Lessons in Trail Blazing

Paths of access are one of the most important parts of any system design involving people. For a human to enter a landscape, there has to be a path, or at least, a directional flow. How we get around a place, our routs of passage, lend to the overall use of space, and our ability to tend it. Places where people do not go often will not have paths of access. Areas of high traffic, like the zone one living space, could even have roads to allow cars and other vehicles a place to go on the landscape. Whatever the rout, people will establish trails of connection, and how those pathways are developed, creates smooth or hindered flow.

Why would we hinder access? Well, in places with sensitive terrain, or a nesting sight, people should stay away to prevent erosion or disruption of growth. Knowing what time of year nature’s cycles are in also plays a key role in pathway management. In winter, we don’t drive trucks through the landscape because of the moisture causing instability in the soil. In summer, when the ground is solid and dry, we can drive, when we need to.

Roads are one thing, but what about a small footpath? Well, if you want to keep people out of a space, hiding the access can be helpful. For instance, I have a lot of mushroom logs on the bank of my stream. The wetlands there are sensitive soil habitats that I don’t want people walking through all the time, so I keep the trail hidden.

There are also some very subtle reasons to keep a small foot path underdeveloped. One big reason, which a lot of people don’t realize, is invasive plants. The path pictured above leads to some mushroom logs in the stream buffer zone of the farm. It used to be well hidden and uncleared, except for a small foot path you would really have to weave through. I left the path hidden partly to prevent lots of foot traffic, but more importantly, to keep the canopy cover.

A friend thought they were helping me one day, by coming down to the path and clearing it to make the walk easier. Well, in doing so, they opened the door and invited a very aggressive invader into the forest. Japanese knotweed Reynoutria japonica has stepped in to fill the void. It thrives on compacted soil (from the foot traffic) and lots of great sun, which the path is now receiving. This path was cleared last fall, and now, with spring warmth returning, the knotweed is popping up all along the path.

It’s going to usher in a whole new layer of knotweed into my forest, and the only thing that will stop it is glyphosates, which will have to be used in larger quantity with the spreading of this highly invasive species. This is such an important lesson in the cost of development, even the simple clearing of a trail through once intact habitat. As stewards, it’s so important to look at the whole system working together before putting our mark on a landscape. Even when we think we’re doing something helpful to people, we could be hindering the long term sustainability of place for everything, including the humans.

Leafhopper Farm is an established agricultural landscape on a hillside. Our vision with this space focuses on restoration of native forest, while weaving in human elements for the long term sustainability of people living on this landscape as part of the regenerative cultivation of the land. Part of us being here disrupts many natural rhythms, but people are a part of the ecosystem too, and it is how we chose to live in our environment that determines its long term health, and ours.

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