Building Trails at the New Horton Grove Nature Preserve

November 21, 2014

triangle land conservancy, trail building, horton grove

Photo by Chelsea Clifford

It was a perfect afternoon as the three Duke Conservation Society volunteers and I stepped out of the car. It was just after 12 p.m. on a Wednesday, with the temperature hovering around 70 degrees. No clouds blocked the sky, and the sunlight streamed through the leaves that were just beginning to turn red, gold, and orange. We were at Horton Grove Nature Preserve, at a small parking area down the road from the main dirt lot.

The Duke Conservation Society, made up of graduate and PhD students at the Duke Nicholas School of the Environment, partners with local land conservation organizations, like TLC, to give back to the community through volunteer days. We were the group committed to that Wednesday afternoon for a few hours of volunteer work, and I know I was excited to take a break from the papers and lab reports of school and spend some time getting my hands dirty in the woods. Dressed in comfortable clothes, we were ready to work on trails for the new preserve.
Walt Tysinger, Senior Land Manager, and Kyle Obermiller, Stewardship Maintenance Technician, met us at the preserve with work gloves and trail tools. Building trails may seem simple, but in reality constructing good, sustainable trails takes planning and effort. Before we arrived, Walt and Kyle had laid out the path for the trail, delineating the line with orange flags and blue tape tied to trees. The trail route has to take into account the slope of the land, the slope of the trail itself, as well as other elevational gradients that may have an effect on water flow during storm events.

triangle land conservancy, forest

Photo by Chelsea Clifford

We were there for the next step in the trail building process, clearing forest detritus from the path route. We raked first, moving the pine needles and old leaves away. Next, we used sharper metal tools to scrape away the decaying leaves and organic material from past years, pushing it all to the side until we hit the sandy soil underneath. Clearing in this way we uncovered many grubs with brightly colored legs, a toad, and a beautiful salamander. As we were being careful, we were able to pluck the creatures out of harm’s way and gently move them to the side of the new trail. I loved it!

salamander, triangle land conservancy

Photo by Erin Vining

At the end of our two hours, we put down our tools and walked the length of the trail-to-be, which stretches from Jock Road all the way to a small pond. Encircled by trees, the pond was perfectly calm, reflecting the fall foliage above its surface. A Great Blue Heron took to the sky as we approached, landing in a pine tree at the edge of the water. I know people would appreciate hiking to such a natural gem, and I was proud of the work we had accomplished moving towards the completed trail.

pond, water, fall, triangle land conservancy

Photo by Chelsea Clifford

Walking back to our car, we had the chance to walk on our newly cleared trail section. While it is not quite complete – some roots still have to come out, as well as bigger saplings in the middle of the trail – I was impressed with what we had done in less than two hours, and even more impressed with the network of trails Walt and Kyle are creating throughout the new preserve!

Are you interested in trail building with TLC? Check out our volunteer page and join the Trail Crew, or participate in other volunteer opportunities!

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