Those of us with cottages and camps have a lot of things in common, you like to wear mini skirts, I like to see you in a mini skirt…no wait, that isn’t what I meant to say…Larry…take that mini skirt off…no…no…umm wait…put it back on…no…oh my…I do tend to digress…
What I really meant to say is that cottagers all have similar issues, concerns and for all intents and purposes our places are very much the same. For example, we generally all have a gravel driveways that make our cottage road of some sort leading to our camps. I’m not referring to the municipal roads, I am talking about our gravel driveways, lanes and the cottage road leading from the municipal roads to the cottage.
Sharing A Cottage Road and Driveway
In most cottage situations, these are gravel driveways, or more appropriately, “lanes” and are quite often shared with a few of our neighbors.
Cottages, especially in my neck of the woods, began on old homestead properties that were subdivided in cottage lots with a collector road leading to all the cottages on the property. These roads are typically narrow, gravel driveways and they are part of the charm of cottage land.
Road Work Ahead
Cottage roads do need a little maintenance. Gravel driveways tend to develop some ruts and puddle holes over time, and almost all of them end up with a high center if they are not graded or raked off from time to time. So what do you do to maintain a gravel driveway or cottage lane?
Maintaining a cottage lane is not rocket science, which is too bad, given my interest in rocket science, that’s the good news. The bad news is, unmaintained shared cottage lanes and gravel driveways can cause you trouble, can cost you money and can be a source of frustration between neighbors.
So here are a few things to keep in mind about cottage lanes.
Raking Gravel Driveways
Each year, after the frost has come out of the ground, it is a good idea to rake your gravel driveway, paying particular attention to raking the center crown off. It’s the crown that can “high center” your vehicle, get you stuck, or rip the muffler off your car. By raking it off the crown in the Spring, you fill in the tire ruts left from a season of driving the road in all kinds of weather, and you help to eliminate the chance of scraping the under carriage of your vehicle.
Vehicle traffic has a way of moving small rocks from the tire portion of a gravel driveway pushing it to the middle or the edges of the road. A good garden rake will help to pull them back in place.
Raking your gravel driveway also gives you an opportunity to see where the high and low spots are, where you need gravel and where the puddles of water form.
On our gravel road, we have fairly good drainage, although in the part of the road with the most traffic, the shared part, we do have some recurring puddles. I have found that digging a small (less than 5 inch) drain in the lowest spot that allows the puddle water to drain off the road and into the ditch is helpful for removing water. I then fill the puddle depression with gravel. It stays for awhile.
Raking a gravel driveway is not quite as simple as it sounds. You need to bear in mind that a slight crown in the middle of the road is good for drainage, allowing water to flow to the edges of the road and off into the ditch. There is a bit of a knack to getting the grade perfect to allow the water to drain off properly.
Highway roads have an engineered rise in the center for that reason. For your cottage lane, ensure that the middle of the road is not lower than the shoulders.
Culverts Under Gravel Driveways
Speaking of water, if your gravel driveways are built through a low spot in the land, and therefore has water on it or on both sides of it, a culvert is a good idea. A culvert will allow the water to drain from one side to the other, reducing the water soaking under the road making it soft, soupy or muddy.
Culverts for gravel driveways are usually steel or cement, and can be purchased from most building supply stores or concrete fabricators. This is typically not a one person job, and depending on the depth, and the size of the culvert it may require someone with a backhoe to install it properly.
In cottage subdivisions the original contractor may have installed culverts when the road was built. Sometimes in these culverts one or both ends get closed in with branches, mud or even beaver action, or subsequent road work.
It’s a good idea to inspect your culverts annually and make sure they are clear and water can pass through. If it cannot, you should clear the obstruction. I like to use dynamite, but that may be frowned on in your community….done wrong dynamite can be messy too. I learned how to do it from “Two-Fingers Pete” an old fella at the camp.
Trees and Bushes
In order to maintain gravel driveways it is a good idea to keep trees from growing up too close to the road. Spring is a good time to walk your road with a pair of branch cutters and remove any branches that are extending out to the road. cut them back to the base of the tree, don’t leave stubby branches. It looks bad and they can scratch wider vehicles.
Keep the edges of the road clear, it aids visibility, saves animals, gives children and walkers somewhere to go if a vehicle comes along the road and makes it easy for bigger delivery/service trucks etc to get in the road.
This is also a good time to inspect the trees growing alongside your road, look for any old, rotting or leaning trees that may fall down and pose a problem when you least expect it. Now is the time to cut them down before they become an issue. Just make sure you have the OK to do so from the person who owns the land.
Speaking of owning the land, remember that many cottage lanes are shared, and they are some form of right-of-way. That means that although you can travel over the land to your cottage, you may not have the right to cut trees, change the road, or even park on it for extended periods. It can depend on local laws regarding right-of-ways and/or the wording in your property deed regarding the right-of-way.
