Monday, December 2, 2013

Trail Building 101

Once you have found a piece of land to build your little home, you will need to get there. Regardless if your lot is just a few hundred yards off of the road system or you are much more remote, you will find yourself needing to build a series of trails. If nothing more than to get your ATV to your wood cutting area's.
Building a decent trail will make your travel more bearable. Notice I did not say fun. Even the best trail you can build through the woods will knock you around quite a bit. However you will want to make the experience the least abusive as you can.
Tools will be needed to accomplish this mission of course. While a chainsaw alone will do the bulk of the work a few other items will make the chore much more effective.
I would recommend the following, if you can afford it.
  1. Chainsaw with a sharp chain
  2. chainsaw with a bad chain. (this is the saw that will be biting into the dirt and cutting dead fall on the ground.
  3. Pulaski (which is an axe with a pick on one side, that will be used for chopping at root structure and evening out bumps and depressions).
  4. trail marker tape (I like pink best).
In the event you are not able to have a second saw don't sweat it... just be careful. There is nothing worse than a dull chainsaw. If you can't afford a Pulaski then just bring a shovel of some sort.

Begin by scouting your trail carefully. Don't rush it. If your land is in a true undeveloped area you will be going through area's with a lot of dead fall, undergrowth and wet area's.
Take your time, as it will be worth it in the end. If you are concerned about getting temporarily confused about your location simply use the marker take as a guide.
I like to take about an 18 to 24 inch piece of tape and secure it to a branch along your prospective trail, about head high. Tie it with a simple overhand knot, as you can remove it easily and use it over and over (remember, you are on a dime here). Tying a square knot is not needed if your tag ends are long enough.
Look back and gage how straight your trail is. By placing your tape about 30 feet apart or withing easy sight of the previous piece you can judge your route. When you need to turn your trail try and make gradual bends in the trail. Remember, you will be hauling lumber, roofing and supplies on this trail. Two and three point turns on a trail, just to maneuver your trailer will be quite annoying.
Try to stick to the high ground, avoiding wet spots. They may not seem bad, but will only get worse, much much worse. Cut out any deadfall, and cut it a few feet wider than you need. Remove small trees and saplings completely, rather than going around. If you feel a bit guilty about doing that just remember, you can use them for projects or firewood.
I handle deadfall in two ways. If the deadfall is very old and sunken and rotting into the ground, I simply take the chainsaw and make curf type cuts through the tree down to near ground lever, about 1" apart. I then take the pulaski or axe and break out the pieces. Any deadfall that is above ground I cut into sections big (or short enough, depending on your perspective), to throw off to the side. Taking note of any wood that may be usable for firewood and keeping that separate for removal. Dips and mounds are then broken down with the pulaski or shovel. This might not seem important, but trust me. After a few trips down the trail you will remove them. Don't worry. You won't get them all the first day.
As you survey and walk, look back and see how the trail is progressing. Use your tape for visual confirmation and you'll see how straight you can keep things. The work will go slowly, but after you drive the trail a few times you will notice how visible it becomes.
Also take the time to remove the undergrowth. Brush, bushes and the like which obstructs the view of the trail and will only get in the way. Do as nice a job as you can. The chainsaw works fine for this, but if you have a grass trimmer with a saw blade you will save your back.

In the foreground of this photo you will see a very old dead birch tree. It is enough above ground that it will need to be removed completely. Even in open area's such as this you will probably have to remove brush, at the very least. Remember to cut at least a few feet either side of your ATV, and try and picture hauling a loaded trailer behind you.

Here is a photo of a very old deadfall that has sunk/decayed into the ground. These are still a pain to go over, so I make the curf cuts as shown, then break the pieces out. These littl things may not seem like much, but after you have crossed them a few times you will do this anyway.

In the above two pictures you will see a before and after of the removal of a down birch and misc brush. Note that a few low limbs on the spruce trees were also removed.
Trail building is not difficult, but it is time comsuming. The real key to remember is that you want to picture yourself hauling a trailer, perhaps one with 12 to 16 foot 2x6's, etc, behind your machine. The extra time you take at the beginning will make your travels less of a chore.
Remember to use a lot of marker tape, in order that you may be able to look back and guage how your trail is coming along. Better to backtrack at the beginning a few yards and look for a more suitable route than rebuild later. You will be in less of a mood, trust me.

In this photo the white arrows show the trail marker tape. While it does not show up very well, due to image size limitations the arrows show a fairly straight trail easily allowing the the hauing of even large ungainly loads.

Hills: There will be times that you will need to nativate up hills. This is often difficult, as finding a suitable route will require much searching. Viewing from a distance the hills always appear steeper, so scout ahead, find your best route and then back track to your established trail. You should absolutely try and avoid a traverse, as the last thing you will want is too roll an ATV downhill. Don't be suprised that you may need to actually tie two ATV's together in order to haul a load to the top of a hill. This is not actually uncommon, but requires some experience with ATV's.
My common routine, since I live in the mountains, is to haul small loads on my ATV racks, up to a freight trailer that is stationed on more lever ground at the top of the last big hill. This is time consuming, but much easier on equipment in the long run.