Lesson Learned: Mark Your Driveway Before Winter

Ever lost a driveway? In deep winter snow it can happen. You could stray off course, create ruts in your yard and set up a big mess come spring thaw.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: Daniel Johnson

You might assume that it’s difficult (or impossible?) to misplace a driveway. Whether it’s paved, gravel or just plain dirt, a driveway always follows a predictable path and never changes location unless you want it to.

But take it from me, during the winter, it really is possible to misplace your driveway. If you live in a snowy region of the upper Midwest like I do, once it disappears under the snow, you might not lay your eyes on it again until the following spring. Compounding this problem is that farm driveways are often lengthy, meandering through open areas with grass on either side. While hundreds (thousands?) of trips up and down a driveway ensures that you know approximately where it is, “approximately” isn’t always good enough when it comes to plowing and snow-blowing.

From experience, I can tell you it’s difficult to stay right on top of a driveway that’s hiding under the snow, and unless you want to constantly dig through the snow and ice to find the ground (a task that’s increasingly difficult as winter progresses), there will be times when you clear snow a little too far to the left, or a little too far to the right, and wind up off the center of your driveway.

This isn’t a huge deal during the course of winter itself, but when the spring thaw comes, watch out. As the driveway melts free (slowly, of course, because you’ve packed it down with your vehicles), you’re bound to discover that you’re driving with one set of wheels on the driveway and the other set off in the seemingly bottomless muddy ground. Some relatives are having trouble with their driveway this winter because the plow path was off from the start, so they’ve been driving in large part through their muddy yard.

When this happens, you’ll almost certainly get stuck eventually unless you have a high-clearance vehicle, ideally with four-wheel drive. Even with a good truck, you still want to avoid this because you’ll rut up your yard and create a ditch one the side of the driveway where water will gather. That’s quite a mess to clean up in the spring.

All this is a roundabout way of saying that I’ve learned my lesson—in the fall, before winter sets in, I recommend marking the edges of your driveway by some means you can see no matter how deep the snow gets. Even a few widely-spaced T-posts can be enough to keep plow trucks and snow blowers on course and avoid the muddy mess of off-course snow clearing.

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Is it attractive? Not really. Is it a nuisance to put up and take down? Somewhat, and it can take some time if you have a long driveway. But on farms, function typically outranks form, and if you struggle with accurately clearing your driveway during the winter, marking the route can save you a lot of aggravation and cleanup in the spring.

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