Road Maintenance on Your Dirt Road
Low-tech solutions often are best for assuring a long, healthy life for your dirt road or driveway.
Most of the time, living on a country road feels almost like heaven, as John Denver sang. But when your darling dirt road turns to mud soup after a rain or your ditches overflow into your fields, living on a country road can feel more like being stuck in purgatory.
If it’s a public road you live on, you may be literally stuck – at least until the government road grader bails you out. But if you own the road or share ownership of a road with your neighbors and feel you’re forever struggling to keep it passable, take heart: There are solutions.
In some parts of the country, road improvement is no longer optional. Wildfires that scorched the West have emphasized the need for better road access for firefighting equipment; new ordinances are mandating wider roads with better turnarounds. Environmental studies show that much freshwater pollution and soil erosion is caused by unchecked runoff from dirt roads, prompting calls for improved road construction and drainage on private as well as public byways.
You may be thinking, “Right. But I can’t afford to fix the road.”
That might not be the case, according to Richard Casale, district conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, based in Capitola, California.
“There are some things that can be done to significantly improve a road and increase its longevity without having to cost an enormous amount of money,” Casale says. A believer in low-tech solutions for the average homesteader, Casale also explains that installing expensive structures like culverts can create new problems.
“It gives you a false sense of security when you put a structure in,” he says. “Every structure requires maintenance.”
How to best deal with your road depends on its original construction, soil, climate, traffic and other factors. But all roads share some common traits.
Russ Lanoie, of Conway, New Hampshire, whose business includes dirt and gravel road construction and maintenance, says problems with dirt and gravel roads can be boiled down to three principles: “Drainage. Drainage. Drainage.” Whether you have ruts, potholes, gullies, roadside erosion, cave-ins or ditches that look like lakes, the root of the problem is usually the road’s inability to handle water.
The key to good drainage is to cooperate with nature, not to battle it, according to Kevin Abbey, director of the Center for Dirt and Gravel Road Studies at Pennsylvania State University. Try to discover the natural drainage patterns of the landscape around your road and accommodate the water flow.
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