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Trail Maintenance #1042
Back To Discussion List Written: 2003.10.15 by: Don Funk

Much of the west coast region of BC is unprotected and ,thus, "trails", if they do exist, are maintained very sporadically and on a voluntary basis. This is in stark contrast to the National Parks in the Rockies where many trails are well maintained by Parks staff. The same applies to the North Cascades of Washington State, where a trailhead parking fee is used to fund extensive trail maintenance throughout North Cascades National Park and the adjacent National Forests. As a result, many of the trails in unprotected areas are in a pathetic condition compared to there parkland counterparts. The unmaintained trails often have numerous windfalls across them, especially in dryer areas, whereas, closer to the coast in damper climes, bush is more of a problem.

So I came up with an idea to create a separate section on Bivouac, to help manage trail maintenance on a volunteer basis. Essentially, a Bivouac member would commit themselves to maintaining a trail or perhaps more than one trail on a periodic basis or as needed. It must be emphasized, that this would be a "voluntary" effort and more than one person could commit themselves to maintaining a particular trail. This may actually help in organizing a "work party" if desired. I feel this would help to organize and encourage trail maintenance on a more regular basis. If you had more than one person signed up to maintain a particular trail, then the chances would be good that this trail would see some form of improvement. And the trail bulletins would provide feedback as to its ongoing condition. I think if this lead to only one trail being maintained, that this would be considered a success.

I also think that by maintaining trails, particularly in unprotected areas, you are potentially doing far more than just clearing a path. You are making a relatively inaccessible area, more accessible to impressionable others, who collectively, are a louder voice for protection of some of the pristine mountain areas we are fortunate to have on the west coast of this continent. But it also depends on whether this section fits in to the framework of the "Mountain Encyclopedia". Ultimately, this would be up to Robin to decide on, as I'm sure he has in mind what direction he wants to go with this site. Comments?


#164 - 2003.11.13 Shelley Wales - I think it would work
I beleive that signing up to maintain a trail would help to increase participation not to mention make orginization simpler. It's a good idea.

#163 - 2003.11.13 Don Funk - Signing up to maintain a particular trail
I thought the idea of having people put there name in to maintain a particular trail(s) would help to create a greater interest in trail maintenance. If someone takes interest in a particular trail, perhaps it would be kept up on a more regular basis and its well kept condition would be something to be proud of. Does everyone else feel that this may help in realizing more participation? Of course it would be up to Robin to set aside a section in this site allowing one to put their name down for trail(s) listed in this site. And if they are not listed, they could be inserted

#162 - 2003.11.12 Shelley Wales - Advance Notice
In response to not enough bodies on the ground. Personally I would love to come out and participate. And I quite liked how Paul (? I'm horrible with names, sorry) posted his trail clearing day on the trip notices page. I actually really wanted to participate that day... but... yes here is the big but ;-) , I need more than a few days warning, and I would not be surprised if it is the same way with everyone that has said they would like to volunteer... Perhaps 1 to 2 weeks warning would bring more people out in conjunction with further postings of trail maintenance projects. Anyways, it is just a thought.

#117 - 2003.10.21 Rich Sobel - Count me in too, please
I'm very interested in doing and learning trail maintenance. As a fairly avid weekend warrior hiker, I have come across so many trails, even the popular ones that have unnecessary deadfall and brush and wondered what I could do to help out. One of my hiking buddies and myself had sort of decided to take on the trail to Goat Ridge and done a bit of preliminary work on it but we got involved in other stuff this past season and with the hiking ban, found ourselves down in the North Cascades a lot. That really inspired me as the trails there are not about getting the most grueling workout in the shortest amount of time but about enjoying reasonable access to the scenic "wild" places. I'd like to see more of that in BC and want to be a part of its becoming a reality so please count me in on this effort and don't hesitate to email me for any trail maintenance projects you come up with. I'll try to remember to check the boards here more often but currently this is not one of the sites I spend much time at so please do alert me to trail work days.

#104 - 2003.10.20 Mitch Sulkers - Further to Jeff's Comments
I agree that the Sandvik is a handy tool for clearing trails but is not suitable for a finished job, as suggested in Jeff's comments. If one is simply trying to get the trail back into shape (i.e., after winter snows) so hikers can travel through, it works quite well, but for longer term clearing it is difficult to use in an esthetic manner.

On our maintenance of the Marriott Meadows Trail, we've used the Sandvik to get most of the material out of the way, with one person cutting up ahead and two others hand clearing the cut stems, followed by a person with a gas-powered bush saw to clean up the little stumps. Not terribly esthetic for those within listening range, but sure works with slide alder, cottonwood, and other colonizers, and the end result is quite neat.

#92 - 2003.10.18 Vida Morkunas - will want to join future work parties
Thanks Drew for clarifying the legalities of trail work. I may be able to join in, a few weeks from now - I am certainly interested in helping out

#91 - 2003.10.18 Don Funk - A few trail clearing tips which may be helpful.
I did a bit of research on the net about trail maintenance and found this site which has a few interesting tips about clearing trails. It applies more to the clearing of ski routes but many of these tips will apply to the clearing of all trails.Click Here for the link.

