When Trees Are Not Friends!

A “blowdown” is a tree or part of a tree that has fallen or has been blown down and blocks a trail section, preventing unobstructed, safe pedestrian passage.


 You must be currently trained and certified by the PATC, ATC, and the NPS as a chain sawyer before you can operate a chainsaw on any trail or trail section maintained by the PATC.

Our Task

Safely remove hazardous or obstructive trees to allow hikers to pass.

A (non-typical) Blowdown

General standards

Cleared annually with an opening 2 – 4 feet in width, preventing damage from users making new trails around the obstacle.

  • Blowdowns on trail sections where damage by off-road vehicles is a problem may be left uncut on the ground, if easy to step over.

 Cut notches in blowdowns that are too big for hikers and backpackers to safely clear.

  • Do not exceed the capacity of your equipment or your skills.
  • Report problem trees, such as large or “hung-up” trees, that are beyond your skill level to Park officials and your District Manager.

 Do not hesitate to ask your District Manager for help with blowdowns.

  • Clearing blowdowns or winter damage should be done early in the spring and may be required after storms.
  • Clear blowdowns to the same passage width as clipping and weeding.

Appalachian Trail

The Trail shall be kept clear of vegetation and obstructions that unnecessarily impede foot travel. It shall be cleared to such a width and height that a hiker with a pack can walk the Trail without undue difficulty. (Appalachian Trail Conference, 1979)

  • Remove all fallen trees and other obstructions.
  • Obstructions must be removed as soon as possible—particularly from spring through autumn—for safety and to discourage hikers from walking off the trail.

Blue-blazed trails

Same as the Appalachian Trail.

The use of power tools is prohibited in wilderness areas unless a waiver is issued by the Park Superintendent.

Wilderness trails

  • Remove only those trees and other obstructions that do not lie flat on the ground and that cannot easily be stepped over or walked under by a person carrying a backpack.
  • The cleared width should allow persons to walk single-file and prevent vegetation from obscuring the tread.

Hand Saw Use


  • Remove material far enough from the sides of the trail to avoid snagging hikers.
  • Closely note tension on fallen trees to prevent injury.
  • Use a pry bar or other lever to relieve tension when necessary.
  • Make one cut in small trees and drag ends to the side.
    • For large trees that cannot be moved, use two cuts to create a path slightly wider than the treadway and remove that section.


  • Have at least two people in your work party.
  • Be sure you have an extra cutting tool in case your saw blade pinches in the middle of the job.
  • Carry an extra blade for your bow saw.
  • Take along a lightweight cruising ax and small plastic felling wedge(s).
  • If using a crosscut saw, bring a small bottle of kerosene to lubricate the blade.
  • Don’t dull your cutting blades! Lay them down carefully.
  • Bring a file or sharpening stone appropriate for your tool. It can sometimes save the day.


  • When cutting a tree with a large root ball, remember that the roots will probably either fall back in the hole or tip toward the trunk.
    • They can be amazingly heavy.
  • Always cut the compression side of the log first (the side that the ends of the tree are bending toward).
    • Cut up to one-third the diameter of the log before switching to the tension side. That should prevent pinching your blade.
  • Finish the cut from the tension side, where the log is being pulled apart.
  • If you are bucking with an ax, the top of the cut should be about the same width as the diameter of the log.
  • When cutting branches, cut up from the bottom of the tree, and stand on the other side of the log.

Chainsaw Use

Gasoline-powered chainsaws are a mixed blessing. Using a chainsaw may be much more efficient than hand saws, but the machine is heavy, smelly, and noisy and requires a lot of extra tools.


  • Chainsaw users must:
    • Be trained & certified
    • Be accompanied by an assistant trained in basic first aid and CPR
    • Use personal protection equipment (PPE).

 Contact the PATC Trails Management Coordinator to find out about certification.

  • Chainsaw PPE consists of:
    • Sturdy boots
    • Chainsaw chaps
    • Gloves
    • A safety helmet with eye and ear protection.


  • Start the tool at home—and again at the trailhead—to be sure it is working properly.
  • Take along an extra bar and chain.
    • If the tool gets pinched and cannot easily be freed, try slipping the bar or bit off the motor.
    • With a chainsaw, then pull the bar out, leaving the chain stuck in the tree.
    • With your extra blade you can cut it free.
  • Many maintainers carry their power tool, tool kit, spare parts, PPE, and gas and oil on a packboard.
  • Be sure you carry spare parts, such as extra nuts, extra oil caps, etc.
  • Check nuts and bolts for tightness before getting in the field.
    • Loss-proof them by installing a cotter pin or attaching a safety line (fishing wire leaders with swivels work well) to items such as the oil cap.
  • Be sure not to spill gas or oil.
  • Bring the right file or sharpening stone for your tool.

Hazard Trees

Check for hazard trees at least once per year at overnight sites and areas where hikers stop and notify the District Manager immediately if any are present.

 Hazard-tree removal will be done by your agency partner.

Consider cutting dead or broken trees or limbs at the sides of the trail that are likely to fall on the footpath.

 PATC members, even NPS-certified chain sawyers, are not allowed to fell standing trees in Shenandoah National Park, no matter the condition or hazard risk of the tree.

Chain sawyers must be trained and certified by the NPS to use chainsaws anywhere on the A.T. and in Shenandoah National Park. Sawyers must be accompanied by at least one person and must always wear proper personal protective equipment when working.


  • Bow saw (30 – 36 inches or larger)
  • Corona saw
  • Crosscut saw, one- or two-person
  • Loppers
  • Chainsaw