By Ashley Hesson, VORC

No doubt about it, this has been a weird winter. But then again, we did have record floods in September last fall. And then 50 degrees in February? Surely not! Except that day when it was. Then 4 days later we were in single digits with blustery winds. Yep. It’s Iowa. Weird weather not only wreaks havoc on moods and immune systems, it does a number on off-road trails too. A tough nugget to swallow when you’re trying to build a fantastic trail system in town! Vinton Off-Road Cyclists (or VORC) are a group of people joined by their passion for being outside and being active, particularly on bicycles. In less than a year, the group has planned, created and made open to the public about 3 miles of trails along the Cedar River near Lions Field and the bottom of the sledding hill. The trails are all dirt surface: no pavement, gravel, or cinders. This makes for a very forgiving surface, but it also creates a very fragile surface when the ground is soft…like when it freezes, then thaws…then freezes, then thaws, then freezes…and well, you get the point.

It only takes one trip through a soft trail to leave an impact that will take hours to fix. When the ground isn’t dry or frozen enough to support the weight of passers-by, it leaves the imprint of who or whatever went over it. Feet, tires, hooves, or paws – all can be immortalized on off-road trails when the conditions are wrong. The imprints, or ruts, can harden to the point of being almost impossible to fix. This makes the trail difficult or even dangerous for others to use. The damaged trail must be chopped up, reshaped, smoothed, and compressed all over again. Volunteers then spend hours redoing work they’ve already poured blood, sweat, and even tears into.

The deer and other wildlife are going to leave tracks – there’s just no way around that. But we humans can exercise good judgment when we approach the trails. If you’re leaving indented tracks: head back to hard surfaces. When the weather teeters on freezing and thawing, try early morning or late evening when the sun isn’t hitting it – the ground may still be frozen.

You can always check the VORC Facebook page or the website – there will be notices about the trails being Open, Closed, or Limited.

Those definitions mean the following:

CLOSED means the trails are too wet, soft, or ice covered for any kind of use. Please come back another day!
LIMITED means the trails are partially wet, soft, or ice covered. Use caution and good judgment. If you’re leaving tracks, turn back and try another day.
OPEN means the trails are in good shape and ready for use!

Still, use your best judgment, and think of the other people who will use the trails in the days to come. It’s hard to turn around once you get your heart set on off-roading. But let the trails live to see another day – there’s always tomorrow!