The safest approach is to check with the person who owns the land, and your lawyer if there is any doubt or question of what you can or cannot do, or who is reponsible for road maintenance etc. (more on that later)
Grass and Shrubbery
Grass and shrubbery can become a problem on gravel driveways and cottage lanes, especially narrow lanes surrounded by trees and woods. Once it takes hold, it can be hard work to get rid of it, but get rid of it you should. Or at least keep it in check.
An hour with a gas powered string trimmer will do wonders for keeping grass and vegetation in check, although, be warned, it will grow back, and cutting it may actually encourage it to grow. From a visual standpoint, grass on a cottage lane can look kind of nice, however, it can be slippery when wet, and flammable when dry.
When vehicles first started to be manufactured with catalytic converters, they were the cause of many a grass fire, forest fire, vehicle fire. That is because the vehicles didn’t have adequate heat shields over the converter, which get very hot. The driver would park the car and go in the house, only to look outside later and see his car on fire and the woods and grass on fire.
These days there are heat shields over the catalytic converter, but that doesn’t make them completely fireproof, especially if the shield has rusted and fallen off. So it’s important to keep grass from cottage lanes and parking areas, or if not, at least keep it cut very short.
Road maintenance aside, there will come a time when you will need to add gravel to the cottage lane. Over time the existing gravel settles down, spreads out and pushes off the road. When you start to have low spots, puddles and ruts too deep to rake, it’s time to get gravel for driveways.
The best way to get gravel for driveways is to order the gravel from a company that has gravel spreading trucks, sometimes called a “slinger truck” they can eliminate most of the manual labour of spreading gravel, and generally it doesn’t cost much or anything more to have the gravel spread when it is delivered.
The slinger truck has a device on it that allows the operator to “throw” the gravel as opposed to just dumping it in piles that need to be spread by hand or with a backhoe etc. This usually works well, and saves a lot of work, although some minor raking to touch up some areas may be required.
Hills in gravel driveways can be especially troublesome. The gravel has a tendency to wash down the hill in heavy rains, or get thrown down the hill by spinning tires on vehicles going up hill.
If at all possible try to lessen the slope of the hill by starting further back before the hill and gradually going up without placing too much loose gravel at the bottom of the hill…try to do that….Most operators of gravel spreading trucks will know how to do this well, but regardless, it will be bothersome, especially before the loose gravel settles down to a solid base.
Too much loose gravel can actually make it difficult for some drivers to get up the hill, especially towing a boat or travel trailer.
If possible, it’s not a bad idea to have half a load of gravel dumped somewhere out of the way, yet accessible that can be used for minor road repairs like filling in low spots and puddles with a rake, shovel and wheelbarrow.
Who Is Responsible For Road Maintenance?
OK…so the above all sounds very good, but I know what you are thinking…you are thinking, “Yeah right Rob, but who is paying for all of this? Who is responsible for all the grass cutting, gravel spreading and puddle jumping on our shared gravel driveways?”
The answer is easy. It all depends….
Some cottage lanes shared right of ways with serving access to several cottages are maintained on an adhoc-as-needed basis. When someone determines that load of gravel is needed, they talk to their neighbors and if everyone is in agreement, someone orders the gravel and pays for it. One of the group collects an equal portion of the cost from each of the cottagers sharing the road.
This usually works well, with a couple of caveats:
1) you don’t have someone who wants gravel all the time;
2) the road is not overly long, with a lot of cottagers and the need for a lot of gravel, therefore a high cost, even when spread among several families;
3) there is someone willing to take on this project, ordering the gravel and overseeing it’s delivery and spreading, paying the supplier and collecting the money from the rest of the group. (not always as easy as you might think)
In terms of other forms of road maintenance like tree trimming, grass cutting, that usually is done either by one or two guys who enjoy doing stuff like that, or a group gets organized for a Saturday afternoon and everyone pitches in. That can be kind of fun actually, a form of team building. Maybe you could have a competition with cottagers from another cottage lane to see who has the nicest lane…just kidding, don’t do that…it’s dumb.
Cottage Road Committee
In the past few years, cottage owners on shared gravel driveways, private lanes and roads have begun creating “Road Committees” made up of representatives from each of the cottages. These committees, or rather, the work of the committees is paid for by an annual fee paid by each cottager.
Road Maintenance Fees
The annual road maintenance fee is used for road upkeep, gravel purchases, gas for chainsaws for tree pruning, winter snow removal, whatever is needed and agreed upon by the committee.
It doesn’t hurt to have a written agreeement drawn up and signed by all parties, so no one gets a surprised or the committee doesn’t exceed it’s agreed upon mandate.
Committees sometimes organize road maintenance work. They are a good way to ensure the gravel driveways are kept in good repair and that the responsibility for the road maintenance doesn’t fall to the same person every year.
