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March 7/09 11:55 am - Trail Erosion Alert for Southern Ontario

Posted by Editor on 03/7/09

After a long cold winter in Southern Ontario many mountain bikers are just itching to ride. Between abundant snow and very cold temperatures, off road enthusiasts have been largely kept off their bikes for weeks. The arrival of record warm weather today [Friday, March 6th] means that many want to head out on to the trails right away.

There is a problem. The frost line went very deep this winter, thanks to the cold temperatures. Even though the surface has thawed, the ground is still frozen just below the surface. To make matters worse, the frozen ground prevents the snowmelt from sinking in any further. This means the thawed layer at the surface is absolutely saturated with water, so it is very intolerant of any disturbance. Go riding along a trail and you'll cut through the thawed layer right down to the frozen ground. The thawed layer will end up with trenches from the tire tracks, which will persist even when the soil dries out.

Southern Ontario has had winters like this before. When it happened in the 1990's, and in 2003, the erosion was terrible and some land managers nearly had mountain biking banished. It took the efforts of a lot of people to persuade them that we shouldn't be kicked out permanently. It could be a tough lesson if we abuse the trails now.

If you can be patient, please stay off of the trails until the ground thaws. If you just have to ride, then stick to where there is still snow, because that is an indication that the ground is still frozen. As soon as the soil becomes visible is when the problems start. Bare, wet ground needs to be avoided at all costs.

The first areas that will be available for riding are those with abundant rock or sandy soil, or those with a gravel surface. Talk to your local land manager and ask when they think the trails will be ready. Or even just go out for a road ride. Remember that a day with a half-assed ride is still better than a day without riding!

Our trails are a precious resource. A little bit of forethought now will mean that they will be in good shape in a few weeks time. This announcement is courtesy of MAMBO Kings MTB Club. For more information please visit


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