During the winter, our wooded ridge was a fun place to explore. It was a great time to start blazing our trail! The ground was open and the trees were bare – we could really get a good sense of the space. Josh and I like to hike (Josh has done several AT section hikes in Virginia), and we thought it would be special to have our own trail to experience on a daily basis.
To start the process, Josh identified an old logging trail (seen in the photo above) just on the other side of Hayes Branch creek. That section didn’t go too far, so once it ended he looked for animal tracks – mainly from deer. These were skinny little paths but were still pretty noticeable. He took surveyor’s tape to mark the trail and when there were no noticeable deer trails, he followed the natural contours of the ridge and marked those, too. Once he connected all the sections and had planned out the general line, we got to clearing it and expanding it.
Some areas had large fallen trees from heavy rain or snow storms or from “old age.” These Josh cleared with a chainsaw – lots of hard work! He spent many hours cutting the trees into stack-able logs, and he also made use of them by building a couple benches along the trail. I love taking a few minutes to sit and take in all of what’s around – the leaves rustling with the wind, birds singing, the smell of the fresh air. It’s wonderful.
To establish the marked trail after the large trees were removed, we clipped branches and small ground cover. It opened up the trail and made it travelable. Also, we walked the trail many, many times a day – that really reinforced the path. And I like the habit of that – the familiarity you build and the day-to-day rhythm you create. We also noticed that a lot of deer continue to use the path – it’s fun to see their footprints and know that we’re sharing the space.
Sections that hadn’t been animal paths needed some extra work to even out the slope or grade. For this we invited friends for a weekend, and everyone chipped in. The trail blazing crew (5 folks) worked with an assortment of tools: mattock, shovel, rake, hoe, and stamper. They worked in an assembly line, transforming the ground into a trail. And of course after all their hard work we took them to a winery!
Now with spring, the ridge has filled in with foliage and the ground is covered with saplings and shrubs. The setting has become more dense and everything seems more present, highlighting our trail with greenery. We’ve removed the orange surveyor’s tape and plan to blaze the trail with a traditional white mark (as seen on trails like the AT). With the trail we’ve made one solid sweep across the ridge, and we will create additional passes next winter, when it’s clear again and trail blazing is easier.
On a related note, back in January I read a book by Robert MacFarlane called The Old Ways. It is a great read about the ceremonial nature of walking, about trails and geography, philosophy, culture, all sorts of interesting topics. In 2012, The New York Times featured a nice review:
“Macfarlane has given us a gorgeous book about physical movement and the movement of memory, one that resounds with stories told to ‘the beat of the placed and lifted foot.’ ‘The Old Ways’ celebrates the civility of paths, thin lines of tenacious community threaded through an ‘aggressively privatized world.'” Paths of Enlightenment by Rob Nixon