Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Mud Season Madness: Return of the mud

A man in a blue shirt sits on the phone at his desk.
Sabine Poux
Vermont Public
Keith Gadapee is on the front lines of battling mud season as road foreman for the town of Danville, in the Northeast Kingdom.

Vermont’s messy transition from winter to spring always brings its fair share of surprises and obstacles. This year was no exception: The mud came early, and it came often.

Brave Little State is Vermont Public’s listener-driven journalism show. In each episode, we answer a question about Vermont that’s been asked — and voted on — by you, our audience.

Two years ago, during a particularly brutal mud season, Angela Evancie put a dozen of your dirt- and mud-related questions to Keith Gadapee, road foreman for the town of Danville.

As we dig out of this year’s roller coaster of a season, we’re returning to that interview. Plus, reporter Sabine Poux checks back in with Keith with more questions about this oh-so muddy time of year (i.e. when will it end?!).

You can find the original episode here.

Note: Our show is made for the ear. We highly recommend listening to the audio. We’ve also provided a transcript. Transcripts are generated using a combination of robots and human transcribers, and they may contain errors.


Keith Gadapee: I remember the day when we walked. I remember hearing the stories of the neighbor's farmer having to go out in the middle of the night pulling people out of the mud. So mud season is nothing like they used to be. 

What's different is, is the expectation of the public during mud season. That was what changed the most.  People accepted walking, when I was a kid. They parked and they walked. They might have been upset, but they accepted it. They knew that was the part of life where we live. Today is different. 

Sabine Poux: From Vermont Public, this is Brave Little State. I’m Sabine Poux.

And this is Keith.

Keith Gadapee: I’m Keith Gadapee and I live in Danville.

Sabine Poux: And where are we right now? 

Keith Gadapee: We’re at the town garage.

A sign points to the Danville Highway Department
Sabine Poux
Vermont Public
Where the mud meets the road: Danville has more dirt roads than any other town in Vermont, according to the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

Sabine Poux: Keith Gadapee has lived in Danville his whole life. His father was a road foreman. His brother was a road foreman. And Keith, too, is a road foreman, for the town of Danville — which, by the way, has more dirt roads than any other town in Vermont.

You might remember Keith from a previous episode we did, back in 2022, about mud season. Keith told me he heard from a lot of people after that episode aired.

Keith Gadapee: So I gotta ask you.

Sabine Poux: Yeah.

Keith Gadapee: Why did people love that interview so much?

Sabine Poux: In case you didn’t catch that, Keith asked why people love that interview so much.

Keith Gadapee: I'm thinking, why would anybody want to listen to hear about mud? I can’t explain it.

Sabine Poux: He doesn’t really get it. But I get it. Because, I love hearing Keith talk.

When I visited him in Danville earlier this month, we talked for almost two hours, about his childhood:

Keith Gadapee: I grew up, believe it or not, on a blacktop road.

Sabine Poux: Family:

Keith Gadapee: There was a lot of Christmases that we couldn’t open our packages Christmas morning because my dad was plowing snow. 

Sabine Poux: About how he can’t listen to the radio when he’s working:

Keith Gadapee: Focusing! I don’t want to be distracted with that.

Sabine Poux: And how he feels like he’s average at a lot of things, but not really good at one thing.

Keith Gadapee: Wouldn't it be cool to be good at something?

Sabine Poux: And, of course, we talked about mud.

Sabine Poux: What is your personal relationship to mud?

Keith Gadapee: That’s a great question, in that, you know, it's kind of like, you gotta know when to stop and just leave it or if there's times where you can fix it. And that just comes with time and experience.


Sabine Poux: Hopefully, you’re all still as eager to hear Keith talk about mud as you were two years ago. Because today is a re-run of that 2022 episode, which we called "Mud Season Madness." Executive Producer Angela Evancie interviewed Keith during a particularly horrific mud season.

Keith Gadapee: We have got a lot of mud in all corners of the town, creating nearly impassable situations. 

