Control of vegetation is, perhaps, the most time-consuming task of the trail maintainer in Shenandoah National Park. Overseers must visit their sections at least twice during the growing season, and will usually spend an entire day (or two), per visit, cutting high grass and weeds, and trimming woody vegetation that has encroached on the treadway. Typically, these visits will occur in late May or early June, and in late July or early August.
Overgrowth of problem vegetation (briars, poison ivy, stinging nettles, and high weeds) is directly related to trail erosion, since hikers will avoid these areas and find a more a more convenient plan, resulting in sidehill slippage and braided tread. Control of vegetation is essential, in order to avoid the labor-intensive work of repairing an eroded trail. Particular care should be given to clearing the uphill slope on sidehill trails. Hikers have a tendency to walk to the downhill side of these trails, and this tendency is exaggerated if the uphill slope is overgrown or imposing.
The use of power weeders is highly recommended for all sections of the Appalachian Trail in the Central District of Shenandoah National Park, and on all non-Wilderness-designated side trails. Overseers will want to weed aggressively, if they're limited to two visits per season. Particular care should be given to removing woody vegetation (young locust, scrub oak, etc.) that has encroached on the treadway, since these plants will be harder to control if left to thrive over several seasons
The trail standards for vegetation control, as agreed to by the PATC and Shenanoah National Park, state:
Objective: To keep trails from being overgrown with vegetation by removing branches, weeds, and brambles that interfere with passage along the trail
- Width will vary with type of trail.
- Steep slopes with thin and unstable soils should have narrower trail tread as roots help to stabilize the slope.
- Height should be sufficient to allow a tall backpacker.
- Cut branches flush with the main stem; shrubs and trees should be cut flush with the ground to avoid leaving hazardous stubs (see Techniques below).
- Remove debris from trail; scatter if there are large amounts.
- Do not grub or remove trailside plants; the remaining plants and root systems help stabilize the soil.
Standards for low-use Wilderness and Non-wilderness Blue-blazed trails
- The purpose for trail vegetation maintenance in these areas is to keep the trail open for light travel. Visitor convenience is not a primary objective.
- Trail vegetation should be maintained to allow hikers to pass (not necessarily in shorts) single file without contacting shrubs, weeds, briars, or branches about 1-2 feet on each side of trail.
- Trail vegetation should be trimmed as necessary in late spring; additional work during summer months may be necessary to maintain the required width and height.
Standards for moderate-use Wilderness and Non-Wilderness Blue-blazed trails
- The purpose for vegetation maintenance in these areas is to keep the trail open for moderate travel. Visitor convenience and safety are also considerations
- Trail vegetation should be maintained to allow hikers to pass for the most part easily without contacting shrubs, weeds, briars, or branches about 2-3 feet on each side of trail.
- Entire trail should be maintained in spring and at least once during late spring; additional vegetation maintenance may be necessary to maintain the required width and height.
- Areas in front of blazes should be kept open to allow maximum visibility of blazes
Standards for high-use Wilderness and Non-wilderness Blue-blazed trails and for the Appalachian Trail
- The purpose for vegetation maintenance in these areas is to keep the trail open and maintained for heavy travel. Visitor convenience and safety are also primary considerations.
- Trails should be maintained to allow hiker to pass easily without contacting shrubs, weeds, briars, or branches about 3 feet from each side of trail.
- The entire trail should be maintained in the spring and at least once more during the summer; wet areas, old field, and other sections prone to weed and briar growth should be cleared more often if necessary.
- Areas in front of blazes should be kept open to allow maximum visibility of blazes.
Techniques for Vegetation Maintenance:
- The amount of vegetation maintenance is dependent upon the level of use the trail receives. For low-use areas, a minimal amount of maintenance should be undertaken.
- Low shrubs and young trees are cut flush with the ground to prevent tripping and to reduce sprouting from the stump and roots.
- Trim branches 1" from the main trunk of the stems to prevent snagging passing hikers and to prevent tree injury.
- Branches growing towards the trail should be cut back to the next limb growing away from the trail (to encourage growth away from the trail).
- It is better to remove all lateral branches than to remove the tree top since removal of the terminal bud will encourage lateral growth across the trail.
- Grubbing with a cutter mattock or pulaski may be necessary to clear the tread of long neglected trails; do not remove any more vegetation than is necessary to define the tread
- Long handled clippers (loppers),
- Weeders (swing blades),
- Small saws,
- Pulaskis or cutter (#3) mattocks (for grubbing out vegetation in the trail tread),
- Power weeders (except in designated wilderness areas),
- Proper safety equipment (goggles, ear protection, gloves).
SEE ALSO: PATC OVERSEER'S MANUAL