Ozark Highlands Trail Association
Maintenance Guidelines (Revised 5-19-11)
When you adopt a section of the OHT to maintain, there are a few basic guidelines that we would like for you to follow. We are all volunteers, so what follows here are mainly guidelines that we ask you to follow and are not hard and fast rules. We want you to help us keep the trail open and safe for hikers to use, but we also want you to have a good time doing it and feel that you are an important part of the process, which you are! Keeping the trail maintained is one of the most important things that we do as an organization, and your efforts are greatly appreciated.
Visit and maintain your section of trail at least twice a year.
Keep the trail corridor open and cut out to at least six feet wide.
Keep the trail treadway free of debris.
Prepare and turn in a Maintenance Report within one week or your trip.
Enjoy yourself while doing the above!
Provide and use your own safety glasses
Hand saw (larger trees will be handled by a chainsaw crew)
Leather work gloves
These tools are provided in several tool boxes located near the trail and at the Pack Rat Outdoor Center in Fayetteville. All have a combination lock with the same combination, which was given to you when you signed on as a volunteer. You are free to use whatever tools in these boxes you require, as long as you return them at the end of your work trip (the same day if possible).
As a member, while you are working on the trail you are covered by federal government accident insurance as far as injuries associated with your volunteer work are concerned. In the 30+ year history of OHTA we have only ever had one reportable accident – we want to keep it that way! There are no special forms for you to fill out in order for this coverage to be in place – all members of the Ozark Highlands Trail Association are automatically covered. However, if you bring someone along with you to volunteer who is not a paid member of OHTA, then you will need to provide them with a Temporary Membership Certificate which can be found on our website under Maintenance, Information for Maintainers.
Because you will only be using simple hand tools, there is not really a great deal to cover here. Common sense will prevail – don’t cut off your finger with the loopers! Don’t saw your leg in two! We assume that anyone who adopts a section of trail will be adept at hiking and working in the woods. If you are not comfortable hiking and working in the woods perhaps you should not be doing this.
You are encouraged to wear a blaze orange vest while working on the trail during hunting seasons, but they are not required by law unless you are either hunting or aiding a hunter.
It is always a good idea to carry plenty of drinking water and snacks with you, plus the basic essentials you would normally carry when on a dayhike, including but not limited to: waterproof matches, flashlight with spare batteries, rain gear, a WHISTLE, and a map of the area. Be prepared. Be smart.
And one last thing about safety – if you do have an accident and someone gets injured, get medical help immediately. Call 911 for help if needed!
MAINTAINING THE TRAIL
You are responsible for keeping the trail corridor open and the trail treadway free of debris. This is all quite simple, and not too difficult (unless we get a great deal of wind or other tree damage), as long as you maintain your trail section a couple of times a year and send in your reports in a timely manner. You should be able to complete work on your section in just one or two days of work. If a section of trail has not been maintained in some time, the initial work will take much longer as you will have a lot more growth to cut back.
Keeping the Treadway Clear. All you have to do is simply remove loose rocks off of the trail (we’re talking about the larger ones here that might trip up a hiker, not pebbles). Most of these can be removed by kicking them off. Sometimes larger rocks will slide down onto the trail and it will take a little more effort on your part. Always move rocks to the DOWNHILL side and off the shoulder slope so water can freely flow off of the tread. If you place a rock UPhill from the trail, it may slide right back down on the trail again someday.
Loose branches that fall onto the trail should be removed as well – again, move them to the DOWNHILL side of the trail slope if there is one. Larger limbs will require you to get off of the trail and drag the limb out into the woods. It is best to drag the cut end first – away from the trail – which makes it easier to haul larger limbs, and also keeps that ugly end away from the trail’s view. You only need to drag the limb so that it is fully out of the trail corridor – which is three feet from center on either side. You do not need to take the limb down the slope and over to the next hillside, or even out of view – it will breakdown and dissolve into the forest floor before too long.