Sabine Poux: At that time, Keith also answered lots of your questions about dirt roads and mud, and we’re replaying that interview here.

Later on, we’ll check back in with Keith about this year’s mud season — or mud seasons. You’ll see what we mean.

A man on his hands and knees by a Subaru stuck on a muddy road. Nearby, another man has gotten out of his truck and stands holding a pair of chains for towing.
Kelsey Pasteris
A neighbor helps Joe Pasteris, center, extract his Subaru from the mud on Lincoln Hill in Hinesburg in 2022. "The next day, we had to walk back to our car in order to drive to work/school," reported Kelsey Pasteris. "We are true Vermonters now!!"

"Battling Mother Nature"

Angela Evancie: So, yeah, I've got a list here in front of me, and we'll just go through and I'll share the listener question, and I'd love to get your take on it.

Keith Gadapee: Sure.

Angela Evancie: Alright. The first question comes from Geoffrey Bok:

Geoffrey Bok: My name is Geoffrey Bok. I live in Craftsbury. And my question is, why are so few roads in rural Vermont paved?

Keith Gadapee: Well, that's a great question. I think it all comes down to, you know, the objective of the town — you know, whether or not they feel that the traffic level is high enough to warrant a paved road. I think that has a lot to do with it. But I also think, you know, Vermont is known for its backcountry roads, and that alone is also maybe keeping more roads gravel in Vermont and less paved roads. I mean, yes, speed is always a factor, but the use, the traffic volumes, things like that, you know, I think plays a bigger portion of it. Of course, cost does as well.

Angela Evancie: Ah, yes. And we definitely have some questions later on about costs.

But for now, moving on to some questions specifically about mud season. 

Michele Morris: Hello, this is Michele Morris from Jericho. And I'm wondering, what is it about Vermont's soils and climate that make our roads so prone to frost heaves and tire-swallowing muck during spring mud season?

Keith Gadapee: So in Danville — and that's what I can speak about the most — our soils are very clay-y and have a lot of silt and loam and things like that, that are not good road base material. And so, unfortunately, this creates water-holding material that, when frozen, obviously expands and ice builds and when that material thaws, because there's so much water and under the road and it can't escape through the ice, the water has to come up. And the water comes up, and of course then we travel on it. And it turns the road to very muddy situations. So, the freezing and thawing and the fact that there's a lot of water in the in the, in the roadway that is frozen — this creates the mud in the spring when it thaws.

A picture of a child standing in a muddy brown road
Tracy Rohlen
“I live in Jeffersonville and took these pictures of our road, Pratt Road, this morning. Ruts so deep they can swallow a kid!” reported Tracy Rohlen, who shared these photos of her son Marshall back in 2022.

Angela Evancie: Mhm. A similar question: Ellen Starr wrote in and asks, “What can we do about the roads in Vermont? Isn't there a technological solution to our horrific potholes at this point?”

Keith Gadapee: (laughter) Well, I mean, yes and no, you know? And I always call it kind of battling Mother Nature. You know, she, she throws us a lot of curveballs to try to hit. And sometimes it's a little overwhelming. I mean, yes, the answer is yes, there are many different aggregates that can be used in some situations. But, you know, since the beginning of roads, there's been mud, and there's been potholes. You know, if we choose to live on these gravel roads, we've got to expect that because a lot of times Mother Nature gives us a challenge to, to make roads perfect all the time.

Angela Evancie: Mhm. Do you think there is such a thing as roads that can be perfect all the time?

Keith Gadapee: Absolutely not. And we can talk about paved roads as well as gravel roads, is that the freeze-thaw situation and the soils in Vermont — there can't be a road that's perfect all the time due to either those things or just, you know, the traffic. Things wear out.

Angela Evancie: Yeah.

Well, our next question comes from Coco Mosley. She has been a question-asker in the past for a question about the pros and cons of heating with wood. But today, Coco asks:

Coco Moseley: Hello, this is Coco Moseley from Lincoln. And I’m wondering how potholes and washboards form. What’s the science behind these unique architectural features on our roads?

