Farming Magazine - June, 2009


Clearing the Way

Farm trails and your woodlot
By Harry Chandler

It is astounding how similar cleaning a workbench is to building trails around a farm or through a forest.

  1. It is less work that you thought it would be.
  2. You can find things or places that you forgot or didn’t know you had.
  3. Time is saved once the project is completed.
  4. A cool day with a slight wind is a good day to do either job.
Photos by Harry Chandler Unless Otherwise Noted.
Woods trails take more work because they are usually meandering and circuitous.
Our trails are built in part to show the uninitiated the interior of the forest.

If the workbench and area around the workbench is cleaned, it is quite possible all the tools for building a trail will be found. The necessary items for building a farm trail: axe and brush axe, pruning saw or small chain saw, rake and hoe, and possibly a pry bar to move rocks. A series of trails through a forest or around a small farm enables a farmer or forestland owner to travel from point A to point B and any other points that are usually traveled with the greatest ease and the least amount of time.

As I started this article, I also started clearing out the area directly between our garden and our work shop, tool shed and storage area. My visualization of a path through this area required manually moving some rocks and clearing a lot of brush. No big deal, but one thing led to another and I ended up clearing a half-acre that will now be landscaped into perennials. I worked at this for about 10 hours. The result is this area is no longer referred to as “the family toxic waste dump,” and we now have a direct trail between the barn and the garden. The walk to the garden was 96 yards, one way; now it is 54 yards down a sloped trail to the garden, which make a big difference if carrying tools or pushing a wheelbarrow.

Woods trails take more work because they are not just a trail between two points like barn to garden. Usually, woods trails are meandering and circuitous. Our trails are built in part to show the uninitiated the interior of the forest while ostensibly only using the trail to go from our house to a particular place in the forest. Many forestland owners take great pride in their forests, and there is usually something about the flora and fauna worth showing visitors. We use some wood trails for convenience and also have several trails that sometimes parallel each other so we can walk through a woodlot to see our forest from a different perspective.

Because I have participated in most of our recent logging jobs, I have had some input into where the skid roads have been placed and that helped me augment our trail system. The first trail to be accomplished this year was the barn to the garden. The second trail is going from the house to one of our woods roads. The distance is estimated to be about 300 yards.

Forestland owners take great pride in their forests, trails make it easier to show off the forest to visitors.

We walked the prospective trail recently flagging it, and then walked back on the flags to see how we could improve the trail. At the start of the trail the woods were quite open with fast-growing conifers that had grown in what had been a hayfield over a half century ago. Then, the woods changed almost completely to a forest of maples, larch, birch and aspen. It too had gone through the primary stages of a forest growing on an old hayfield. Then I found a mixed section of old forest that was missed by any harvests. Not many trees, but a couple of really pretty acres that just never got cut.

We will go back and clear the trail with a chain saw to prune the trailside trees. Maybe later I’ll take a pole pruner to do some forest improvement. This is going to be one of the easiest trails through an attractive 5 acres section of woods that we probably wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.

The author has been a professional grower of vegetable and flowering plants for more than 20 years; was executive director of Vermont Woodlands Association (VWA) for 5 years and was awarded life membership; wrote a column for American Tree Farmer for 5 years; and did radio commentary for 6 years on several stations, titled “Woodlands, Wetlands and Wildlife.” He has also grown Christmas trees, is a tree warden and has produced articles for various Tree Warden Newsletters. He and his wife Judy live in Vermont on their forested property, which has been in the family for over 100 years.