The View from Faraway Farm: The ideal surface


How's your driveway? Is it an unruly mess of grass and dirt? Is it a beautifully kept masterpiece of paving stones? Nice driveways are not an easy thing to achieve in northern New England. The freeze and thaw cycle really makes it difficult to keep a good looking driveway. Paved driveways look the best to my way of thinking, but over time the brutal winters can really do a job on them. The last house I owned had a paved driveway. I had it done by a local guy and it looked great. I sealed it once and it held up pretty good. However, once the town got a look at it, my taxes went up. Now, every town is different, but generally speaking the nicer your driveway, the higher your taxes.

There really was no driveway when I bought my current home. It simply had a garage near the road and a really beautiful lawn. I began parking extra cars on the lawn between the garage and the house and it became a driveway. When it got real soupy in the spring I hired TMG excavating to come in and install some drainage. After adding a couple of temporary garages the driveway began to have more definition, but I swore that I would not tempt the taxation fates by having it paved. So Thad Guild at TMG got another call and he brought down some sure-pack and I called it good. I'm perfectly happy with a sure-pack surface. It just needs to be understood that it will need attention based on your use of the driveway. What is sure-pack or hard pack? It is generally a product that consists of chips, limestone, and stone dust. The more you drive on it the harder it gets. However, it is still defined as a dirt surface for tax purposes, so it turns out to be a reasonable compromise.

As the years passed the nice definition of driveway versus lawn became blurred with errant grass. Erosion worked its black magic to the point where my trailer would bottom out leaving the driveway. I also had an area beside one of the temporary garages that I wanted to use as a parking space and did not want to park on grass, so I got in touch with TMG again. I came home one day and there was a very big pile of sure-pack in the middle of the driveway. The next day Thad shows up early with his trusty Bobcat and before I knew it there was a well-defined parking space along with a fresh layer of sure-pack over the rest of the driveway. It looks fabulous, and the detail that Thad always puts into his work simply added to that feeling of satisfaction. The trailer no longer bottoms out, either.

If I had my druthers I'd have a paving brick driveway, just like the beautiful herringbone design brick walk that Thad's wife Jan built for me years ago. It would be expensive, but the way my walkway has held up over time, I'm sure a driveway of similar construction would just look better with age. The downside would be the increased taxes, so it isn't happening. Ever had a concrete drive? My folks did at their place up in South Royalton. All the seasonal movement slowly broke it down as the years went by. It became uneven and a real hazard to walk on. The old man had it torn up and went with dirt. You can always make a driveway out of the materials on hand. I've seen quite a few with a crushed sea shell surface. It isn't my cup of tea, but it does work. Large flat stones make an attractive driveway, but it takes a lot of digging, rock selection, and talent to make one, and you'll still have the potential for a wildly uneven surface if not done correctly.

In the end, you can spend the money to pave and pay higher taxes, or you can choose one of the many alternatives and still have to pay with labor intensive upkeep. Like a lot of folks, you can just ignore the darned thing and let nature take its course. I've done all of the above and I'm not really sure what I'm most comfortable with. The ideal would be a surface that doesn't require any maintenance, looks great, and does not increase your taxes. I've learned that no such thing exists. One way or the other, it will all have a price. The do nothing driveway is the cheapest, but it looks the worst. It all depends on how much you are willing to spend on something that doesn't do much more than offer a non-grass surface to park your vehicles on.

Arlo Mudgett's Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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