Happy trails to you

This winter we have two big projects going at Tarboo Creek: planting and trailing. More on planting later—this year trailing took the lead.

Trailing is working on trails. We have a network now, one that started 12 years ago with a walking route along a newly remeandered portion of Tarboo Creek. That trail floods after winter storms, so it’s informal: it moves around in response to the growth of trees and shrubs that we’ve planted and to changes in the creek channel. We do little to improve it—it’s made by where we walk.

We have a more formal trail system, though, that traces the perimeter of the 160-acre tract that we call Carl’s Forest, in honor of my wife Susan’s father. That trail is partly for work—it’s how we get to areas we are thinning or pruning or doing selective tree harvest—and partly for recreation. It’s where we take visitors who want to do a little hiking or mushroom hunting and/or learn more about how we’re managing the forest.

Old extension ladder set across the creek to act as bridge base.
The ladder in place; stabilized with rock and cedar under each end.

About a year ago we started to work on the last portion of this loop trail, at the southern boundary of the forest. We launched with a big workday, assembling about 15 friends and family members to dig sword ferns from a particularly frondy stretch of the path we’d marked out. We put the plants in buckets and trucked them to transplanting sites along our creek trail—where we’ve been working to establish an understory of native forest species. That bucket-brigading operation cleared the initial stretch of path; later I went over it with an industrial-strength hoe used in fire-fighting: exalting every valley, laying mountains and hills low, and making rough places plain. The object was to create a smooth, easily walkable surface.

The next task was to have the trail navigate a tributary to the main channel of Tarboo Creek—a streambed that is quiet in summer but in an uproar all winter. Near the southwest corner of Carl’s Forest, this tributary splits in two and then splits again, forming four channels that splay out a little like the fingers from a palm, minus one digit. The channels have cut mini-canyons through the overlying glacial till, in places down to the bedrock. The canyon walls are steep, making trail-making an adventure.

Scott nailing 2x6 pieces for walking platform.
Nailing up the treads.

This month’s project was to extend the trail beyond the first split in the tributary and build a bridge just before the second. To cope with the steeper sections on the way to the bridge site, we made revetments: log walls to hold the sides of the trail in place and prevent them from slipping downhill. To do this we thin small western red cedar trees; once they are on the ground, we cut long rails from their fat bottoms and short stakes from their thin tops. We drive the stakes into a slope, lay the rails up against them to make a wall, and create a trail by filling the cavity with uphill soil.

Bridging the trib? That’s another matter. Usually we make bridges by laying long western red cedar poles over a span and nailing pieces of split cedar logs onto them to make treads. But for this bridge, we tried an alternative scheme inspired by a relative in upstate New York. We had a long section of broken extension ladder, so we laid that over the creek bed to connect the two banks. Then I took long pieces of rough-sawn 2x4s, laid them in parallel at ladder-width, and connected them with two-foot-long sections of 2x4s and 2x6s from the same rough-sawn stock. A group of five of us then lifted the wood structure and laid it over the ladder to make a walkable surface. As Susan used to say when she was little: “Viola!” We had a bridge.

This month we celebrated Estella Bergere Leopold’s 91st birthday. She is the youngest of Aldo and Estella Leopold’s five children; only Estella is still with us. This photo shows four generations in the Leopold clan. From left to right: Ben, Felix and Alexa Freeman, Scott Freeman, Estella and Susan Leopold Freeman.

There’s still a lot to be done before we close the loop, and can walk a continuous improved trail around Carl’s Forest instead of bushwhacking through sections. In the meantime? Happy trails to you, until we meet again.