Trailblazing invokes images of early American explorers, rugged men slashing through the wilderness to create new passages through a forest. Establishing paths in a natural space, however, involves much more than simply striding through the woods with a knife. It requires planning, a knowledge of and respect for the natural space, and some good old-fashioned hard work. To learn about how we establish the trails at our own Oldmans Creek Preserve (OCP), I talked to our Environmental Steward Phil Arsenault who has planned and cleared many of the trails in the area.
How the paths are chosen
Prior to preservation by the South Jersey Land and Water Trust (SJLWT), the OCP was an abandoned Boy Scouts camp. Preserving the area ensured that the land would continue to provide an ideal natural habitat for native plants and wildlife. Today, a variety of birds, like belted kingfishers and red-bellied woodpeckers, and wildlife, such as beavers and raccoons, have found a home in the preserve. But we also wanted the public to be able to enjoy all that the preserve had to offer. To do that, we had to create footpaths. But how did we decide where the trails should go?
“In many cases, the trails were there in spirit,” Phil says, “The blue trail existed since the Boy Scout days but was overgrown and had a lot of branches blocking the path.” But it’s not just human footsteps that have made the paths. “The red trail was a deer path along the bluffs,” Phil adds, “From there, I just reclaimed the trails.”
But Phil also always has an eye for the experience of visitors, “When laying out the trails, I need to take into consideration people’s safety and the amount of time it takes. I don’t want people walking down steep slopes, so I look for flat spaces or areas where inclines are gradual. Because of the safety to myself making the trails, I look for the areas of least resistance.”
Clearing the trails
The actual work of creating the pathways primarily requires the use of familiar tools such as loppers to prune back shrubs and rakes to clear leaves and groundcover. Occasionally, however, Phil has to break out the big guns, “I use a chainsaw to cut through fallen trees and branches,” he says.
The most important tool though? “Manpower,” Phil says, “If I have enough volunteers, I can clear a trail pretty quickly. The new portion of the green trail was done in two hours. The new portion of the purple trail was done by a Boy Scout for an Eagle Scout project and most of it got done in a day.”
What new trails are coming to the OCP?
While there are miles of trails already at the OCP, Phil is still looking to establish several more, “I am hoping to make three new trails this year.” He’s looking to give visitors access to several particularly stunning areas within the preserve, “I want to make a small loop trail under the white pines next to the meadow. This will serve as a nice trail that will overlook the ravine.” He’s also looking to create trails that allow easier access to the pond as well as to the tranquil “cove.”
The art of establishing trails involves much more than slapping a path down. It takes a familiarity with the land and the ability to envision the experience of nature lovers who will visit the preserve. Phil says that creating these trails is an unbeatable experience, “There is nothing better than looking back on a cleared trail, knowing that it was once a dense thicket of shrubs and vines that is now a path on which people can enjoy the beauty of the preserve.”
We need trailblazers! No experience necessary. Join us at one of our trailblazing events. We have one coming up on December 15th, 2018. RSVP by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org . More information here.