Living in the Maine woods, you don’t get the same conveniences as folks dwelling in cities. We don’t get a Starbucks every quarter mile. We don’t have the convenience of being a minute away from grocery shopping. What we do have is ready access to unbroken wilderness that almost no city dwellers ever get to enjoy. To take best advantage of this opportunity, many landowners consider the possibility of establishing private hiking trails to better enjoy their land. Whether walking for your health, your dogs, or for enjoying the scenery, establishing a trail is a great way to get the most from your land.
Planning Forest Hiking Trails
There are quite a few factors to consider when planning a hiking trail. Depending on how you want to use the trail, there are a lot of different things that should be planned out. Here’s a short list of the factors that need to be planned out before establishing a trail.
There are two common approaches when it comes to hiking trails, loops, and lines. Which makes the most sense for you is generally dictated as much by the lay of the land as your preferences. Make sure you walk your land and have a good sense of what kinds of layouts will work before committing to a plan.
Depending on how you’re going to use your trail, the width of the trail itself may not need to be much at all. If you’re an able-bodied person planning to hike alone, a trail that’s 12” to 24” wide in most places may be entirely adequate. If you plan on walking with a friend or family, with your dog, or may need the width to accommodate equipment (including recreational vehicles like 4-wheelers), you may need considerably more width. It’s ultimately up to your use case, think ahead and use your best judgment.
If you don’t want the public to walk on your trail, you will need to post the land as private. If you do want the public to be able to use your trail but would like them to stay away from your home, you may want to post no-trespassing signage near the trail to indicate this. Privacy, safety, and liability are all important considerations.
You don’t want to spend dozens of hours establishing a trail only to have it become a muddy morass most of the year. Making sure you have adequate drainage, especially strategic drainage ditches that can redirect heavy rainfall, is important to the utility and longevity of your trail. The less impact you have on your land’s watershed, the better, so take note of the existing paths water takes in rain storms and snow melt and either avoid or accommodate these natural watersheds.
If you walk your trail every day, the simple repetition of your walking will largely keep it clear of weeds and the soil compacted enough to remain stable. If you’re only using the trail part of the year or on occasion, you may need to invest in ground covers like wood chips or crushed stone. Wood chips break down naturally and cause no permanent changes to the forest. Crushed stone never really goes away and can have some impact on the future growth of your wooded land.
If you’ve only recently acquired your forested land. You may not have a great sense of what parts of your land are seasonally inaccessible or otherwise inappropriate for use as a trail area. Wait at least one year, checking out your land regularly to ensure you aren’t wasting effort clearing land for a trail that turns into a swap in the Spring and Summer.
The Most Important Step Is Clearing the Trail
If you’ve ever considered cutting your own forest hiking trail, you know that clearing the trail is the most obvious and important step. Methods for achieving this vary considerably depending on the makeup of your woods. We’ll outline a few scenarios and approaches that may suit your needs.
Light-Density Woods (DIY-able)
For the most lightly wooded areas, clearing underbrush with hand tools, grading the trail, and cutting a few drainage ditches to keep the trail from becoming an artificial stream bed is all it takes. To clear a trail through low-density woods with hand tools, we suggest the following process.
- Cut undergrowth down with loppers. This is to clear space to work in since it’s difficult to get at the dirt with growth covering it.
- As you progress along the trail-cutting undergrowth, use a rake to move the loosened plant matter aside and reveal any missed undergrowth.
- Once most of the undergrowth on the prospective trail has been cut down, use a claw rake or cultivator to loosen the soil and roots on the path. You want to remove as many of the roots and leftover stems as possible. Exposed roots, in particular, can be a significant hazard for hikers, and the thin roots of undergrowth tend to put up new stems in the spring if not removed.
- If you’re running into thick tree roots as you work, consider building up the trail in these areas with the loosened dirt from other sections of the trail. As long as these thicker roots aren’t exposed, they shouldn’t be a problem.
- Once the path is clear of roots and stems that pose a danger, you should tamp and compact the loose earth. This can be done by simply walking the trail or methodically stomping down on all the loose areas of the trail.
in the backwoods of Maine and New Hampshire, you find the kind of dense growth that makes such an undertaking either truly daunting or impossible. Medium-density woods are still navigable on foot, but trees and undergrowth are packed together to such a degree that there’s no way to avoid underbrush or avoid tripping over thick roots.
The steps for clearing a trail in medium-density woods are the same as in light-density woods but require heavier tools, such as chainsaws and heavy-duty axes and spades. It’s in medium-density woods that taking advantage of logging to establish trails becomes truly appealing.
Logging requires cutting trails or roads into the forest. As soon as logging has been completed, you can take advantage of the cleared path to cut a formal trail. Depending on the equipment being used for logging, you may have a bare earth road to work with, which makes a trail as easy as possible, only requiring packing down the dirt and possibly mulching it to keep it clear for years to come. In other cases, the undergrowth and some stumps may be left on the logging road. Hiking trails can wind around major obstacles, and any undergrowth remaining behind can be dealt with just as you would for light-density forest, using hand tools.
As the forest regenerates, your mulched, tamped-down trail will remain clear with little maintenance. This leaves you with a nearly perfect trail through ever deeper woods as time progresses. Most loggers, including Day Logging, can harvest timber in such a way that some old growth remains near the logging road, helping to speed the regrowth and density of the woods near the trail.
In heavy-density woods, heavy equipment is needed to remove trees and stumps with any degree of efficiency. You could rent a bulldozer and use chainsaws to clear a path, following the spirit of the steps used to clear a trail through light-density woods; however, even this can be very challenging if you lack advanced expertise with this equipment. This is where logging becomes the only economically feasible solution. Using logging roads as a foundation makes establishing permanent trails no more difficult than in previous examples.
Other Ways Logging Can Help Establish Forest Hiking Trails
Logging roads are, obviously, very beneficial for making establishing hiking trails easier, but there are other ways logging your land can be helpful. These peripheral benefits either reduce the costs or improve the aesthetics or permanence of your trail.
It’s no secret that the scrap branches from logging aren’t very valuable commercially. One common way to make a small profit on this detritus is to convert it into wood chips for mulch. Keeping some of these wood chips offers excellent land cover for your trail, keeping plants from growing up on the trail and breaking down over time into the soil.
Even if you chip tree branches leftover from a timber harvest, some will inevitably be left behind. These can be used to line your trail, clearly delineating the trail from the woods. This can make it easier to maintain the trail by clearly limiting what areas need to be maintained as well as being aesthetically pleasing.
Choosing The Right Logging Company
At Day Logging, we always prioritize our landowners’ needs and desires. This means that we’re happy to work with you to achieve secondary objectives, like establishing a permanent hiking trail on your land. Reach out today to learn more about how we can help.