By Michael Rochester
Do you own a woodlot but do not have an easy way to access it? If you do not have any roads on your property, but wish that you could enjoy your woods, then maybe a woodland trail would be your solution. It is not that much fun to walk through the woods if they are thick and full of obstacles. I took my wife and daughter on a walk through our woods before I had trails constructed and they told me it was a horrible walk. It was thick, rough, and we had to go around blowdowns or walk over them. The solution was to construct some recreation trails to make access easier and walking more enjoyable. It is hard work, but it is now a pleasure to walk through woods. As an added bonus, we use the trails in the winter to go snowshoeing. My wife now enjoys going for a walk in the woods. My daughter, another story.
I have enjoyed trail walking all of my life. Two of my lifelong hobbies include jogging and walking trails. Whenever I go on vacation somewhere, I check out where the local trails are located and walk on them. You will always find something interesting to see.
As I said, constructing trails is hard work, but it can also be fun and good exercise. I have cleared approximately 10,000 feet of trail. These are the basic steps that must be undertaken.
Planning and Layout
You must first lay out a trail in the woods. Do not rush this important step. It takes a lot of scouting and experimentation with various layouts before you finalize your choice. Some areas are less dense and the terrain is smoother than others. Your trail can wind through areas in some places. Take advantage of old roads or skidder trails if possible. They can be incorporated into the trail system and a lot of the work is done for you. If there are features on your property that you want to visit, then take that into consideration when you lay out the trail. I have some natural springs on this property and some nice views, so I planned this into my trail system. I also have trails that are too wet to use except for in the winter. They make great snowshoe trails and we get to visit areas that are usually no fun to access because of the wet swampy conditions. Use flagging tape to lay out the trail. You will find the process of laying out your trail easier if you do it when the leaves are not present. You will be able to see much further in the woods and that will make the task easier.
After you are satisfied with the trail layout, you have to remove the obstacles in the trail’s path. Trail width is your preference and my trails vary in width. Try to keep the trail shaded as much as possible. This will discourage the growth of new trees. A chainsaw is the best tool to clear the trail. Cut brush or trees as low as possible so you don’t trip over the stumps later. You may have to go back later and cut some of the stubs or stumps lower. You will also find smaller sprouts and trees you missed the first time. I use my hand pruners and perform a lot of the cleanup that way. Bend the branch or tree you want to cut and the cut it. They cut very easily that way. Seedling sized trees can be ripped out of the ground like a weed. This will help prevent future sprouting. As you clear the trail, continue to look for easier routes. Sometimes you may see something you missed before.
Everything that is cut must be cleared out of the trail. I like to keep things neat and natural looking. Therefore, I pile all of debris in piles or haul the material into the woods and out of sight. Making debris piles is good for small animals in the woods. Mice, squirrels, rabbits, and birds use the piles for a safe haven. Branches from trees adjacent to the trail may have to be pruned. Dangerous holes can be filled with rocks or wooden debris.
Trail Maintenance and Enjoyment
You will have some sprouting from stumps. I cut the sprouts as necessary. These will disappear in time. If you keep the trail shaded, pioneer species such as brush, birch, aspen, etc., will not survive without a lot of sunlight. I also have constructed places to sit down along the trail. You can use downed trees for this purpose. One six foot log placed on two notched short pieces of log (18 inch), works just fine. I utilized trees that have blown down trees for this purpose. As you use the trail, you may see places where you can improve the trail by altering it. I have made a couple of small changes to mine in problem areas.
And that is all there is to it. Now, go construct a trail and enjoy your woodlot! As for me, I'm dreaming of building my next trail.
If you need assistance with trail layout or construction, I will be happy to assist you!!
Recommended Tools and Supplies
1. Chainsaw and necessary protective gear. You can use good brush cutters with long handles also if the wood is small.
3. Pruning tools (hand pruner, branch pruner).
You may need some rocks or lumber if you want to cross wet areas and want to keep your feet dry. I try to use larger flat stones that I find in the woods to place in wet spots. A couple of 2 x 8’s joined side by side with a space in the middle also works well in some instances. You can also use trees on your property for this purpose.
Some pictures of my trails.