I love to hike. Where I live there are many great trails. I had never thought about how those trails were created. Then I worked on a trail crew one summer. That is when I realized trails do not just pop up overnight. People work hard to create and maintain trails. Many areas have volunteer groups that get together to help work on trails. it is a lot of work, but I think building a trail is just as fun as hiking. Where I live we own an acre that I decided to build a small trail on. But this information can be used to maintain a trail as well as building.
Step 1: Gather Tools
For this small section of trail I used a hand saw, loppers, and a pulaski. The pulaski is not my favorite but I think it is the easiest to find in stores. Plus it is a multipurpose tool, so if you have to hike long distances to where you will be working, you will be able to have both an axe and a hoe. Any hoe will work fine, but I would not recommend a shovel for trail work. The long handle gets in the way, plus shovels are not the best tool for smoothing out the ground. Gloves are also a must. They help you keep a good grip on the handle and it protects your hands from getting blisters, or thorns stuck in them.
Step 2: Choose Where You Want the Trail
First thing to do is take a step back and look as what you are working with. To get an idea of possible routes you can lay out flags. Walk around and just see what feels right. Remember, don't create extra work for yourself. Go around trees instead of cutting them down. Here I think I will run the trail straight down and then turn right, before the larger tree. This will be the section I will focus on.
Step 3: Clearing the Brush
After deciding where the trail will be I like to clear the small brush. Here I did not have to cut much brush. We have many deer in the area and this seemed to be a small deer trail. For once the deer ate something I was okay with. Anyway, lop away until the trail is clear, about three feet across. When you cut the brush, pile it up and pull it well of the future trail. Remember that anything green when cut, will turn brown. It kind of ruins the feel of a trail when there are piles of dead brush in view. Now that the trail is more open, you can walk it again to make sure you like where the trail will be.
Step 4: Removing Trees
Now remove anything larger with your saw. As I said, I like to leave as much as I can, but here there was a small tree leaning over the trail. Be aware of where it will fall when you cut it. Even a small tree can hurt you if it hits you. Now you will have to remove the stump. Use the pulaski and dig around the stump (saving the dirt) and start chopping the roots until it pulls free. It can take a bit of work. Now fill the hole back in with the dirt.
Step 5: Roots
Now you can start removing roots. This is often overlooked by people doing trail maintenance. When a trail gets walked on, any leaves and pine needles will get packed down. After a while roots will become exposed. When building a trail, scrape away the rotten layer to see the roots. To remove them just chop on each side. It is easy and will really improve the tread of a trail.
Step 6: Water
The next thing to consider is where any water will go when it rains. Look at low spots in the trail and long downhill sections. Water running down the trails will cause ruts. Digging small ditches in the trail will lead water off the tread. It is really hard to see in the picture, I placed the pulaski in the ditch so you can see where it goes off the trail. Just dig a small ditch with a small trench leading off the trail. Remember any low spots will gather water.
Step 7: Finishing Up
After walking the new trail I realized the tread was sloping way too far down hill. To fix it, I pulled dirt from the high side, down to the low area. When working with loose dirt, it is important to pack it down in layers. Spread a few inches of dirt and then pack it down and repeat. It is impossible to pack down a foot of dirt all at once. To pack it down all I do is walk on it between layers.
Step 8: Enjoy the Trail
Know that you have created something that many people can enjoy. If you do not want to build trails, it is fine, but now you can appreciate the work that goes in to building and maintaining trail . If you see a crew working when you are out hiking, be sure to thank them.