Corduroy Roads

Photo by Ben Hudson.

It’s not unusual for landowners in this part of the world to find themselves on one side of a wet area with a need to get to the other side. This can be a vexing problem. Boggy areas often don’t freeze well despite cold temperatures, and this can be enough to keep even the most adventurous cross-country skiers out.

Corduroy roads, made of logs laid perpendicular to the direction of travel, have been used to cross wet areas since Roman times. While corduroy does not provide the sort of permanent, solid roadbed that a skidder would need, it can be adequate for small tractors, hikers, and cross-country skiers. Corduroy is much cheaper to install than a spread gravel surface, and usually the materials can be taken right from the property. Corduroy is also a much more ecologically sensitive choice for crossing a wet area, since the logs mimic the natural process of trees falling into a wet area as they die, adding further organic matter to the soil. There are some drawbacks to using corduroy, however. It won’t work well under heavy equipment. Horses are also said to disdain corduroy. And it won’t work on every site. The logs will need to have some sort of solid bed to sit on – a rocky wet area works well, or a wet area with mineral soils or clay hardpan. Areas of deep muck or peat with no mineral soil or rock underneath are likely to not work well. There may also be wetland regulations you’ll need to comply with, so be certain to check your state and local wetland guidelines and permitting regulations before you start felling poles.

Corduroy roads should be constructed in the winter or during the driest time of year, usually late August and early September. Once you’ve determined where you want to make your crossing, install waterbars to divert any surface runoff before it can get to the wet spot. Six-inch-diameter logs will provide adequate strength and minimize bumpiness. In choosing materials, logs from locust are superior; hemlock and tamarack are the next best choices. Spruce and fir are serviceable but will not be as long-lasting as the other species. If you expect your road to get a fair amount of use or if your soils are on the muckier side, consider laying geotextile or fabric before you place the logs. Geotextile is a synthetic, permeable layer that will help support the logs and discourage them from sinking into the wetland. The fabric will increase the load capacity of your corduroy and help extend its lifetime.

Once you’ve laid down the logs, they will take some time to settle and will move around a bit if you drive over them with a tractor. Keep an eye on the water table to make sure your cross drainage is adequate, and add more opportunities for water to get around the logs if the road is acting as a dam. Your corduroy will likely improve with time as it becomes part of the wooded landscape.

  1. Judi → in Ontario
    Feb 07, 2016

    How do you put waterbars in the corduroy road? Do you dig waterbars first, then lay the logs?

    I have a mucky part keeping me from accessing a stream and the other side. Need a “path” of sorts, plus a bridge. But, I am wondering about the “Waterbar” bit.


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