Lessons From Solo Trail Work

I’ve been a hiker and backpacker all my life. For more than 25 years now I’ve hiked throughout the White Mountains of New Hampshire, forests of Massachusetts, parts of Wyoming and Colorado, and other countries all over the world. For one Summer in 1991, I was a Student Conservation Association intern for the US Forest Service on the Medicine Bow National Forest. But after that Summer life intruded on my opportunities to give back to the hiking community by doing trail work.

In 2012 I bought a new daypack and wanted to test it a bit before heading to New Hampshire. I went looking for a place near my home in Massachusetts that would have some hills and the chance to put in a few miles to see how the pack would feel. I stumbled across the Rock House Reservation and spent a few hours walking around. I loved the pack. But on the way back to the parking lot I found a sign saying that the Trustees, the organization that managed the property were looking for a volunteer property steward to help with caretaking and management. So I sent an email and to cut to the chase, I have been the main property steward at the Rock House and a few other properties ever since.

The Scope

Managing a property like this poses a unique challenge. The Rock House is only 196 acres in its main area with about 3.5 miles of trails. It presents a microcosm of a much larger area: mixed hardwood and coniferous forest with all the trees and branches that fall in storms, trails that climb and descend steep hills and suffer erosion, trails that cross small streams, and trails that traverse flat areas that are flooded or wet with impossible drainage for parts of the year. So as a trail maintenance exercise I have to do all the same stuff that people do in National Forests, just in a concentrated area and usually by myself.

I’ve found plenty of information on maintaining trails for large agencies with crews of people. But no one posted much of anything about what works for one or two people in smaller compact areas where I find myself these days. I intend to rectify this problem in the next few posts.

What I’ll Cover

Over the last few years, I’ve found a few tools and systems that work for a solo trail maintainer. My position involves everything from picking up trash to basic building maintenance to cleaning and covering graffiti to brushing back trails, regrading treadways, and clearing downed trees. So I figure I’ll break my lessons learned into these categories:

  1. Clothes, packs, and common tools.
  2. Grading and digging tools.
  3. Brushing and clearing tools.
  4. Mechanical advantage and tree clearing tools.
  5. Painting and graffiti tools.
  6. Miscellaneous stuff for special projects.

How I’ll Cover It

There are plenty of articles and videos that cover this stuff in great detail. That’s not my intention – this won’t be a comprehensive lesson in how to do trail work. Rather, I intend to just highlight a few things that I’ve learned along the way or some gear that works particularly well for me. With any luck, you’ll find this stuff interesting too.