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Anatomy of Trail Building at Locust Farms

One of our goals at Locust Farms is to let the available resources determine what we do with the property rather than try to force-fit something that the land was not designed to support.  For example, the main reason we started producing Maple Syrup was simply because Sugar Maple trees are a prominent resource that are available to us and were not being utilized.  About 80% of the property here at Locust Farms is densely wooded, hilly, and inherently inaccessible.  In order to unlock the potential of our land, we needed some trails.

Not long after moving in, we had invited some friends over for lunch who had some experience with trail building. Brian and Amanda Holzhausen own a series of mountain bike and trail running races ( and have been very active in the construction of trails in Indiana such as the 10-mile loop around Westwood Park in New Castle, Indiana.  We walked with them in the woods, asked a lot of questions, and got some great ideas about how to design a system of trails for our property.

Absolutely the best resource for designing sustainable trails is called “Trail Solutions” and was developed by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA):

Using the principles outlined in the IMBA book, we started construction on our trails in late 2007 and now have about 2-miles of trail winding throughout our property.

Some of the First Trails Constructed At Locust Farms in 2007

Our trails are designed to be sustainable while offering a more interesting journey through the woods than would be provided by a more traditionally-designed trail system. Sustainability is achieve by minimizing both the trail’s impact on the land and the resources required to maintain the trail. The trail should “flow” with the terrain so that it actually becomes a part of the land rather than something that is constructed “through” the land.

Moving water is the biggest enemy of a trail. The trail should generally follow the natural contour lines (lines of constant elevation) so that water travelling down a hill will sheet across the trail rather than travel along it. The trail should also provide ample opportunities for any water that does make it onto the trail to exit as soon as possible. Keeping the grade of the trail below 10% also helps to limit the speed of any water that does start to travel along the trail.

There are several tools that can be used for trail building and different tools will work better depending on the soil and terrain involved. We have determined that the tools shown here are the best for our situation:

Trail Building Tools

The tool on the left is called a “Rhino” and is best for quickly rough-cutting a trail into the side of a hill. The Rhino is essentially a heavy-duty hoe with a rounded face and a sharpened edge. I purchased mine online from the National Fire Fighter Corp. They can also be obtained directly from Rogue Hoe.

The tool on the right is a heavy-duty mason’s hoe that I purchased from The Home Depot. I then sharpened the front edge so that I can easily scrape the trail tread to create a flat finished surface. This works similar to the Rhino, but the flat edge on the mason’s hoe makes it easier to use for the final finishing of the tread.

We talk about these principles and demonstrate the method we use for trail building in the series of videos below.


Trail Construction Video (Part 1 of 4)

Trail Construction Video (Part 2 of 4)

Trail Construction Video (Part 3 of 4)

Trail Construction Video (Part 4 of 4)

I have found the process of trail construction to be enjoyable in and of itself. The time required can be overwhelming, especially when working alone, but every bit adds up over time. I typically try to spend about 30-minutes per day for about 3 days every week. Besides, I figure the workout I get is more productive (and cheaper) than a gym membership.