The Good, the Bad, the Ugly


County maintained road

In this photograph you can see our Great Pyrenees Gracie herding several guineas back toward the safety of our barn area.  They are walking along a stretch of the two mile unpaved road which leads from the paved state highway to our home.   About 3/4 mile of this dirt road lies entirely within the boundaries of our property, and is our means of egress when it is necessary to interact in person with the outside world.

You can see from the photo that the road is in pretty decent shape, and you might conclude that Hal must keep himself busy with the tractor to keep the road in such good condition.  If this was your conclusion, then you would be wrong!  For some reason that predates our residence at this location, the county took this road into the county road system, and as a result, they are responsible for keeping the road in proper maintenance.

There really is no good reason for the county to keep this road in their inventory, as it serves no compelling public need.  We are the only residents that this road serves, yet we get the benefit of having the county absorb the maintenance expenses that inevitably arise.  And that is the good news about having a county road run into your property.  You don’t have to fund a road maintenance budget.  Having said that, I must admit that there is bad news, too.


There are some negative consequences that come about as a result of the county road running into the property.  First, we can’t install an entry gate at the point where the road comes into the property.  A county road must have access for all, so a gate is out of the question.  Because of the public access issue, you may need to be prepared for occasional “lookie-loos” to come driving into your land.  Second, the property owner who is served by a county road is at the mercy of the county when it comes to the quality of maintenance that is provided, and the responsiveness of the county government in handling issues that might arise with the road, as the following example illustrates.

Unpaved roads leading into ranch property

Notice on this topographic map that our house is located at the end of an unpaved road, as denoted near the top of the map.  Notice also that there are two street signs that designate the names of the county roads shown on the map, one of which is located at the intersection of the dirt road and the paved highway.  Without this sign, passersby would have no way of knowing that this is a county road, nor what the name of the road is.  In the event of an emergency, sheriff, fire department, and ambulance personnel dispatched to our house would be unable to locate our premises.

In January 2006, a careless driver managed to knock down the street sign while turning from the paved highway onto the dirt road.  Fearful of what would happen in an emergency, I temporarily duct taped the street sign onto my mailbox so that it would be visible to emergency vehicles, and proceeded to call the county road department to repair the sign.  To make a long story short, nine months later, after numerous phone calls and  correspondence with the County Judge, the county road department fixed the sign in September, 2006. 

On New Years Day, 2007,  a vandal saw fit to steal this very same street sign, thereby leaving us in a vulnerable state once again.  The county managed to replace the missing sign after only seven weeks this time, as opposed to 9 months last time, so I suppose things are improving!  But the point remains – a county road means you are stuck dealing with (sometimes) inept, or uncaring, or overburdened county officials to get anything accomplished.  Sometimes you can’t get anything accomplished at all, as the next example illustrates.


Location of former drainage ditch

The photograph above shows what remains of a drainage ditch that used to exist along the northern edge of the road, as it descends a hill toward our buildings.  I say “used to exist” because, as you can plainly see, it isn’t there anymore!  The road crews in this county aren’t trained to do anything other than windrow the surface of the road off to each side when operating the road grader.  Any existing drainage ditches soon disappear under these circumstances, ours included.

Site of buried drainage culvert

The red ellipse in this picture shows the location of a (now buried) inlet to a drainage culvert that is installed under the roadway at the bottom of the hill.  Because the culvert has been covered up by the road graders as they windrow the road surface, it can no longer serve it’s intended purpose – to carry the water flow underneath the roadway to a creek located at the base of the hill.

Water flow patterns

The red arrow indicates the location and one-time flow of the now useless drainage culvert buried beneath the roadbed.  The yellow arrow indicates (as does the erosion evident in the photo) the present water flow pattern, given that the drainage ditch and culvert are now non-operational.

Ultimate destination of flowing water

Unfortunately, the new flow pattern now channels the water directly into our barn and paddock area, as the photograph above shows.  Besides the erosion and resulting rough roadway that this situation creates, any repairs I attempt to make to the road are immediately washed away with the next rainfall, as you can see in the following photograph. 

Gravel deposited on lawn

The chances of an under-funded county government repairing the drainage system for this road and maintaining it properly in the future, given that it only serves one family, are slim-to-none.  There is no point in my re-establishing the drainage ditch and culvert system, since the county road crew will invariably fill it in once again.

So, as in all things in life, there are trade offs.  In this case, having a county maintained road means no monetary outlay on my part, the trade off being the substandard water flow maintenance that is provided by the county.  If the drainage problem continues to deteriorate, than perhaps I could petition the county to abandon their current road easement (a request they probably would be glad to grant), but then I would have to be prepared to absorb all future road maintenance costs myself.

Hmmm….. decisions, decisions, decisions.

5 thoughts on “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

  1. I was always impressed that the preferred road improvement method in the Buffalo River area was to haul in a truck of mud and rock slurry and pack it into the road. A few hours later after it had dried, it was as “good as new.” After driving for years over what you Arkansonians call good roads, I never complain about Iowa’s gravel roads when I’m back up here.

    I think I would be tempted to do my own maintenance. It seems like pull behind graders are a dime a dozen down there if not just abandoned. A guy of your ability should be able to fix one of them up without much problem and do your own grating. The gate could then limit traffic and your road would probably need a lot less repair.

  2. I’m with Ed. Seems like a man of your abilities could keep this maintained pretty easily. And that buried culvert is driving me crazy.

  3. It may be a pain, but I,m for diggin’ out the drain, and lessening the erosion problems caused by the rain. As you say lifes full of decisions.

  4. First, welcome back. I’m glad things are well and you just took a break.

    Would there be a resulting tax bill drop that might offset maintenance costs?

    With your tractor toys and abilities, I would be tempted to reclaim it also.

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