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Annual Maintenance

Learn more about brushing, logging out, creating drainage and restoring tread so you can practice your trail skills with WTA.


We do it again and again and it never really goes away. But annual maintenance is the backbone of trail work; more than anything else, it’s what keeps us connected to our most beloved trails. Below are some different types of annual maintenance you might do on trail with WTA.


Before brushing. Photo by Marta Sheridan.If a trail never sees brushing, hikers will never see the trail. Brushing might seem like a low-priority task since it isn’t permanent, but it is precisely for this reason that brushing is so important. 

Unless a trail is brushed on a regular basis, vegetation will quickly take over. Just look at at the picture to the right. Plants growing along the outside-edge of a trail will form berms. Berms trap water on the trail, causing the trail to erode. Plants and limbs encroaching into the trailway from the up-hill side cause hikers and stock to walk toward the outside edge of the trail. This causes the edge of the trail to break down and the whole trail to gradually migrate downhill.

After Brushing. Photo by Marta Sheridan.Brushing Tools

  • Loppers (for cutting brush up to 3/4 inch in diameter)
  • Corona saw (for cutting limbs larger than 3/4 inch in diameter)

Brushing Tips

  • Clearing limits vary, but it’s usually a good idea to brush at least four feet on the uphill side and eight feet overhead.
  • Always cut right at the trunk or ground so that you leave no stob behind.
  • When plants are small enough, pull them out by the roots.
  • Throw brush away on the downhill side of the trail out of sight.

    Logging Out

    Volunteers crosscut a fallen tree at Lake Chelan. Photo by Pam MacRae.After a long exhausting hike, no hiker wants to encounter a blowndown tree blocking the trail. But trees fall in the woods whether we hear them or not, and when spring rolls around, those trees need to be logged out.

    Chain saws aren't permitted in Wilderness areas, so WTA uses two-person crosscut saws to clear blowdowns instead. The process of cutting a fallen log is known as bucking and can be seen in the picture to the right. 

    Crosscutting Tips

    • You must be accompanied by a certified sawyer to use a crosscut saw.
    • Before you even touch the saw, spend a few minutes assessing the log's position, the different stresses on it and what might happen when you cut it in different places.
    • Don't use too much muscle; let the weight of the saw do the work.


      A drainage dip at Iller Creek Trail. Photo by Jane Baker.

      When winter snow melts out and runs down the mountains, it erodes trails, leaving exposed roots and rocks. Seasonal stream beds rage across trails, ripping out large sections, and standing water from heavy downpours creates boot-sucking mud-holes.

      There are some practical solutions to keeping water off our trails. The first and best way is to build a trail with a proper outslope to guide water off the edge. The second is to divert water off the trail or slow its progress before it can do much damage. To do this we turn to some common drainage structures: drain dips, culverts and check dams. Check out the picture to the right for an example of a drain dip. 

      Drainage Structures

      • Drainage dips: depressions built into the trail to guide water off the downhill side of the tread. Use grub hoes or McLeods to sculpt a depression that directs water towards drain dip.
      • Culverts: a pipe that runs under the trail, used to transport water from one side of the trail to another in a single spot.
      • Check dams: step-like structures, whether rock or log, that run across the trail, protruding enough to trap sediment that runs down the trail with water.

      Restoring Tread

      Before tread work. Photo by Jane Baker.

      The footsteps of hundreds of trail users wear down the tread of a trail faster than you might think. Add that to slough (mud and debris) sliding down and blocking part of the trail and berms that form on the edge of the trail, and it becomes apparent that a trail’s tread often needs to be repaired on an annual basis. The pictures on the right illustrate the importance of restoring tread. 

      Tread Repair Tips

      After tread work. Photo by Jane Baker.

      • Remove all slough and organic material from the trail so that tread is made of mineral soil and won’t form boot-sucking mud-holes.
      • Dig out berms and ensure that the outside edge of the trail is two inches lower than the inside edge (outsloped) to facilitate run-off.
      • Widen the trail's tread so that it is at least two feet wide.
      • Build turnpikes or puncheons in places too eroded to easily repair with other methods.