Cutting out and Maintaining the Corridor. This is one of the most important parts of the entire process, but once again, it is really quite simple and easy to accomplish, especially on a trail section that is maintained at least a couple of times a year. First we need to understand exactly what a trail corridor it, and what it is for. The trail corridor is the area above the ground that is open and free from small trees, limbs and brush. Not only does this open area provide a place for the treadway to be built in, but it also provides an open area or corridor for hikers to follow. Hikers should not follow blazes, they should follow a corridor through the woods, one that is natural and inviting and easy to follow. Anyone can go out and hack a trail through the woods, put up blazes on every tree, and get folks to follow it. But what we try to do is to craft a trail corridor and treadway that seems natural, and allows the hiker an unobstructed passage through the forest. That is your job – to maintain that natural corridor for folks to follow.
The reason that we have to cut back the corridor from time to time is the simple fact that the Ozarks are a sub-tropical environment, with plenty of rainfall and sunshine, which promotes vegetation growth. In a normal year it is easy for a trail corridor to “grow” inwards two feet or even more, in a single growing season! The Forest Service has set minimum standards for the width of this corridor on our trail. We have been building and maintaining the OHT since 1981 using these standards and they have worked out well, and we will continue to use this standard.
Backpacking trail corridors need to be wider than those for dayhikers simply because a person carrying a backpack needs more clearance than one with just a daypack-not only because of the physical size of the pack itself, but also because of the “stuff” that often gets lashed to a backpack (tent poles, fishing rods, etc.). Also a person carrying 50 pounds of weight on their back will need more room to maneuver in certain areas. And finally, backpackers tend to hike more in inclement weather than do dayhikers, and therefore need different corridor requirements. For instance, if the corridor is cut out just wide enough to accommodate a person wearing a pack to pass through, the corridor will be completely closed off when there is wet snow on the branches – yes, you do have to think about snow and ice – many folks love to hike in the winter here. This fact, along with the jungle thing, means we have to cut out a corridor that might seem wide at first, but in the end will be just right.
There are two different measurements that we have to deal with when speaking of the corridor width. These are the width & height of the corridor, and the size of the trees in that corridor. While we want to open up and maintain a certain width and height corridor, we do not need to remove everything within that corridor. We want to leave the larger trees, but we want to remove everything smaller. We measure the trees in “inches DBH,” which means “diameter breast high,” a logger’s term for determining the size of a tree.
Here is the standard that we maintain the OHT to: the corridor needs to be six feet wide x eight feet tall, removing everthing that is 3” DBH or smaller. Basically that means cut out everything that you can touch with your loopers while you are standing in the middle of the trail (three feet on either side of you), and that is 3” DBH or less. And you don’t have to go around measuring every tree to see how wide it is (DBH) – simply reach out in front of you and grasp the tree with both hands – if your fingers from both hands come together on the other side and wrap around a little bit, the tree is probably too small and needs to be cut out. If you can’t touch your fingers, or they just barely touch, do not cut it – everyone’s hands are different, obviously, so you might want to get a known 3” round object and test your own pair of hands and see what will work for you. No one will be coming around behind you to measure, so the final call is yours to make. You make like a particular dogwood tree that doesn’t quite measure up, but if it has a personality that you like, and it is not in the way, go ahead and leave it. But generally, cut out everything that is 3” DBH and smaller and leave the larger ones.
Sometimes you come across a tree with many branches inside the corridor where you have to go all the way back to the trunk to cut them off. This often results in a one-sided tree, with all the branches on one side being cut off and the branches on the side away from the trail remaining. This looks silly, and we don’t want to embarrass any trees. What you should do is remove the branches on the opposite side from the trail as well, even though they are not within the trail corridor, so that the tree is more balanced-looking. This happens quite often with cedar trees, and sometimes the best bet is to simply cut the entire tree down in the first place and be done with it.
