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Traditional Trail Maintenance Tools

Big Branch Wilderness

During my end-to-end hike of the Long Trail, I backpacked through several wilderness areas in Vermont, including the Glastenbury, Lye Brook, Big Branch, Peru Peak, and Breadloaf Wilderness Areas.

Wilderness Areas are specially designated natural areas protected under the Wilderness Act of 1964. There are 704 such areas in the US in 44 different states, and with the exception of wheelchairs, mechanical transport or motorized equipment, such as motorboats, cars, trucks, off-road vehicles, bicycles, snowmobiles, ski lifts and chain saws are prohibited in these areas.

The ban on motorized equipment and chain saw use in these areas is significant because it means that all trail maintenance and stewardship activities in these areas must use the traditional tools listed below .

  • Crosscut Saws
  • Bow Saws
  • Pole Saws (Pole Pruners)
  • Axes
  • Pulaskis
  • Picks & Mattocks
  • Digging and Tamping Bars
  • Lopping and Pruning Shears
  • Machetes and Woodsman’s Pals
  • Sledge Hammers
  • Crowbars
  • Block and Tackles
  • Drawknives
  • Grinders & Whetstones

But, there are very few people left with the skills to operate these tools today. Well sharpened and high quality tools are a rarity, and it takes a high degree of skill to maintain them.

Is it worth preserving the Wilderness Act’s ban on power tools? I believe so, if only because when visitors see crews using cross-cut saws and other traditional tools, they are often amazed at what can be accomplished without motors and noise.

So with the new year upon us, I suggest you consider signing up for trail maintenance work and training with traditional tools this year. It’s time for those of us who love the Wilderness to preserve the traditional skills required to maintain it.

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One comment

  1. Didn't know about the chainsaw ban and everyone I knows ignores it without problems from DCNR. Trails around here are neglected badly enough as it is and enforcing those ridiculous rules certainly won't help.

    If you want to see primitive tools in use go visit colonial Williamsburg or someplace like that.

    But I guess I'd best keep my mouth shut if some bureaucrat asks who cleared the logs from a trail.

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