TRAILS AND PATHWAYS BECKON US. Our innate curiosity about
what lies beyond the curve or over the hilltop compels us to follow the lines
of a path before us. A carefully crafted walkway or a simple rustic trail can
greatly enhance the pleasure you take in your acreage.
When Tammy Burns and her family were in the market for
country property, they looked for a place with potential for trail development.
"We love to go hiking," she says. They ruled out treeless landscapes in favour
of 10 wooded acres near Pierceland, Saskatchewan. With simple improvements,
they used existing game trails to develop a network of trails they now enjoy
for walking and cross-country skiing.
Using their trails with their two young daughters gets them
out into nature and helps them to be more creative, Burns says. "The trails are
invaluable. We're constantly looking for animal signs - scat, tracks, deer
beds. The girls imagine what it's like for the animals that live here."
A larger property offers possibilities for developing
recreational trails for horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking, and skiing
as well as routes for all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles. However, even a
smaller acreage can support walking trails or paths. A half-acre is all that's
needed for a maze cut through indigenous grasses, a feature that adds visual
interest and provides a place for children to ride bikes and play tag or
hide-and-seek. For this project, all you need is imagination and a lawnmower.
If you plan to construct trails on your property, you need
to decide how much money and time you want to invest in building and
maintenance. Paving materials can increase costs, but will reduce weeding
time. Determining who will use a trail and for what purposes will help you plan
its shape and surface. For example, hikers and skiers will enjoy a meandering
trail more than someone who simply wants a direct route to the compost pile.
Having decided on the budget, the users and the primary
purpose, you're ready to lay the course.
1. Mark the route
One way to choose the route is to note where people are
currently walking. "Figure out where the traffic is," advises Heidi Engler, of
E-Tree, the Tree Farm, in Cold Lake, Alberta. "People are going to walk where
they want to walk."
Using stakes or surveyors flagging tape, mark the outer
edges of the planned route. Troy Sievert, a landscape designer with Appellation
Designs, in Armstrong, British Columbia, recommends a trail width of
approximately 1.2 metres (3.9 feet). "That will comfortably accommodate two
people walking side by side, or give ample space for a wheelchair," he says. In
addition, Sievert notes, if your trail climbs a slope, don't make it too steep.
Allow an 18- to 20-centimetre rise (seven to eight inches) for each step of
about 30 centimetres (1 foot).
2. Clear the route
For a long trail, you may not want to use costly paving
stones. (If you do intend to use paving stones, you should prepare the trail
bed. See the sidebar on the next page.) The main task is to clear the route of
debris and obstacles. Hand pruners can be used on smaller twigs. Power tools
are required for removal of trees and larger branches. "A blade attachment can
be added to some weed-eaters, and hedge trimmers can handle branches about the
thickness of a finger," says Sievert. A pole saw is useful for reaching higher
branches extending over the trail.
3. Consider options for surface materials
Adding surface material to your trail can add definition and
aesthetic appeal, provide a more comfortable walking surface, discourage weed
growth, and make the route more navigable in wet conditions. The drawbacks?
Installing surfacing can be costly, and it will require more work. Visit local
suppliers to see product samples, and ask questions about the suitability of
the materials you like for the trail you propose to build. Investigate natural
materials that are plentiful and close at hand.
You may discover an inexpensive
and suitable option in your own area. For example, you might be able to obtain
sawdust from a nearby sawmill. It provides a cushiony surface, is
biodegradable, and is usually yours for the asking.
Some landscapers also provide free wood mulch, a byproduct
of tree pruning services. With a wood chipper, you can also make your own
mulch, using the material you cut to create the trail.
Engler recommends that you consider the needs of trees and
plants growing alongside the trail site. Some vegetation may be affected by the
proposed trail. "If there are poplars on either side, mulch is really nice because
it doesn't wear out the roots," she says. Trees such as trembling aspen are
susceptible to root damage on heavily used trails, and so benefit from a
protective layer of mulch. "Poplars are all connected by suckers," Engler
notes. Thus, trees could be damaged by heavy traffic over unprotected roots.
4. Add interest to your trail
Details such as sculptures, bird feeders or garden ornaments
invite visitors to linger. "People like surprises along the way," says Sievert.
A sitting area placed just past a curve in the trail can be an unexpected
delight. "To create a focal point to your seating area, set up your ornaments
directly across the path from your bench," he suggests.
5. Plan to maintain the trail
The maintenance depends upon the trail. A dirt track will
require occasional brushing and mowing. You may need to rake a graveled path to
return scattered material. Hand tools may assist with pruning vegetation along
shorter paths, but you'll need power tools to maintain longer trails.
Be sure to follow safety procedures when handling power
tools such as chainsaws and brushing equipment, even for smaller jobs. Many
tools can be obtained from rental shops for periodic trail maintenance.
"People want peace and calm in their lives," says Burns.
Getting out on the trails on her acreage gives her that sense of peace, without
a lot of effort, she says. Sievert agrees: "Building trails is a fairly easy
thing for most people to do."