Keith Gadapee: I think there's several things that play the part of, of causing potholes and causing washboards. You know, obviously, the freezing and thawing at different rates in different areas of the road are going to create, you know, swells and sags as things thaw out. So that definitely plays a part in it, too. I think another thing that plays a big part of it is the water, whether the water is staying on top of the road as cars drive through it. And every time a tire hits this little sag in the road, you know, it creates a huge amount of force pumping, pumping the water out of the sag and bringing fines with it, creating the hole to get slowly deeper and deeper and deeper as more cars go over. So that definitely plays a factor in it too, is traffic amount.

And then as far as washboards, we see washboards a lot in the summertime, dry washboards, I call them, where, you know, traffic is going down the dirt road and the tire kind of is pushing the car along trying to spin a little bit maybe and turn up and ruffle up the wear surface. And then the next car comes by and it makes it a little worse even though there might not be any water in these washboards. It creates a little what I call it chatter. Quite often you see this going up a hill because the car, you know, kind of spins its way up the hill and creates what the little one starts, and then it gets bigger and bigger over time. 


Angela Evancie: Alright, our next question is — I have a feeling you could probably give me a very long answer to this question (laughter) or a short one. So let me play this question from Jackie.

Jackie Spain: Hello. My name is Jackie Spain and I live in Wallingford, Vermont. My question is, how does Vermont maintain all these gravel roads? I’m surrounded by beautiful gravel roads that I walk on all the time, but it seems like it must be so much work smoothing out the ruts, filling in the gulleys. How does Vermont do it?

Keith Gadapee: (laughter) That's a great question. You know, obviously the town crews are geared up with equipment to, to maintain gravel roads. I think all towns are in the same boat, in that, you know, budgets are never big enough to support the aggregate that you lose in a season to keep them up as good as, as, you know, they could be. So there are hurdles financially. So I think the simple answer to that question is, the towns are equipped and are geared up for the amount of highways that they have to keep some level of maintenance for these roads.

An abandoned Volvo on Stage Road West Bolton. “My wife had driven our very old Subaru down to the Town Office Thursday and lost the muffler in the mud," reports Rob Mullen. "Down to just our new Subaru Outback (picked it up Wednesday), I had to drive down the hill three times Friday and wallowed through this spot repeatedly. Need an alignment already.”
Rob Mullen
An abandoned Volvo on Stage Road West Bolton in 2022. “My wife had driven our very old Subaru down to the Town Office Thursday and lost the muffler in the mud," reported Rob Mullen.

To pave or not to pave

Angela Evancie: We are now going to transition to some questions about finances.

Keith Gadapee: OK.

Rich Grogan: Hey BLS, this is Rich Grogan from Reading, Vermont. 

Nancy Wilson: This is Nancy Wilson.

Amanda Scull: Hi, my name is Amanda Scull and I live in Westminster, Vermont.

Rich Grogan: We’re in the middle of mud season, and every mud season I’m told that it is, quote, “more expensive” to pave the roads than to constantly repair the dirt roads. Where is the data for that?

Amanda Scull: Every mud season, I find myself wondering, how does the cost of resurfacing and maintaining dirt roads compare to the cost of paving them?

Nancy Wilson: And what makes a town decide to leave roads unpaved, and are they cheaper to maintain?

Keith Gadapee: So, again, it's a little bit about town objectives, you know, of how much money they want to spend on roads with certain levels of traffic and service, you know, required. So, I can only speak about what we do in Danville. But to give you an example, you know, we divide our budget into different classes of roads — generally, class two roads are paved and generally class three roads are gravel. And if this helps at all, you know, my class three budget is about 40% less than my class two budget. And, that class three budget has four times the miles of road on it than my class two budget does. OK, why that is, is because blacktop is very expensive. It's very expensive to install. And so when you choose to do, let's say, a mile of blacktop, that's a huge hit versus a mile of gravel road.

