I had a friend, his dad, and another friend come up from Wisconsin to help clear some paths from the building sites down to the water. It helped in convincing them that the gill-netting season for whitefish was underway. And even though the weather did not cooperate for the fishing to be successful, I’m thankful they came to help because they were much more adept at path visualization than I am. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, the descent from the building sites down to the water is about 60′ and much of it is the bare faces of giant granite boulders. My approach would have been to clear a straight line down to the water and later devise a system of anchoring a staircase into the granite. Luckily, my friends dissuaded me from this course of action. Their approach, and what I quickly realized was the correct approach, was to follow the natural course of the topography in a meandering sort of way all the way down to the lake. The paths ended up longer but much easier to navigate, and felt as though it was the natural way to travel, as if it was a well-used game path. The paths also had the added benefit of winding around beautiful old-growth trees and past little vistas with views of the lake. There were a couple of spots where the path had to cut across a low, swampy area or jump over a little ephemeral stream so we reused lumber from the old docks I referred to in a previous post to make foot bridges. Instead of removing whole trees, we limbed them up to just above head-height. Not only did this make the path more secluded and enclosed, but it also framed the path in such a way that it was apparent which direction one would have to walk. I’ll have to keep up with the trail maintenance especially during the first few years. A lot of the early successional stage vegetation around here is especially adapted to exploit a disturbance that has left a site clear and sunny. As long as I stay in front of it, the forest will grow up naturally around the path and shade out anything wanting to grow underfoot, and I should have a defined, well-worn path in the future.
For anyone interested in building trails of any sort I would recommend checking the resources available at americantrails.org. I especially like the illustrated compendium of tools used in trail building. They also have a section dedicated to wildlife impacts of trails; a research topic in which I was involved with the University of Wisconsin Sylvis Lab.