Module 11: Roads and Trails: Planning it Right from the Start

Lesson One - Introduction

Hiker on a recreational trail

Nova Scotia is one of the most roaded provinces in Canada. In fact, you can't travel more than 16 kms (10 miles) in any direction (except maybe in the Tobeatic Protected Wilderness Area or the Cape Breton Highlands) without crossing a road of some kind. This is partly because of the long history of settlement here compared to other parts of the country.

It's hard to think of a woodlot in Nova Scotia that doesn't have a road or trail of some kind on it. The road could be part of a long-abandoned route across the province or between communities. It could be an old woods road used by early settlers. Or it may be a more recent road built to take out a load of logs by tractor trailer. Even if the lot was never harvested, it probably has a few trails across it.

Your land probably already had a road or trails of some sort on it when you bought or inherited it. Depending on your management objectives, it may be time to upgrade those roads and/or build new ones. These lessons will guide you through the many factors to consider when planning your road.

A trail can range from a foot path to what some might call a rough road. For this module, we look at trails cut out by hand or machines for a specific purpose. The most basic trail of this sort is a recreational trail brushed out to the sides and above so that people can pass through. The surface may be left the way it is or large rocks and stumps may be removed.

A trail for harvesting may be wider than a recreational trail. Trees on the trail are cut by chainsaw or machine and removed. It may be difficult or impossible to drive your truck on such a trail.

Harvesting trails sometimes lead to a rough road called a grub road. On a grub road, the stumps and rocks are pushed aside. The surface is somewhat smooth and packed. It may have a landing. Small trucks and harvesting equipment can travel on this road in dry or frozen conditions.

Grub roads can result in long term savings where hauls to main roads are long; they reduce wear and tear on machinery and the operator and reduce skidding or forwarding time.

The grub road or harvesting trails lead to a forest access road. A maintained road of this sort is wider than a trail. The surface is smoother and it may be graded and surfaced with gravel. It is usually brushed out on either side and ditched. Heavy equipment like bulldozers and excavators are used to build up the road from available material. It may have landings where the wood is piled for pickup, turnouts for passing and a vehicle turnaround at the end. Generally, roads are more permanent than trails.

Loaded tractor trailer
on a "D" class road

Both roads and trails on a woodlot may have culverts and temporary or permanent bridges. It may be hard to tell an old road that is overgrown from a trail unless you inspect it closely. Most types of heavy equipment can travel on a forest access road that has been maintained.

The Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources (NSDNR) uses a class system to rate forest access roads ranging from high-quality, two-lane "A" class roads to low volume "D" class roads. Most small woodlot roads used for transporting wood are "D" class roads. A "D" class road is a permanent, single lane road designed to carry a loaded tractor trailer at low speeds (15 km/hr) up to five times a day. It is meant for use in dry conditions (summer and fall) or when frozen. The recommended maximum length is 2.4 km (1.5 miles). If your destination is further than that, you may want to consider building a "C" class road that leads to the "D" class roads.


Roads and trails may be built for harvesting and transporting wood products, for recreation and/or to access certain sites on the woodlot for other reasons.

Harvesting and transporting wood products
Woodlot roads and trails are often built so woodlot owners can harvest and transport wood products such as saw logs, pulpwood, firewood, and Christmas trees.

Tractor on an extraction trail pulling logs

Trails allow skidders, forwarders, tractors or horses into the stand being harvested to skid (drag) or transport trees out to roadside landings. They are known as extraction trails or skid trails. They may lead to a grub road or feed directly onto the forest access road. Some trails are used many times a year, some every few years and others may be used only once depending on the type of harvesting activity being done.

A "D" class road allows harvesting equipment and cutting crews to drive to the work area which saves time and money. It reduces extraction distance and allows tractor trailers or other trucks onto your woodlot to pick up the wood and transport it to market.

Although woodlot roads and trails are often built for harvesting, they may be used more often for recreation. People like to use trails for a variety of outdoor activities like hiking, skiing, snowmobiling and bird watching. Some of your roads and trails may be more suitable for recreation than others.

Road leading to cottage on a lake

You may want to build a trail, alter an existing trail or create a trail network specifically for a recreational activity you enjoy. Building trails for recreation is discussed briefly in Lesson Six. If recreation is your main objective, then Module Nine on Woodlot Recreation will help you plan your trails.

You are less likely to build a road solely for recreation due to the high cost. Roads built for other purposes, however, are often part of a recreational network.

Trails and roads may be built to access a certain site on the woodlot. For example, you may cut out a trail so you can walk to a favourite look-off or fishing hole. You may build a road to a gravel source so you can extract the gravel for your own use or to sell. Or you may want to build a cottage on a special site on your woodlot and need a road to deliver the building materials and for future access.

Other uses and benefits
Roads and trails have other not-so-obvious uses and benefits to the woodlot though it is unlikely they would be built only for these reasons.

Roads allow large fire trucks to get onto your woodlot in case of a fire. The fire trucks can fill up at fire ponds located along the road. Smaller trucks (one ton) loaded with water backpacks may also be able to get closer to the fire using roads and trails. The firefighters can then use trails to carry the packs to the fire edge. Roads also act as fire breaks.

Insects and diseases can cause extensive damage to your woodlot. A system of trails allows you to monitor areas of your woodlot to catch problems early and cut or treat the stand.

Roads and trails can be expensive to build but increase the value of your woodlot if you decide to sell. Also, a good road and trail system can mean a higher stumpage rate to the landowner which can help offset the road cost. It should be noted, however, that road construction does take land out of production.


List your woodlot objectives if you have not done so already. Your objectives are determined by what is on your land and your woodlot priorities. Your immediate objectives may also be determined by possible land uses next to your existing road system. For example, if your road ends next to a stand that has potential as a shelterwood, developing that shelterwood may become your next objective.

Exercise One
Check off your immediate objectives for upgrading or building your new road or trail. "Other" objectives might include preserving an old historic trail or coach road that crosses your property.

__   Harvesting sawlogs
__   Harvesting pulpwood
__   Harvesting fire wood
__   Christmas tree production
__   Maple syrup production
__   Maintaining boundary lines
__   Recreation
      ( Describe_______ )
__   Access to specific sites
      ( Describe_______)
__   Other________


You may only have one objective at present. For example, you may want to harvest a mature stand that extends one km (0.6 miles) past the end of an existing road. A new road into this area with extraction trails will do the job. However, you may have a few different objectives as listed above for needing a new road or roads. In that case, you will need to consider a few questions such as: Which objective is most important? Do I need more than one road? Which road will I build first?

The Young's woodlot shows how important it is to know your woodlot and to plan ahead. This is discussed more in the next lesson.

The Young brothers have a maintained road on their woodlot that leads to a Christmas tree lot. Their main objective is to expand the Christmas tree operation and they would like to extend the existing road another half kilometre. Another objective they have is to build a cottage on the river which would require a one kilometre road. This route would branch off from the existing road close to the end. A short distance along this proposed route is a gravel source. Further along is an area with small patches of mature timber.

After reviewing the options, they decide to build the longer road first (road option 2). The gravel will provide a useful road surface. Cutting the mature timber will provide immediate funds to help offset the cost of the road. They plan to build the Christmas tree extension road next year and use the available gravel to surface it.