A friend commented that he had done a lot of hiking and walking on nature trails, but that he’d only recently become aware of the many decisions and the work it took to build and maintain a trail. He would be interested to see what we do with Wellfleet Conservation Trust trails.
We plan these trails to entail minimal destruction to the environment. They should be obvious so that walkers can stay on them without creating social trails through the woods. But we like them to be as unobtrusive as possible. This requires a balance of engineered and natural features.
Among other things, we cut overhanging branches that pose a hazard to walkers, but leave any vegetation higher than a Celtics player, unless it’s in danger of falling. We make the trail wide enough for anyone to walk easily, but usually require a single file. We place trail blaze arrows at confusing junctions, but try not to use more than absolutely necessary.
In some places we’ve added stakes and ropes to discourage off trail walking. As enticing as that bushwhacking may be for some, it can be very destructive for the land. For example, at the Herring River Overlook trail, walking down the dune towards the river kills fragile lichen, moss, bearberry, mayapple, violets, sea oats, and other vegetation. That in turn can lead to serious dune erosion.
The ropes are easily bypassed, but we don’t want to mar the sites with massive barriers. We have to trust that responsible visitors will recognize the message and stay on the trail.
In many parks today we see the sign that “vegetation grows by the inch but dies by the foot.” That’s especially true on Cape Cod. Tenacious plants can survive despite salty winds off the sea, sandy, nutrient poor soil, and hungry wildlife, but only if we’re on their side.
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