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What Do You Do When Your Driveway Turns Into A River?

Kentucky’s unexpected January monsoon season has left Mr. B and I grappling with how to keep our gravel driveway from washing away.

by Rachael DupreeJanuary 20, 2017
PHOTO: Stephan/Flickr

Our farm is located in what can only be described as “hill country.” When we moved in, Mr. B and I couldn’t have been more thrilled with hills and hollers that cascade our property, creating amazingly diverse ecosystems crammed into one tiny piece of land. However, with stars in our eyes as newbie landowners, what we hadn’t yet seen is the trouble that weather can bring to such terrain.

Of course, we knew that winter would bring some interesting challenges, and we’ve created backup plans—and backup plans to the backup plans—for how we’d get down our steep, curvy driveway when a major snow or ice storm hit. (Let’s just say we’d be relying heavily on our trusty UTV, Delia the Intimidator, and some really good snow boots.) What we’ve yet to think about is the rain.

Well, in the past 10 days, we’ve had nothing but—giving us plenty of time to ruminate on that issue while our driveway washes away and our hillsides turn into mush. Besides the fact that we’ve experienced a new strain of cabin fever—one that doesn’t include snowball fights or snow angels—we’ve been faced with the serious challenge of how to keep the most basic of farm infrastructure in place while the rain makes everything a soggy, sloppy mess.

We’ve determined that even before we plant seeds or invite chickens to come live on our farm, we need to prioritize building up our driveway so that a river doesn’t run through it every time a “gully washer” hits. To some, driveway upkeep might not seem like a big deal, but to us, it’s huge. Our house sits back a quarter mile from the road and the last 100 feet or so includes a steep 45-degree incline. We use the driveway to access many of the important parts of our farm, such as the garden and the bee hill, but as you may well assume, it’s also our point of entry to the world. We all may very well take our driveways for granted until they’re no longer serving us like we need them to.

What the rain has announced loud and clear is that we can’t put off driveway maintenance any longer, particularly on the steep parts that downpours affect more heavily. Not knowing when our driveway last received a load of fresh gravel, we figure this is as good a time as any to do order a load—once it’s less mushy, of course. Here are some other driveway tips we’ve garnered from those more experienced at life in this area.

Go Coarse, Or Go Home

We were advised that on the steeper part of our driveway, we should lay down a coarser layer of gravel under the standard grade used. Slightly larger, sharper rock will dig into the ground a bit better and help prevent erosion and puddling.

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Watch Where You Drive

Something we never had to think about on our paved city driveways was where we drove. We just pulled up and jumped out—it was as simple as that. Here, particularly on the portions of the driveway that wash out more easily, it’s important to take care to make sure our tires touch different parts on different trips so that we don’t create an indentation that rushing water will naturally gravitate to.

Maintain Often

One thing we haven’t equipped ourselves yet is a box grader, but we’re learning this may need to move up on our tool-needs list. Thankfully, we have a neighbor who has helped us level off our driveway when needed, but it couldn’t hurt for us to perform this maintenance more often.

Divert Water Flow

A secondary goal for our driveway will be to find a solution to reroute and slow the speed of the water flow. While this will require some additional research on our end, some ideas we have include trenches, water bars or drain pipes.

If All Else Fails, Pave It

It has crossed our minds that we may need to pave a portion of our drive should the washing out become expensive to maintain. This obviously isn’t our first option, as paving can be costly, but it could be a solution for some of the troublesome areas around the hill and near the house.

The recent and unexpected January rainy season surely has been a test of our grit as new rural dwellers—just one of the many lessons I’m sure we’ll learn during our days here.

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