Operation: Break on Through

In a desperate attempt to get back ahead of schedule, here’s another operation that has been underway at my house. All of the land we purchased to build our house on had pretty much been untouched woods. As a result, it has basically grown into a tangled mess of rose brier, brush and untamed trees.

If you recall from a previous post, I had built a bridge to get past a stream that ran through the middle of the 15 acres.  Now that the bridge is done I can finally get access to the back 7 acres of the lot.  the problem is, it is difficult to navigate around back there because of the overgrowth and quite frankly impossible to keep out of the brier if you are going any distance.  Often times, Linda and I head out there on photo shoots, but it turns out being quite an effort to actually get a picture of any wildlife we find.  Here is another random picture of the woods.  Although you can’t tell, the stream is just to the left of the picture frame.

It was officially time to do something about this situation.  Hit the jump to see the results of Operation: Break on Through to the Other Side.

A key requirement is to provide navigation through the acreage with limited damage to the living woods.  While assessing the location of paths, I always carry a mantra “to take what the woods gives”.  The  primary feature is clearly the stream, so cleaning/clearing up the banks is generally where activity begins.  Living in the “Big Buck” region of Central Illinois, we are blessed with a large amount of deer that make these woods their home.  There are hundreds of acres of continuous woods out there and to be honest it is always hard to tell exactly where you are at while exploring around back there.  As a rule of thumb, the deer generally know where they are going and pretty much find the easiest path on their own.  It is hard to tell from this wide shot, but there was a small deer trail that paralleled the stream fitting my needs perfectly.

Now that the starting point is found, it is just a matter of utilizing the proper tools, following an established process and expending energy.  This might be considered odd, but this type of work is actually fun to me and therefore prefer to use hand tools over the more direct means of brush hogs and tractor blades.  From a process perspective, the first thing I do is walk through the path with loppers and trim off any low branches and brier that  impede my progress through the trail.  Once through, I come back and move all the large branches that were cut to pile for future burning.  The third step is to come through with a weed whacker and cut through the tall weeds and dead brush.  Anything that was too big for the cord is then cut down with another pass with the loppers.  By now, there is a lot of debris on the ground that makes walking a little difficult.  Next up is the hard part.  The steel rake comes out and all of the brush is raked up into piles and carted off to a single dumping spot usually close to where I plan on burning the other cut branches.  If you need a great way to lose some weight, I highly recommend putting this particular activity on your agenda.  I also recommend wearing long sleeves regardless of the temperature outside, especially if you are skittish of weird insects, spiders and other creatures of the forest floor.

Eventually, you start making headway and you can make out the trail.  Note, most of mine are built to a size that can accommodate my ATV.  Now that you can walk fairly easy down the path, the final phase is to go back through and deal with any large branches and trees that were too big for the loppers.  There is a lot of dead trees on the trail that were either knocked down by storms over the years or strangled by the brush and vines.  Rarely I have to cut some healthy branches, but I try my best to avoid that situation.  The chainsaw is the tool of choice for that particular phase – gone are the days of bringing out the tree saw.   I will admit that this operation required me to remove one scrub vine tree in order to have sufficient room for the ATV – by doing this I was able to save an oak and a hedge tree.

Looks a lot different than the original pictures doesn’t it?  The trails eventually get a nice green layer over them from the cover weeds as well as natural grass that tends to take control once the brush is moved out.  It helps that the brier is cut out since that stuff basically chokes every living thing it gets it thorns on.  One of the features I always like is exposing the base of large trees.  Over the years, the larger trees (like hedge and oak) tend to meander all over the place giving unique shapes that lead to scenic views as well as shade.  Once the low hanging limbs are cleared out (usually dead in favor of the larger limbs that are now higher in the tree) it is a nice place to just sit and just watch the scenery.  If you look close at the picture below you will actually see a bunch of small saplings near the larger tree.  If it is a decent tree like an oak, elm etc, I make every effort to clear out around them to give them a chance to grow.  There are about 10 to 15 really nice trees on our property now simply as a result of identifying the saplings early and giving them every opportunity to grow.  This is quite a savings if you have priced the cost of trees at your local nursery.

So now I have a really nice and picturesque trail that follows one side of the stream.  It is just off of the area I cleared during the previous area cleared for the bridge, so it is very easy to get to.  Slowly but surely the woods are being tamed in an attempt to bring it up to national park quality.  This is a shot back from the start of the new trail.  You can see part of the bridge to the right and the clearing that was done to expose the stream the opposite way.

As mentioned previously, I take the time to haul the debris to a central location.  Here is a snap of that particular spot just to give you a perspective of how much work trail making involves.  There are 4 pretty large piles on the side of the clearing that I hope to get burned up later in the year.  You want to be careful when introducing fire to virgin woods.

This picture was added to show you some of the dangers to be aware of out in the woods.  If the brier doesn’t get you all scratched up, the locust thorns are liable to produce some pretty big puncture holes.  Don’t fool yourself, into thinking the soles of your boots can withstand one of these thorns, you are seriously underestimating nature’s ability to defend itself.  After a days work, I’ll have 10 or more really good pricks to attend to.

I also had to deal with an issue in the stream.  Down from the bridge, a bunch of large trees were starting to pile up causing some issues with the water flow.  There were a number of large trees that had fallen from the banks into the stream that were catching other logs floating downstream.  There was also a bizarre and substantially sized metal box in that area.  There was some mining in the surrounding area that the stream probably went through.  Guessing a large storm must have picked this thing up over the years, dragged it little by little until it got hung up in the trees.  Not being able to get the box out yet, I went ahead and chain sawed up the dead trees I could get to and freed up the main tangle.  At some point I’ll have to get a tractor to pull that thing out, but for now, the water should take care of itself.

For those that are curious, the bridge is still looking GREAT!

Now it is time to grab the cameras and go get some pictures of the local wildlife.  It will sure be nice not having to struggle through the brush.

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