Angela Evancie: Alright, our next question is:

Amanda Scull: Who gets to decide if a dirt road gets paved? Thanks!

Keith Gadapee: OK, so, to pave or not to pave, is, you know, solely relies on the selectboard of your town or however you are organized. And obviously input from, from the townspeople and from the road foreman or road commissioner — however your town is structured — you know, whether or not to pave a road or not, you know, so there's no really, you know, formula or anything that they use. 

Angela Evancie: Is it something that eventually would go to voters? To say, you know, “Oh, we definitely want to keep this road dirt,” or, “Oh, we can't handle it anymore. We want to pave this.”

Keith Gadapee: That definitely could happen. And again, depending on your selectboard, that definitely is probably a good way to do that. I know in my experience we've had, we've had townspeople come in requesting, you know, a certain road to be paved. And believe it or not, I've had townspeople requesting it not be paved as well. So, I mean, there's two sides to every coin for sure. And there's many opinions out there.

a 10-year-old girl wearing a pink jacket stands in a deep rut on a muddy road. her 9-year-old sister stands far behind her.
Evan Reiss
Heron, 10, and Hayden, 9, stand in the ruts on Bicknell Hill Road in Tunbridge in 2022.

Steve Gladstone: Hi, my name is Steve Gladstone, I live in Hinesburg. My question is, what are the pros and cons of dirt roads versus paved roads?

Keith Gadapee: The level of service on gravel roads definitely is different on paved roads, you know, in all four seasons. For example, today, you're not going to be able to drive everywhere you want to go on a gravel road, because the wear surface is now mud, and is, you know, nearly intravelable in many areas. Whereas today, you can drive anywhere you want on a blacktop road. So, there are definitely levels of service, definitely different driving conditions that all play in the decision-making of whether to pave a road or whether to maybe keep it gravel.

Angela Evancie: Alright. Well, let's go to our last question from Ed Green. 

Ed Green: My name is Ed Green and I live in Westford, Vermont. My question is, why do some people in Vermont prefer dirt roads over paved roads when some dirt roads are so bad in mud season the school buses get stuck? Spoiler alert: Some people will use speeding cars as a reason against paved roads, but those same people complain about speeding cars on their dirt roads.

Keith Gadapee: You know, that's a fantastic question, in that, you know, there's a lot of different reasons, you know, why people respond in different ways. You know, first of all, some folks I've heard, you know, “I moved to Vermont because I wanted to live on a gravel road because it's quieter, and, you know, less traffic and less speeders, and things like that.” So I think this question is kind of beyond me, because it's more or less figuring out people rather than figuring out the roads.

You know, we have the same in Danville, you know, people want to live on the back road, but they also don't want people going fast. And so, you know, there's some things we just can't control. That's probably the most difficult question of the day right there.


Angela Evancie: (laughter) Well, let me ask you personally: Do you live on a paved road or gravel road, Keith?

Keith Gadapee: I live on a gravel road, and, and my road was impassable this morning, by most vehicles. They were parked at the bottom of the road, you know, vehicles that have low clearance and things like that. But again, it was all about choice. When I chose to, to build my house where I did, I was willing to accept the fact that, hey, there's going to be times where I can't get out, or I've got to gear up my choice of vehicles, to be able to get out in all conditions. So, it’s all about the choice of what someone wants.

I think most folks don't understand what mud season means for a road crew or a town. You know, when it snows in the winter time, we can respond to that hazard by taking our snow plows out and plowing and sanding the road. Or if it's an ice storm, we can go out and sand or, you know, if a tree comes down, we can go out and we can, we can clean that tree up that fell across the road to get rid of that hazard.

