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Waterloo State Recreation Area – Erosion

If you got here from the app, you’re looking at the effects of erosion right now.  Erosion can hit anywhere, but is especially serious anywhere with steep hills, loose soil, heavy traffic, or no plant cover.  Waterloo State Recreation Area has all of those at once in the southern equestrian trail area.

  • Steep hills from the ridgeline to the north.
  • The soil is a loose mix of loose gravel and sand.
  • With horses going up and down very steep hills, it’s hard to not have erosion, although mountain bikes, even hikers, can cause it, too.
  • The traffic up and down the hill has stripped all the vegetation.

Not only is there plenty of erosion, as people have chosen trails adjacent to existing erosion trails, they’ve created many new erosion trails, leading to almost an alluvial fan type of pattern of heavily eroded trails.  Fortunately, you can actually help to reduce the damaging effects of erosion.

  • Stay on the established trails, even if there’s a little mud on it.  Walking to the side, or around existing trails may keep your boots clean, but can create a new erosion path.
  • If you walk off-trail, your group should walk side-by-side, not single-file, so the damage to the ground cover is spread out over a larger area, making it easier to recover.  This also leaves less trace so others are less likely to follow the same track.
  • Avoid going straight up or down steep hills.
  • Never cut switchbacks, no matter how much you hate them.  Switchbacks reduce erosion.
  • The second most damaging time for erosion is when the trails are wet and muddy.  Walking on more or less flat trail may not do much damage, but if you’re slipping on wet trail, you probably shouldn’t be there.  This is especially true for mountain bikes and horses.
  • The most damaging time is in the early spring, just as the ground is thawing.  With the ground frozen solid just under the surface, but thawed and muddy above it, there’s nothing to hold the ground together.  It’s also more tempting to walk the edges of the trail, making them wider, and the erosion damage worse.  It’s probably best to stay off the trails entirely when trails are in this shape.  Don’t worry.  It only lasts a week or two.

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This page is just a small part of the Waterloo State Recreation Area app.

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