You do not need to cut back or remove what we commonly refer to as “weeds “ that are growing next to the trail. We are only concerned with “woody” plants, plants that do not die back each winter and that continue to grow and get larger each year.
NOTE: If you are standing in the middle of the trail and can reach out and TOUCH a limb, you need to step off of the trail and cut that limb off back at a fork in the branch, or all the way back at the trunk of the tree – even if this location is more than three feet from the center of the trail. The point is that we don’t want anything within three feet of the trail, and sometimes you have to cut back a lot wider than that in order to make it work.
USING LOPPERS AND HAND SAWS
Loppers. There are a couple of guidelines to know when using loppers. First, don’t try to cut a limb that is too large for the loppers to handle. You will end up wearing yourself out, damaging the loppers, and causing a bad and unsightly cut. You will soon get a feel for how large a limb you can cut with you particular lopper and different types of loppers can handle different sizes of limbs. If you have to cut a limb that is too large, use your hand saw instead. And secondly, the actual cut that you make should be as flush and smooth as possible and not pointed.
There are two types of cuts that you will make with lopper – a limb that is either attached to another limb or the trunk of a tree, and a standing small tree that comes directly out of the ground. When you cut a limb, always go back to the fork with another limb or the trunk of a tree and make your cut there – as close and smooth to the fork/trunk as you can. In other words, if you need to whack off a foot of a limb that is projecting out into the corridor, don’t simply cut it there in the middle of the limb, but rather follow the limb back to the next fork that is out of the corridor, or all the way back to the trunk of the tree, and make your cut there. This will appear much more natural, and not show an ugly end sticking out.
When you need to cut a small tree, squat down and get to ground level with the loppers – making sure the loppers themselves are level to the ground – and make your cut as close to the ground as you can – an inch or less. If you simply reach down and cut off the tree, you make an angled cut and produce a pointed spear that would not be a good thing to fall on. Your goal here is to hide your cut.
As with any branch or tree that you move off of the trail, you will need to move what you just lopped completely off of the trail and out of the trail corridor, and it is best if you point the cut end of the branch away from the trail – it just looks more natural that way.
Lopper blades get dull and need to be sharpened. This is done using a regular file. The key to sharpening with a hand file is to know that the file will only work going one direction, and that direction should be moving away from you and against the blade! Secure the lopper (use a C clamp if you have one, or have your buddy stand on the handle), point the blade edge right at you, then push the file across the blade away from you. (Be sure to use a pair of leather gloves while doing this!) Repeat until you have an edge, and then repeat as necessary. It only takes a few strokes every now and then to keep your loppers in good shape.
Hand Saws. Use your hand saw for any limbs or small trees that you cannot cut easily with your loppers. The same guidelines apply as far as where and how to cut – go back to a fork or to the trunk of a tree with limbs, and as close to the ground as you can get with standing trees. If you have an especially large tree, or one that is going to be difficult to handle as you cut it, you can always make one cut wherever is best, than make a second cut close to the ground.
The biggest thing to keep in mind when using a hand saw on a larger tree or limb – take it easy, pace yourself, and don’t try to make the entire cut with one breath! Also, hand saw blades can rip into you in a hurry, so always be aware of where the blade is and which direction it is heading. Use the blade guard when transporting the saw or when it is not being used.
Any trees or downed limbs that are too large for you to handle with a hand saw should be noted on your report form so that a chainsaw crew can come in and cut it out later. One note about larger limbs and trees across the trail – many of them that seem too large to cut/handle can be easily moved out of the way with a couple of folks working at them, especially if there is a slope. So before you give up and report the tree, give it a try and see if you can move it out of the way – downhill.
Maintain your section at least twice a year.
Keep the corridor cut out to at least six feet wide.
Send in a Maintenance Report within a few days of your work trip.
Be safe, and enjoy your hike!
Contact the Maintenance Coordinator, (See Contacts) if you have questions.