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Maintain Your Forest Roads to Prevent Soil Erosion and Protect Water Quality

Posted: January 13, 2017

As a woodland owner, you are responsible for ensuring that your roads are properly constructed and maintained. Woodland owners who inspect and correct minor road maintenance problems early can save money, protect water quality, and ensure the continued use of their valuable forest road system.

Dirt and gravel roads that run through your forest play an important role in your woodland management. A well-maintained road provides safe access for fire control, recreation, timber harvesting, and other forest management activities; however, poorly constructed and maintained access roads often lead to severe soil erosion and sedimentation into streams. As a woodland owner, you are responsible for ensuring that your roads are properly constructed and maintained. Woodland owners who inspect and correct minor road maintenance problems early can save money, protect water quality, and ensure the continued use of their valuable forest road system.

According to the North Carolina Forest Service publication, “A Guide for Forest Access Road Construction and Maintenance in the Southern Appalachian Mountains,” woodland owners should inspect their forest road system regularly, especially after heavy rainfall, to detect problems and schedule repairs. Examine the roadbed, the road surface, cut banks, fill slopes, stream crossings, and surface drainage structures. To do a thorough inspection, walk the road and don’t just rely on a “drive by” inspection in a vehicle or ATV. 

Specifically, check stream crossings to be sure that water draining from road surfaces and ditches does not directly enter the stream. Divert water that flows off roads into stable, vegetated buffer areas that can filter sediments. Clear debris from culverts, ditches, dips, and other drainage structures to prevent clogging that can lead to washouts. Dispose of debris where it cannot wash back into these structures or into open water. 

It is important to periodically reshape road surfaces to maintain proper surface drainage. Fill ruts and holes with gravel or compacted fill as soon as possible to reduce erosion potential. Remove berms along the edge of the road if they will trap water on the road and not allow it to move into drainage structures. Try to keep traffic to a minimum during wet periods and spring thaw to reduce maintenance needs. 

The North Carolina Forest Service publication, “A Guide For Forest Access Road Construction and Maintenance in the Southern Appalachian Mountains,” is available free on-line. On the rear cover of this publication there is a “Forest Road Maintenance Inspection Checklist” that would be useful when doing road inspections. By taking prompt actions to resolve any problems observed during an inspection, it is possible to save money. Regular road maintenance activities help to ensure minimal disturbance to forest productivity and water quality, along with fish and wildlife habitats.

Additional resources are available to woodland owners, include the Pennsylvania Best Management Practices Task Force publication, "Best Management Practices for Pennsylvania Forests," and Forest Stewardship Bulletin Number 12, of the same name. The Pennsylvania Sustainable Forestry Initiative Implementation Committee has a web page with numerous resources on Best Management Practices.

Contact Information

George Hurd
  • Extension Educator, Penn State Extension
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