Blazing New Trails on a Rural Property

Reader Contribution by Monica White
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Tree-lined trails bring beauty and maintenance. Photo from Pexels

Take a walk down the trail of any two homesteads and you will likely come away with two entirely different experiences. It should come as no surprise that most homestead trails reflect the owner’s different tastes and the ways in which they typically use their homestead.

Homestead trails needn’t suffer their appearance in exchange for utility, nor do they have to affect any extremes in design to make them both useful and functional.

Trails can offer homestead owners a golden opportunity to improve the utility of their trails, while increasing the homestead’s overall beauty and value.

I should mention that the word trail is used broadly. It includes most roads, paths or passageways typically found on a homestead.

In their simplest form, trails provide an accessible  means of transport. They should allow for the most frequent and commonly used homestead transportation situations and a few specific ones, if necessary.
They do not need to be excessively manicured or play any part of an expensive, poorly functioning landscape design. Homestead owners should consider all of their typical uses to guide their design choices. Trails can be as welcoming and gracious or as rugged and utilitarian as desired.

Design choices aside, the most ideal feature should include a trail which leads one safely and efficiently across any part of the homestead, at any given time… day or night, rain or shine..

Since there are as many ways of achieving highly functioning and attractive trails as there are homesteads, here are a few basic points that you may want to consider when establishing or improving the trails of your homestead property.

1. Obtain a survey map of the property

Or create a rough draft using draft paper. You can convert the property’s actual dimensions to plan scale on draft paper. This can be explained further by conducting a quick internet search. Once the property’s dimensions are on paper, identify any major topographical features. Consider if these features may be used to full advantage, when planning and routing the trails safely around them. These are areas which may have the greatest natural potential of enhancing the trail aesthetically or  otherwise.

Plant higher-maintenance plants closer to the homestead. Photo by Monica White

2. Identify the best location for a temporary or permanent worksite

As well as any storage sites which may become necessary for tools, excess soil or brush and tree cuttings.

3. Predict accumulation

Before cutting down trees or brush, carefully plan where you may utilize or store the resulting piles of accumulation. The same applies to any accumulation of soil that is dug up as well.

4. Take care to remove roots as completely as possible

In some cases, with felled trees, leave 3 to 4 feet of tree stump to assist with pulling the trunks up completely in the clearing effort. The remaining tree stump provides adequate leverage to attach to and allow them to be pulled up completely.

5. If a road is required, dig out the road bed and build it back up with leveled, sturdy layers of large rocks

Fill the large rocks in with smaller rocks to stabilize this sublayer of the road. Adding fill bond dirt prior to applying the road’s top surface layer, will offer the final layer of stabilization for the structure of the road.

Make use of pine needles as trail mulch. Photo by Monica White

6. Carefully look at any areas which may cause flooding

You may address this by using gravity and slope angles to your best advantage. Pay particular attention to where you will direct and manage the accumulated water runoff. During heavy or constant rains, proper planning will pay off in how fast and how much water pools or drains through an effective drainage system. The proper slope angles will allow gravity to offer fast or slow drainage. Angle slopes for the best rain run-off and dig an appropriate drainage system to handle the greatest capacity of water accumulation. Consult weather charts to get some idea of your area’s average yearly rainfall.

7. Add a ‘turn-around’

It’s also good to make additional maneuvering space in areas where vehicles will need to reverse course safely and efficiently.

8. Consider making your own concrete stepping stones

You can use uniformed or creatively shaped molds. The stones may be customized using colored stain and imprints. Making your own molds are an inexpensive way to add beauty, form and function to a trail. An 80-pound bag of general sand-concrete mix should work well and will easily accept small glass chips or pebbles embedded as decoration.

Overall, your primary objective when establishing or improving trails, should be to create form and function. Take a good look at your trails and their use. Identify all that is working well and not so well; making improvements where needed. Use the property’s natural features to their best advantage when planning, routing and orienting trails. As a nice touch, offer comfortable places of respite in the most ideal or even surprising places along a trail.The trail should be an experience onto itself. At the very least, when establishing or improving trails, a homestead owner may take the opportunity to add beauty, form and function, while increasing the property’s overall value.

In closing, I will share a short story:

On a lazy spring morning, a homesteader was found working peacefully in a small garden shed. A torrential rain shower blew in from the south. Needing to hurry back inside, the homesteader rushed down a narrow path leading back to the main house. In rugged, muddy boots, they struggled hard to keep their footing. The ground, soggy and soft, seemed to give way with each unsteady step. Nearly falling, the homesteader caught their balance by landing on a solidly placed stepping stone. The stones had been laid recently.

Feeling lucky to have escaped the fall, the grateful homesteader thought of widening the path with additional stones. This led to the thought of adding a covered walkway leading from the back of the main house to the garden shed. Which then led to another thought of adding an enclosed, covered walkway along that portion of trail. Then an immediate thought came of that one, for converting portions of the enclosed covered walkway, into extensions of glass greenhouse segments. And so it went, on and on the never ending trail of projects which lead and follow the homesteader home.

Monica White is a freelance writer, member of the Georgia Air National Guard, and an avid runner and cyclist who loves the great outdoors and all things DIY. She divides her time between Tampa and her central Florida property, where she’s growing a self-sufficient homestead. Connect with Monica on her outdoor lifestyle blog, on FacebookTwitter and InstagramRead all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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