Mud season is way different than that. Think about how we fix mud. We take heavy equipment out on the muddy roads that weigh 30 tons carrying gravel and stone to this desolate place that needs a load to fill in ruts or to fill in a soft spot. And to get to that spot, we might travel three or four miles to get to it on these soft roads. And if you can imagine a 30 ton truck traveling three or four miles to get to this spot, we're doing more damage getting to the bad spot than we would by not going. Mud season is the only season that our hands are kind of tied.

So it's hard on the mind. It's hard on my guys because they want to make everything good. We all want the same result and it make it travelable roads and make it decent for people to go. But there's some times — and this year is a prime example — when everything kind of fell apart all at once. Where we can't respond to the hazard like people might think we can.

Sabine Poux: Keith Gadapee, talking to Angela Evancie in 2022.

At the time, Abby Rowlee in Reading said the 2022 mud season was the “worst mud season I’ve seen living on this dirt road for the past 14 years.”
Abby Rowlee
At the time, Abby Rowlee in Reading said the 2022 mud season was the “worst mud season I’ve seen living on this dirt road for the past 14 years.”

The season that keeps on giving

Sabine Poux: That year, you might remember, was a pretty bad one for muddy roads.

What about this year?

Keith Gadapee: We had several mud seasons this year for sure. For sure.

Sabine Poux: We’re back in Keith’s office in Danville. (You’ll hear members of his crew working in the background.)

Keith Gadapee: We had many thaws this winter that caused mud season. A very strange year that way, in that we actually had to, you know, do springtime work in the middle of the winter. So this year for us was costly in that, you know, we had to buy aggregate and things that we don't usually buy in December, January and February. We’re usually buying them in March and April. 

Sabine Poux: Those frequent freezing and thawing cycles haven’t just been a problem for Danville. The town of Barnard recently established a roads committee to address what it sees as worsening road conditions there.

And at the same time, as Keith mentioned, people have higher expectations these days for their roads.

But this mud season is almost over. Now that it’s April, it’s starting to finally feel like real spring. Keith makes maple syrup, and just had his final boil. He’s now hearing the birds singing outside his house, again.

And the roads are drying out, faster than they usually do this time of year.

Keith Gadapee: Yeah, we have those still those nagging roads up through the, you know, the coal woods and along the rivers that are still, you know, showing their, showing their head. The mud is still there. But it seems that we are ahead.

Sabine Poux: So when is mud season going to be over? And, how do you know when mud season’s over?

Keith Gadapee: Ah, that is a fantastic question. I happen to live on one of the very muddiest roads in town, it's very late. It's very late. When the water disappears, is when mud season ends. Right now, we're driving on some areas of road where there's always water on them, OK, and what that is, is the frost is still in the ground, okay, and the water can't go down and dissipate, it's sitting on top. Mud season ends when that water disappears. And it happens overnight.

A lot of times, you know the road that you've been working on or watching or riding on or whatever, it's just wet, wet, wet, wet, wet, wet, wet, constantly, and you just can't — you'll wake up one morning, a lot of time it’s in May, the waters gone. Mud season’s done.

A close-up shows big holes in a muddy road.
April McCullum
Vermont Public
Ruts on River Road in Duxbury earlier this month.



This episode was reported and produced by Angela Evancie and Sabine Poux, with editing and additional production from Burgess Brown. Angela Evancie is our executive producer, and our managing editor and senior producer is Josh Crane. Our theme music is by Ty Gibbons; other music by Blue Dot Sessions.

Special thanks to April McCullum and Sophie Stephens. And a massive thank you to Keith Gadapee for answering another round of our mud season questions.

As always, our journalism is better when you’re a part of it:

Brave Little State is a production of Vermont Public and a proud member of the NPR Network.

Angela Evancie serves as Vermont Public's Senior VP of Content, and was the Director of Engagement Journalism and the Executive Producer of Brave Little State, the station's people-powered journalism project.
Sabine Poux is a reporter/producer with Brave Little State. She comes to Vermont by way of Kenai, Alaska, where she was a reporter, news director, and on-air host for almost three years. Her reporting on commercial fishing and energy has been syndicated across Alaska and on NPR.