forest management. They provide access for recreation, monitoring, timber harvesting equipment, fire suppression and other activities. Spring and early summer are an excellent time of year for landowners to survey their roads to determine where maintenance may be required.

 Did you know roads are the number one source of sediment on forest lands? Most sediment production occurs in the first two or three years after construction.

 Once road cuts and fills have been stabilized with vegetation, sediment production decreases significantly. Established roads can continue to be a source of sediment if they are not maintained properly. Excessive sediment in streams and other water bodies is a form of water pollution.

 Important road features to evaluate are stream crossings, culvert locations and road surface drainage features such as water bars, drain dips and water diverters. If these features are functioning properly sediment production is minimized and road damage from erosion can be prevented.

 Check stream crossings to be sure water draining from road surfaces and ditches does not directly enter the stream. Water should be diverted into stable, vegetated areas that can filter sediments. Check culverts to make sure inlets and outlets have not been blocked with debris or damaged. A blocked culvert can result in road washouts that are expensive to correct and damaging to the environment. Timely removal of debris can prevent this from occurring. Blockage is most likely to occur in conjunction with spring snowmelt or severe rainstorms.

Clean debris from ditches so it is not washed into cross-drain culverts (culverts which pass water from the inside ditch beneath the road to the toe of the fill slope). Ditch debris can block culverts and prevent ditches from draining properly. Check water bars and drain dips to ensure they are functioning properly. If functioning properly, water will be directed off the road surface onto a stable well-vegetated area. One common problem is ruts, which allow water to flow through dips and continue down the road surface. Drain dips, water bars and water diverters may also collect sediment deposits that limit their effectiveness. These problems can sometimes be corrected with a hand shovel. Severe problems might require heavy equipment to reconstruct the drainage feature.

Examine the road surface and fill slopes for signs of erosion such as rills and gullies. The presence of erosion may indicate the road surface lacks proper water drainage and needs grading. Ruts can be another problem. Ruts channel water and prevent proper road surface drainage and increase erosion potential. Ruts can be avoided by preventing motor vehicles from using roads when they are soft. Many forest owners restrict vehicle traffic during “spring breakup” for this reason.

Disturbed soils associated with roads are excellent seedbeds for weeds. Bare soil should be seeded with an appropriate grass mix to limit weed establishment and protect the soil from erosion. Detecting and controlling small weed infestations early can result in significant cost savings.

A professional road inventory can identify road maintenance problems and recommend cost effective maintenance solutions. Road drainage features such as culverts, drain dips and water bars must be properly constructed and maintained to perform effectively. Landowners who observe and correct minor road maintenance problems early can save money, protect water quality and benefit from continued use of their valuable forest road system.

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