Column by Dan Geddings: Woodland roads


It was the first one I walked before the timber was cut. The road was basically just a woodland road, a trail, or a crude set of wheel paths through the woods. The surface was grassy and covered in a layer of pine straw. As it turned away from the pond, I had no idea where it led.

The land northwest of the pond was a series of low rolling hills and was covered in a commercial stand of loblolly pines. There was an understory of various hardwoods with sweet gums being the dominant species. There was only one slope that showed any sign of erosion, and it was minor. There had been an earlier effort to repair the erosion with some rubble thrown into the rills.

To the west I could see a small opening through the trees. I wondered if it was a field, and I expected to see a road leading there. But there was none. I shrugged and pressed on. Eventually the land leveled off and the timber changed. Big hardwoods crowded out the pines. Another grassy road branched off to the north, but it seemed to be less traveled. I made a mental note to come back another day to explore that road when I had the chance.

Ahead there was an intersection and a small opening in the timber. I assumed the opening had been a small wildlife food plot or maybe just a gathering place on the property. The opening was fringed by a nice stand of oak trees. The road that intersected here was immediately recognized by me. It was the old railroad bed, and I knew it would lead back to my truck.

I turned south on the railroad bed. It was elevated through a section of swamp. The surface was smooth and flat. After the swamp there was a long curve with a series of cuts through the low hills. There was big pine timber on the western side and a thicket of planted pines on the eastern side. The road was in good condition, and it was obvious there was more travel here. After the curve there was a long straightaway, and I could see back to the gate where my truck was parked. There was a section of timber that had already been cut near the gate.

Within a week a logging crew moved back in, and the timber began to fall again. Big trucks loaded with heavy timber pounded the roads. Wet weather made the conditions worse. A bull dozier was brought in to work the roads. The 100-year-old railroad bed got so bad a new road had to be pushed out parallel to the old railroad bed.

While all this activity was going on I walked some of the roads on the northern end of the property with the sound of the timber harvest in my ears. For some reason the timber company that bought the land left a big section here of natural woodlands. The roads in these sections were in poor condition, mostly from neglect. The timber though was magnificent, and at least for now, it's still there.

In the sections that were cut the roads were in poor condition after the harvest, but the timber company worked the roads with the dozier enough to make them passable. The old railroad bed was restored somewhat. Later in the year we brought a tractor over and worked on several of the roads. We ditched some areas to improve drainage. There is much more work to do.

Lately I have plowed some of the roads with a scrape blade pulled behind a big tractor. There is some erosion as there is no grass or natural cover on the roads yet. The hilly terrain makes runoff a problem. Eventually the grass will come back, erosion will be minimized, and the land will heal.

Already pines have been planted on the cut areas, and some natural vegetation is returning to the hills. The condition of the roads will continue to improve. The road that I first walked on is very different now. The opening that I could see through the trees is a cow pasture on an adjoining property. There are distant hills visible from this road now.

It's a timber company road and a hunt club road, but some day for someone it might be a woodland road again.

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