Mechanized Trailbuilding

1. Considering the Upside

  • Mechanized equipment can speed up the construction process of a new trail. You get more trail, faster.
  • It can help relieve and excite a volunteer base, by giving volunteers quicker gratification for all their hard work. Volunteers can still be involved with mechanized trailbuilding by doing the corridor clearing and finishing work.
  • A good operator can create a more consistent trail tread than laborers using hand tools.
  • Mechanized tools have the power to easily move large and heavy obstacles.

2. Weighing the Downside

  • The expense not only includes the mechanized tool, but also insurance, licensing, permitting, safety gear, fuel and transportation.
  • The environmental impact depends greatly on the proficiency of the operator.
  • Sensitive environments can be impacted from the added noise and weight of the machine.
  • If volunteers are not used in the trailbuilding process, the community may not have a sense of ownership for their trail system.

3. Choosing your tool

  • Walk-behind earthmovers are made by Toro, Ditch Witch, and Bobcat brands. Always use track machines, not wheeled machines.
  • Ride-on earthmovers tend to be more powerful and weigh more than the walk-behind tools. The SWECO was specifically designed for trailbuilding. It is 4-feet wide, has metal tracks, a winch, 6-way blade articulation, and it is a long lasting machine. It is a superior dirt carver, and is capable of making a 3-foot wide trail.
  • Compact excavators work very differently than the earthmovers described above. Some of the upsides of these tools are their ability to work in very steep, wet, or difficult to access areas.
  • Specialized tools include power wheelbarrows, brush mowers, rock drills, chainsaws etc.

4. Construction method

  • Turnkey construction: The hired contractor performs the entire process of trailbuilding.
  • Hybrid contractor: The mechanized tool operator does the heavy work and volunteer laborers do the finish work. This method doesn’t burn out local volunteers while providing a feeling of ownership of the trail, and it works very well in grant-funded projects where a match of funds (volunteer hours) is required.

5. Experience counts

  • It is very important to have an experienced mechanized trailbuilder constructing your trail when using mechanized tools. An inexperienced operator can cause greater impacts to the environment. However, it is easier to teach an experienced trailbuilder how to use a mechanized tool than to teach an experienced operator how to build sweet trails.