Trail Materials: Can We Get More Local?

By: Jack Powell, NFCT Regional Field CoordinatorJack Powell

Using durable material is essential to building lasting trail infrastructure. It can be the difference between many years of quality user-friendly recreation versus a too-soon needed replacement. White cedar in particular is a widely popular trail building material. It is relatively light, durable, easy to carve, rot resistant, and smells great. Because of these properties we use white cedar extensively to build campsite signs, picnic tables and shelters along the Northern Forest Canoe Trail.

Where do we get the white cedar that we use?

White cedar ready to be milled.

We try to use locally sourced material whenever possible, and fortunately there are locations along the trail that help us meet our needs.

Recently, Clyde River Farm and Forest in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont has supplied us with customized orders of white cedar for a number of our campsite projects in the region like the Doe Campsite on the Missisquoi River in Vermont and the Normandeau, Frizzell, and Cordwell sites on the Upper Ammonoosuc River in New Hampshire.

An example of the harvesting equipment used at Clyde River Farm and Forest.
An example of the harvesting equipment used at Clyde River Farm and Forest.

Owned and operated by NFCT members Bill Manning and Patricia Moyer, there is always something new happening at Clyde River Farm and Forest.  Whether its blueberries, Christmas trees, corn, ice cream, tomatoes or lumber, Bill, Pat and a host of seasonal employees do their part to enrich the quality of life in Northeastern Vermont.

I have known Bill and Pat since graduating from Sterling College in 2010 and moving to East Charleston. Bill’s reputation as a grassroots entrepreneur gradually transitioned from local lore to my every day reality.  I have played a hand in planting those blueberries, sheering those Christmas trees, weeding that corn, eating that ice cream, hanging those tomatoes,  and milling that lumber, while all along having humorous and insightful conversations with both Bill and Pat.

Get local produce for you next riverside paddling trip on the Clyde.
Get local produce for you next riverside paddling trip on the Clyde.

The lumber operation at Clyde River Farm and Forest is anything but industrial. Sustainable would be a better word. Only a select few cedar trees are harvested each fall, so that brush can be turned into Christmas wreaths and other holiday ornaments for sale at a stand in Skillman, New Jersey. By taking only a few fully mature trees, Bill ensures that a variety of lumber sizes are available for future years.

The process starts by taking a walk and deciding which trees would be best to harvest. From forest density to lumber needs, a number of factors can play a roll in choosing the right tree to cut.

Standing TallOnce flagged for removal, the trees are cut down and limbs removed. The tops are turned into fence posts or firewood, Pat uses the brush for holiday decorations, and the logs are pulled to a landing using a 1978 John Deere 440 skidder that’s been patched together more times than a pair of lucky pants. From the landing, logs are loaded and moved a mile or so up the 10 Mile Square Road to Dolloff Mountain Road in Island Pond, Vermont. Here they are unloaded and wait their turn to be milled into lumber.

A band saw mill is used to cut the cedar into various sizes.
A band saw mill is used to cut the cedar into various sizes.

Milling lumber has been one of my most liked pastimes at Clyde River Farm and Forest. (Except for one time that involved bald-faced hornets, a sore neck, and a 12-guage shotgun. I couldn’t go near that mill for two days!) For the most part, there is a calmness associated with the details of making a piece of lumber. You really have to focus. Clyde River Farm and Forest uses a 1994 LT40 Wood-Mizer portable sawmill for its lumber production. Once milled, lumber is stacked to dry and is used as needed or sold at fair market price.

Cedar ready to be used for NFCT trail projects.
Cedar ready to be used for NFCT trail projects.

Part of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail’s vision is to promote businesses along the trail. As Regional Field Coordinator, it is very convenient for me to have a readily accessible lumber supply within a mile of my house. The lumber from Clyde River Farm and Forest has been used for campsite signs, picnic tables, wash stations and even a lean-to.  Between harvesting, milling and installing, it is nice to know the lumber’s history and to have been a part of each stage.

You can view the many projects going on at Clyde River Farm and Forest by visiting the following link: www.vermontleadershippartnerships.com. They even rent the Clyde River Guest House to paddlers!

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