#89 - 2003.10.18 Jeff Volp - trail tools...
Having worked as a backcountry ranger in Garibaldi and Manning Parks for the past 6 summers, which has involved quite a bit of trail work, perhaps some insight on my preferences for trail tools will be helpful. First of all, it depends on the particular trail and type of work that needs to be done. If your main goal is to go hiking, and maybe do a bit of work on the way, you need a 'jack of all trades' tool - the Swedish brush axe Mitch refers to (Sandvik, C tool, bush hook or whatever you want to call it!) is my favorite for this type of job since it can handle anything from long grass to small windfalls. The downside to this tool is that it takes a fair bit of energy to use effectively (you will get tired quickly on a big job) and it's hard to cut the bush very close to the ground so it looks nice and tidy. You'll also have to go back and move all the debris off the trail when you're done.

If you're heading up a trail on a mission to get work done, it helps to know what type of bush you will encounter, or else bring a small selection of more specialized tools. If I'll be encountering a lot of smaller diameter woody stuff (willow, alder, berry bushes, small conifers etc less than 1.5 inches in diameter) then I like to bring a simple pair of small hand pruners with a curved blade. This allows one hand to grasp the offending bush, the other to cut it, and you can then throw the bush off the trail with the first hand, all in one quick motion. This is also a beneficial technique for rock climbers, as you can get a wicked pump squeezing the pruners for a few hours. For similar material, but with a larger diameter, I like to use a pair of two handed pruners, especially ones with mechanical advantage built in (similar to bolt cutters, or with a gear system). Like with the 'Sandvik C' tool, you'll have to take an extra step to toss the debris aside. Both of these pruner type units leave an aetheticaly pleasing cut behind.

For full grown slide alder, some sort of a saw is required. For large patches, and for trimming ones that are growing large enough to overhang winter use trails, the most efficient way to deal with them is to scramble far uphill with a very small chainsaw and cut them at the base. Of course a buck saw will work good as well although will be slower.

For long, sustained sections of bushy trail with a variety of bush types, nothing beats a powered brush saw with a three-pronged blade. These work well for large slide paths, and overgrown roads. The downside to this tool is it's tricky to use in technical areas - bushy talus, or on steep hillsides. Not to mention the noise, vibration, and hydrocarbon emmisions... At the upper end of the spectrum is the large windfall across the trail. It's pretty obvious what to do with these - quickly cut it with an appropriately sized chainsaw, or spend a lot of time with a big buck saw, perhaps using wedges to avoid binding the blade. All this info above is, of course only relevant to clearing bush and logs from the trail - working with the trail surface, drainage, and crossings is another matter completely, requiring another quiver of tools.

Hope this helps.

#87 - 2003.10.17 Blair Mitten - Federation of Mountain Clubs tool cache.
For all of you volunteers out there looking for tools, the FMCBC has a selection of tools; pruning shears, polaskiis, saws, bent shovels and more. Technically they are for the use of member-club members building and maintaining trails and can be signed out. Cache is located near Taylor way and Upper Levels.E-mail me at for info.

#82 - 2003.10.17 Mitch Sulkers - To be a bush hook or not a bush hook
Might be the same tool. The blade is light and overall quite different from the "brush hooks" of my youth which tended to be as heavy as a good axe. After checking on the US forest service trail maintenance website, I was able to identify the tool as a Swedish Brush Axe (Sandvik). "Brush axes have different blades than clearing knives. The replaceable Swedish steel blade has a 5.5-inch cutting edge. The ax has a 27-inch long handle. It weighs about 2.5 pounds. They have removable blades held in a C-shaped frame under tension." So, that's what I'd recommend as a tool. The snowmobile shop in Pemberton stocks them as a regular item.

#81 - 2003.10.17 Drew Brayshaw - Mitch's C-shaped Tool
In the geotech business we call this a "bush hook". It is much more effective than a machete for dealing with alder and devils' club. You can buy them at most "contractor" type outdoor supply stores, the same places that sell flagging tape, cruiser vests and so on - like Neville Crosby in Vancouver, maybe Three Vets, Cascade Industrial in Chilliwack, or Canyon Cable in Hope.

#80 - 2003.10.17 Paul Kubik - Tunnel Point trail clearing
See my trip bulletin for trail clearing this Sunday. Need volunteers if you can make it.

