The weather is starting to warm up and spring is definitely in the air. I’ve seen crocuses coming up and the snowdrops are blooming everywhere. One fine day recently I got a hankering to head out and get started on some farm projects.
The first project I chose was time-sensitive, but had the added appeal of costing us nothing. I decided to get to work on creating a trail network through our woods, which compromise the bottom half (2 acres) of our property.
When we moved here last year (it’s been a year, woo-hoo!) we enjoyed walking through the woods using some deer trails. We didn’t know that, come summer, the woods would become impassible due to heavy understory growth, including tall stinging nettles and thick, thorny vines. I was determined not to have the same thing happen this year around, which was one reason to get to work on the trails.
The other reason has to do with our site design plan. Right now the woods appear as an amorphous mass of trees and shrubbery. It’s hard to get a feel for the different micro-regions within the woods, to map out where certain trees and plants are growing and where clearings exist. It is my hope that, by creating a trail network, I can mentally break the woods down into sections to make plant inventory easier, not to mention assist with adding some details to the lower half of our site plan.
The picture at the top of this post shows the tools I brought with me. The metal rake was used to sweep a path that could be clearly seen amongst the deep leaf litter and scattered branches. The hacksaw was used to cut away trees and branches that got in the way. I really enjoy using the hacksaw – it cuts through trees up to 2 inches in diameter with little effort and in quick time. It’s much easier to cart around than my chainsaw, makes far less noise, doesn’t require me to sweat buckets just to get it started, and I don’t end up swearing when the motor dies unexpectedly (yes, it’s a cheap chainsaw). Most of all, I don’t have to put up with the racket! Being in the woods is a peaceful experience for me, and a chainsaw kinda ruins that vibe. The final tool was my walkie-talkie so that the kids (who remained in the house) could stay in contact with me.
I started on the main trail that we use most often, and the work went quickly. I was fascinated by the root system of the stinging nettles I pulled up from the path; it was like a giant web running under the soil, and explained why the nettles have spread so thickly through our woods. I don’t want to get rid of them altogether as they are not only edible but fix nitrogen, thus providing a valuable service to building up the soil. But having them on the trail, or right along the edge, makes for an unpleasant walk in the heat of summer when covering up in protective clothing is not a desirable option. Here are the before and after pictures of a section of this trail.
A couple days later I went to work on establishing a new trail in another section of the woods. This process involved looking around for obvious paths that would require the least amount of clearing, using the rake to define the path, pulling up any salal, dull oregon grape, grass clumps, or nettles that were growing in the path, and sawing off any branches that hung in the way. This work went surprisingly fast as well, and I soon had a loop circuit that connected with a trail I made last year at the bottom of the property, as well as branching off to another part of the woods where I’ll start next time.
I really enjoyed the work, and will almost certainly enjoy the maintenance. That’s because the best thing you can do to maintain trails is walk them! The dog and I make a circuit on every walk now, and I can’t tell you how neat it feels to have my own forest trails. Walking through a forest is one of my favourite outdoor things to do, and now I can do it without even leaving home!