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Featured Project: Environmentally Sensitive Maintenance (ESM) for Dirt & Gravel Roads/Trails

county map
Grantee: The Pennsylvania State University
State: PA
Basin Program Funds: $ 67,979
Project Duration: 24 months
Project Type: Demonstration

Headwaters Conservation Park, 35.8 acres of public parklands, is maintained by the Erie County Conservation District (District) as an outdoor environmental classroom dedicated to the mission of environmental education and conservation of natural resources. Located in the headwaters of Mill Creek just south of Erie, PA, the park contains 5000 feet of unpaved service roads and walking trails. Sediment from these roads and trails pollute Mill Creek. Park management plans called for road and trail improvements to eliminate the pollution to Mill Creek and showcase on-site examples of viable, long-term sediment control practices.


Photo courtesy of Penn. State University
The problem of sediment from unpaved roads is far-reaching. Pennsylvania alone has over 20,000 miles of publicly owned unpaved roads along with untold miles of driveways, lanes, and farm access roads. The impact of runoff on stream quality and aquatic habitat has been a growing concern in Pennsylvania over the last two decades. The sediment contribution of unpaved transportation corridors throughout the Great Lakes Basin cannot be overstated.

In 1997, Pennsylvania created the Dirt and Gravel Road Maintenance Program to address the problem. Since that time, the Program and the Center for Dirt and Gravel Road Studies at Penn State have partnered to advance educational/research and provide technical assistance to municipalities that own and maintain these roads. This project brings Environmentally Sensitive Maintenance (ESM) to Headwaters Park and to the Great Lakes Basin.

The following road and trail improvements were installed:

1. Conveyor belt diversions were used on park access roads to force surface drainage off roadway to stable vegetated area to eliminate sediment pollution from neighboring properties and reduce long-term road maintenance.

2. French mattress was installed at park access road. French mattress is coarse stone wrapped in geo-textile fabric designed to convey water beneath road or trail surface, and is placed at location where storm water overtops and erodes the road.

3. Two existing fords were stabilized across Mill Creek. The fords allow vehicles to cross the stream and access educational areas/structures in the park. Each of the ford bases were strengthened and surfaces of entrance/exit were enhanced to minimize streambank erosion and eliminate sediment runoff from entering the channel.

4. Three cross pipes were installed to allow trail drainage, spring seeps and seasonal surface flow to cross underneath the trail in secure locations with the outlets draining to stable vegetative filter areas. Prior to this, drainage was channeled to ditches that carry sediment directly to stream.

5. The access road and vehicle turnaround area located in the floodplain were repaired and resurfaced with Driving Surface Aggregate (DSA) to stabilize the travel way.

6. 9 weatherproof signs were installed along the road and trail to explain various ESM Practices used.

7. Information brochures were produced for use in the park's outdoor classroom.

8. Two 2-day training workshops on ESM were planned. The first training was held as part of on-site demonstration day at Headwaters Park. The second training will take place in the lower Michigan area at a site to be determined.

ESM training equips road and trail owners with knowledge, understanding and practical tools to maintain unpaved roads and trails in an environmentally sensitive manner. The two free trainings focus on low-cost, effective solutions to reduce pollution and maintenance associated with unpaved roads. Several hundred training announcement flyers and invitations were sent out to nearby transportation and environmental groups from Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ontario, Canada. Invited groups included State DOTs, County Maintenance Departments, Bureaus of Forestry, and other transportation and environmental groups. Attendees are given a comprehensive training outline that included more than 20 technical documents about specific ESM practices. Attendees also receive an ESM compact disc reference guide.

9. ESM practices were incorporated into over 1,200 feet of access road, and 900 feet of walking trail throughout the road and trail system, simultaneously improving the park infrastructure and reducing future maintenance needs. Staff members from the Center for Dirt and Gravel Road Studies and the Erie Conservation District were on-site during project work to insure proper installation of ESM practices.

Before tile installation After tile installation
Before and after photos of the drain tile installation. Photos courtesy of Penn. State University

Both the on-the-ground project and the educational effort were deemed a success by the Center for Dirt and Gravel Road Studies and Project Partners, the Erie County Conservation District.

Great Lakes Commission des Grands Lacs.  2805 S. Industrial Highway, Suite 100.  Ann Arbor, MI  48104-6791.  phone: 734/971.9135.  fax: 734/971-9150.  www.glc.org. GLIN Partner