#79 - 2003.10.17 Mitch Sulkers - More on tools
Sandvik makes a very compact pruning saw with a plastic handle. Weighs very little and stays sharp long. The pruning blade is curved and about 20 cm long and doesn't seem to bind as much as other saws. The temper of the blade is stiff, so there's no chance of bending the blade and rendering it useless. My version has a threaded insert in the handle that will accept a longer handle, but I'm not certain how long that would last. Another tool that works very well, particularly when the snow starts to hit and bends those slide alder and cottonwood that are so common on disturbed ground, is also a Sandvik product. It is for brushing trails, has a handle about 75 centimetres long and a blade holder at the business end that is C-shaped. In this C frame is a spring steel blade about 14cm long that stays very sharp and works like a mini-brush hook. With a file and a stone, very little can go wrong, and this tool regularly allows me to clear deadfall, etc. up to 15 cm in diameter with a few strokes. I've made a climbing webbing sling that is attached to the handle end and has a clip that hooks on at the business end. When I'm walking up a trail, I can sling the tool over a shoulder until it's needed.

#78 - 2003.10.16 Don Funk - Equipment Needed.
If you decide to commit yourself to maintaining a trail (whether through a section on this site or just on your own accord), it would be important to choose a trail which you think would see a fair amount of use, otherwise you may be wasting your time. Ultimately, the trail should not be excessively far or difficult to get to, otherwise it will likely see little traffic. An exception to this would be in an area of great interest (ie a good climbing area, etc...) You would probably want to choose a trail which leads to one of your favourite climbing, scrambling or alpine roaming areas and which sees little or no regular trail maintenance. This will likely ensure that others will continue to use and perhaps even help maintain the trail, rather than it falling into disuse.

In response to Shelley's query about selecting appropriate equipment, I have found that a small saw is ideal for clearing bush. I recently purchased a small inexpensive 12" long keyhole saw (about $15 from a local hardware store). It is very useful for quickly cutting any size bush and even smaller dead falls. The hardened teeth are about 3 mm long, small enough for the smallest bush, yet aggressive for fast cutting. The blade is very narrow for getting into tight areas. You may also consider using a machete, but I find they are heavy and not so good for cutting close to the ground. Many of the smaller bushes can be pulled out by the roots, reducing the chances of it quickly growing back in. Work gloves are important, otherwise you will have blistered hands in no time. Larger blowdowns can be cleared with a buck saw, and several models fold up to a portable size which you could carry in a backpack. I generally find that bush is the most annoying part of a poorly maintained trail, particularly when it grows in on the sides and is soaked with dew or fresh rain.

Paul Kubik has much more experience in trail clearing than I, and so he may want to comment on equipment? Or perhaps someone else with extensive experience?

#77 - 2003.10.16 Shelley Wales - Fabulous Idea!
I'm with Paul. We should be supporting Don and people like him who want to volunteer their time to help maintain the trails. If people who love the mountains don't do it, it's not going to be done and lots of trails are going to be forgotten. Don's right about the activism angle too, enviromental groups like the Western Canada Wilderness Committee have been building trails in threatened areas for ages in order to get people involved and it works. Unfortunately though the trails they build seem to get little love after they fulfill their purpose, for example the Elaho to Meger trail. Anyways, I would be very interested in volunteering and such just not to sure how to go about it other than taking my gardening clippers with me when I go hiking.

#76 - 2003.10.16 Paul Kubik - Pay for parking does not pay for trail maintenance
I was bemused when I read the recent Pique magazine article (a Whistler publication) that was giving some background to the new pay-for-parking scenario at some BC parks and reaction from park users. When the Recreation Stewardship panel made recommendations a year ago to set up the scheme, the funding model recommendation was that "Users should pay the costs of providing recreation opportunities, including the costs of operation and annual facility repair. User-fee revenue should be directed to a special purpose account of the consolidated revenue fund and dedicated to the ministry's provision of recreation opportunities." The Pique article quoted Ian Pepper, section head for parks and protected areas in the Lower Mainland region, "that pay-for-parking was introduced to British Columbia's provincial parks to increase the revenue base." He goes on to say "We're running at a deficit trying to operate these parks right now. What we're trying to do is get them closer and closer to operating and covering their own costs. Once we get to that point then there's going to be additional funding that can go towards enhancements, repairs and upgrades and general services, like cutting lawns." and "The intention of pay parking is to cover off as much of the parks system's operating deficit as possible." Do you see in there anything about trail maintenance of backcountry trails? No, but that's not surprising since Parks has a big operating deficit. Secondly, BC Parks only maintains a few trails in the provincial parks and then usually only the first kilometer or two closest to the parking lots (some exceptions, of course).

What this boils down to is that people like Don Funk who are volunteering to organize trail maintenance projects should be supported when we've got the time.

#75 - 2003.10.16 Drew Brayshaw - Legality
Technically, the legislation refers to "excavated or bladed trails" and construction of new trails. There is no prohibition on the maintenance of existing trails, nor on flagging or brushing cross country routes. At least that is the informal interpretation made known to me during my time in government.

#74 - 2003.10.16 Vida Morkunas - ...but is it legal?
according to section 102 of 1995's Forest Practices Code made it illegal to build or improve trails on Crown land without permission of the Ministry of Forests. Was this section repealed?