Not All Cottage Roads Need Formal Committees
While official road committees are good, they are not necessary in some situations and very necessary in others. They can also get carried away if not kept in check.
If you cottage lane has a lot of camps on it, more than 6 or 7, or if the road is long, or elaborate, requiring substantial investment to maintain. If there are a lot of cottages sharing the same road, a committee can take the strain off of one person trying to collect money from each person, as well as providing some written documentation that explains the responsibilities of each cottage owner in regard to the road.
Road committee creation can also involve some legal issues as well, which of course, given the cost of over-paid-lawyers, (Ha-Ha that is an inside joke sorry) can add to the cost. A legal agreement has to be developed, agreed to, and signed by all parties.
This agreement needs to come into play everytime a cottage within the group is sold or changes hands, because the new owners have to be incorporated into the agreement etc. That can be troublesome and can cost money too.
The existence of a road maintenance agreement probably needs to be disclosed to potential purchasers if a cottage is put up for sale.
The Ugly Part
Then there is the ugly part of shared cottage lanes. What if someone doesn’t want to participate, i.e. pay for road maintenance, or sign an agreement?
What if someone is abusing their use of the right-of-way, i.e. constantly parking vehicles or building something on the right-of-way? Or perhaps they are doing something such as operating all terrain vehicles on the right-of-way in a manner that creates mud holes and ruts or chews holes in the gravel road base etc.
You have a couple of options in the above situations. You can choose to ignore it and hope it runs it’s course, which those things sometimes do, but depending on the situation, that can be difficult. It’s especially difficult if their actions are costing you money or reducing your enjoyment of your cottage.
Those are situations which require some tact, at least in the beginning, perhaps a quiet conversation with the offending party.
If that fails, you don’t have much option other than to contact the over-paid lawyer, (mentioned above LOL) a lawyers letter may enough to correct the problem, or further legal action might be required to resolve the issue. This kind of stuff has always been a source of problems with shared cottage lanes.
Sharing Of Cottage Road Maintenance Costs Equally
Because I know you are pretty smart, otherwise you wouldn’t still be reading this, you have probably been wondering, “How are road maintenance costs divided up, and does the person closest to the highway pay less than the person at the end of the road? Does owning vacant land on the road mean you have to pay more?
Well, like everything in this world, we aren’t the first people to have these questions come up. I looked into these questions and found some good answers on The Ontario Federation of Cottage Owners website.
Essentially, it comes down to this, regardless of how far in the road your cottage is located, everyone gets the same benefit from the private access road. That is, everyone gets to drive to their cottage or vacant lot. Because the benefit is the same, that is, “cottage access”, the price, or “levy” is the same.
The fact that your place is at the beginning of the road and mine at the end, isn’t a consideration. Also, they add, and it makes sense to me, that the beginning of the road, where you are located, typically gets the most traffic, because everyone has to drive over your end of the road. Therefore, the end where I am will not require as much gravel or maintenance as the beginning of the road.
In addition to the above, there is also the consideration of road use. It is arguable that a full time resident with a big family and several vehicles at the start of the road is going to use their part of the road more than a summer seasonal resident at the end of the road.
However, how would you determine what the usage is, or what it is actually costing? Almost impossible. Therefore, one amount of money from all users regardless of location is the fairest process and ultimately results in the least amount of disagreements.
The same applies to people who own vacant land accessed by the same road, even if they are absentee owners who don’t come to the property regularly. They still have access to their property because of the access road and therefore should be included in the group paying to maintain the road.
Winter snow removal adds another dimension to shared gravel driveways. In many situations, the cost and scheduling of snow plowing is looked after by the cottage road committee, working on an agreement by all users of the road that it will be maintained year round and kept open.
In some places, cottages are not used during winter months and unless insurance companies require the road to be plowed, (and they often do) plowing is not done unless someone among the cottage owners chooses to use the road during the winter months.
In that case, it is my opinion that costs incurred for plowing the road are the responsibility of the cottagers who want to use the road in the winter. On the other hand, as more and more insurance companies insist a cottage road be kept accessible year round, snow plowing may become something that has to be shared among the cottagers much the same as adding gravel.
If your cottage is not part of a shared driveway, personally, I say, good for you. On the other hand, the shared cottage lane tends to build a sense of community, particularly if there are not too many cottages using the same lane. Many good friendships begin on shared cottage lanes. And not having a shared driveway means you incur all the costs of road maintenance yourself.
One final note on cottage and camp gravel driveways, access roads and lanes. Although your cottage road might be a right of way over private property, or maybe a private road across your land to your camp, it can potentially be considered a public road for some applications of law. Without a gate and or signs advising people that your cottage road is private and not for public use, in the eyes of some legislation it can be deemed a highway if it is accessible to the public at large. Something you may want to consider.
How about you? How do you maintain and look after your shared cottage road?