Clearing Trail

Sunlight and photosynthesis, along with water, are the enemies of your trail section. Together, they convert dirt and water into…plants.

No sooner do you clear the trail corridor of plants than they begin a rush toward this new avenue of sunlight.

Trail overgrowth

General standards

  • Steep slopes with thin or unstable soil should have somewhat narrower trail treads because the roots of trailside vegetation help stabilize the slope.
  • Do not indiscriminately remove trailside plants—they help stabilize the soil.

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)

Trail clearance
  • The cleared width should be enough to allow hikers wearing shorts to pass easily without contacting any vegetation.
  • Clip vegetation sufficiently to keep all blazes clear and visible.

Side & Connecting trails

Same as the Appalachian Trail.

Wilderness trails

  • The width should be enough to allow hikers--not necessarily wearing shorts--to pass single file without frequent contact with vegetation. (A width of approximately 4 feet is sufficient.)
  • Clip vegetation sufficiently to keep all blazes clear and visible.

Techniques

Vegetation along the Trail should be undamaged by trampling, with healthy plants growing close beside the treadway. Vegetation clearing should not be hindered by this principle.

Inadequate clearing of uphill vegetation forces hikers to the outside of the tread, causing it to fail.

Upslope brushing
  • Clip fast growing weeds such as thorns, nettles, and poison ivy well back from the trail. You may have to return two or three times before the summer is over if there is no canopy to inhibit growth.
  • Branches growing toward the trail should be cut back to the next limb growing away from the trail. This encourages growth away from the trail.
  • It is better to remove the whole tree or all lateral branches than to remove the treetop. Removal of the terminal bud (top of plant) encourages lateral growth across the trail.

Grass & Briers

Cut twice per year; both sides in flat areas, mostly on the uphill side on sidehill trail sections.

  • Clearance width varies with terrain and vegetation. In general, the A.T. and blue-blazed trails should be maintained at a width of 4 – 6 feet.
  • Wilderness trails should be maintained at a 4-foot width.
  • Briers may need to be clipped 6 feet from the trail.

Limbs & saplings

Cut once per year, leaving a passage 4 feet wide by 8 feet in height; on both sides of the trail in flat areas, mostly along the uphill side on sidehill sections.

Limbs should be trimmed flush with trunks, and saplings uprooted or cut below ground. Cuttings should be moved below the trail, leaving desirable and fragile plant life undisturbed. “Feather” the edges of cut areas, since straight-line trimming looks unnatural. It is easier to reach high branches when facing downhill.

  • Remove all saplings and trees growing in rock or log retaining walls both above and below the treadway; their roots will push these structures apart.
  • Remove all cut trees, branches, brush, and briars completely from the trail. Disperse cuttings hanging in trees and piles of brush out of sight of the trail.

Conditions

Avoid these problems:

Blocked: Blocked by blowdowns making passage difficult or forcing hikers to detour from treadway.

Cleared downhill: Cleared of vegetation on the downhill side on sidehill sections, which allows hikers to walk on or below the outside edge of the treadway.

Overgrown: Bushes or briars brush, scratch, or, during rain, soak the hiker.

Cleared too widely: Cleared so that hikers leave the treadway, causing treadway widening, or such that the trail loses the appearance of a simple footpath.

Cleared too narrowly: Cleared to less than 3 feet in width, making the route obscure or passage difficult. Trimmed neatly—with trailside vegetation trimmed to look like a hedge.

Inadequately cleared: Cleared to a height of less than 8 feet.

Covered: Covered with cuttings or brush piles that make the footway unsightly, hide dangerous holes or roots, make footing unstable, or pose a fire hazard.

Bordered by stumps or stubs of cut limbs: Bordered by items that catch on hikers' packs or clothing or that might injure a hiker who trips or falls.

Obscuring vistas: Vistas obscured by growth.

Tools

  • Loppers
  • Scythes (swing blades)
  • Brushcutters (outside wilderness areas)
  • Small saws
  • Mattocks
  • Pulaskis
  • Fire rakes