Water is a major factor – if not THE most significant factor – that causes trail erosion. This damage can be compounded by temperatures fluctuating above and below freezing in what is known as a “freeze-thaw cycle.” This happens as moisture in the dirt freezes and expands, creating a porous texture, rather than the firmly-compacted, solid surface riders and hikers expect of Patapsco’s well-maintained trails.
Freeze-thaw cycles on their own can cause compacted trails to degrade as the frozen water in the dirt forces apart the compacted soil. When the thawed – or partially thawed – trails are heavily used, there is often lasting damage requiring considerable maintenance. A common form of damage is the deep ruts left behind from biker’s tires, which channel water, leading to further erosion. Ruts also retain water and slow trail’s drying process.
Only ride when the dirt is firm and compacted – if you find yourself riding through mud, then trail conditions are not suitable for use that day. If temperatures have been consistently below freezing and conditions are dry, the trails are solid and fine for riding. If temperatures have been hovering around the freezing mark, it’s best to save the ride for another day or find more durable surfaces. Consider biking the Avalon Area’s Grist Mill and River Road trails as an alternate route, or take some time to focus on bike maintenance to get your rig ready for a later date and better trail conditions.
If you are interested in maintaining the trails you enjoy riding on, consider volunteering with the park or the Friends of PVSP! Contact Patapsco Valley Headquarters at (410) 461-5005 for more information or register online. – Ranger Sam Voso