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

Lesson Two - Planning Ahead

Many problems in road building can be avoided by planning before construction begins. This means more than just deciding where it is going to go. There are many factors to consider including your objectives, cost, security, terrain and environmental guidelines and standards. This module will help by providing a step-by-step review of these factors.

Planning is essential to the success of your new road or trail. What can happen if you fail to plan? Plan to fail as one road expert says. For example, a road could get washed out if not properly built. You could fail to discover the best route for your road. Fish habitat could be ruined by erosion from your road. It is important to balance cost with a road that meets your needs and will hold up for the long run.

Knowing your woodlot
It is important to be aware of the existing roads and trails, forest stands, contours, waterways, wetlands, and soil composition on your woodlot.

Explore your woodlot at various times of year to determine the best road location.

A map indicates many of these features but not all. Aerial photos can also be helpful in identifying forest stands, hidden roads and other features. Also refer to your management plan and map if you have one. Property maps, topographic maps (1:10,000 and 1;50,000), and aerial photos are available from the Land Information Centres. See Appendix B for more contact information. You will also need to spend time exploring your woodlot to be aware of features that may not be on a map/photo or new since the map/photo was made.

Explore your woodlot and proposed road location at various times of the year. Some areas that are passable in summer may be impassable in winter and spring due to wet conditions. Observing water flow during the wet season and after a heavy rain is important to proper placement of culverts. Visit after leaves have fallen and before buds have opened for better visibility. Take note of trees and other vegetation growing in different areas of the woodlot. They can indicate the type of soils and drainage.

Mr. Green decides to upgrade an old road. He wants to use it for harvesting and for year-round access to a future cabin. There are no signs on his map of wet areas. Previous visits have always been in summer and fall. He snowshoes in over the winter and discover a two metre drift across an 100 m open area. In the spring, he walks the same route and finds a muddy section created by spring thaw that would sink a truck to the axles. The road is always dry in summer and fall.

He does some research and decides that a snow fence will reduce the drift enough to allow a plow to pass. He thinks about building a new road around the muddy area but it will be quite expensive. In the end, he decides that he will not drive the road during the spring when the road is impassable.


The time line below lists the steps involved in planning and constructing your road and the time required. It is dictated by seasonal conditions. The best time for building a road is from mid-summer to mid-fall when the ground is likely to be firmer and drier, and nesting season is over.

An important fact to note at this point is that you may need to allow a full year or more from when you begin constructing your road to when you can use it.

Get woodlot maps, scout woodlot looking for wet areas, use this manual to plan and locate your road, read Environmental Standards and Stream Crossings (see Appendix A), check into financing and funding sources, (see Cost below), arrange for a contractor to build your road, and get necessary approvals.

(Approvals are required for any alteration to a watercourse or wetland from the Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Labour. After planning your road, you and/or your contractor will know what approvals you need to apply for. This is discussed more in  Lesson Four.)

Flag road centre line and side lines; cut out and grub roads; deliver culverts and bridge materials; install culverts and bridges; build roads, landings, turnouts and turnaround; use road


Let road settle and harden especially if build with wet, uncompacted materials

Begin harvest or other use after spring break-up when ground conditions have dried


Road building is expensive and may affect how much road you can build and when. The cost of building a "D" class road depends on the terrain and soil in your part of this province and the length of road you need. Road building conditions vary greatly in Nova Scotia. Sometimes slight changes in location can mean large changes in cost.

In ideal conditions, the average cost could be as low as $3,000 per kilometre. This could easily double if you have to import gravel for your road surface. It can be much higher if your planned route is rocky or swampy.

The value of timber removed from the road area could reduce the cost of the road. An excavator costs from $80 to $120 per hour. To get some idea of the cost per kilometre for your woodlot terrain, contact a local contractor, or your local Department of Natural Resources office. Once you know how much road you need, you will be able to calculate the approximate cost of your road.

Financial Assistance
Many woodlot roads in Nova Scotia have been built with some financial help from the Road Access and Gas Tax program run by the Forest Products Association of Nova Scotia. This program, funded by the provincial government, has been helping woodlot owners build and upgrade "D" class roads since 1967. Some conditions apply such as past woodlot use and the proposed use of the new road.

To apply for road assistance, you need be a member of the Association. For approved applications, the assistance rates are determined annually by a Gas Tax/Access Road Committee and will be based on available funds and the number of applications received. In 2000, the program funded 135 kms of new roads and 292 kms of road upgrades. Applications are usually approved in the same year they are submitted. The woodlot owner pays the contractor and is reimbursed by the Association.

For more information on this program, contact the Association at (902) 895-1179 or visit their web site at

Financial help may increase the length of road you can afford and allow you to build a longer road than initially planned that will better service your long-term objectives.


Most woodlot owners will need help building their road.

Some woodlot owners may be able to build the road themselves. This depends on the time you have available, your level of knowledge, your equipment and the difficulty of your road.

Most woodlot owners will be more involved in the planning process than in actual construction. You will likely need outside help for building your road. You may use the services of a forester, technician, road contractor and/or a forestry contractor. Contact your local Group Venture if you are a member or your local Department of Natural Resources office for help with planning and road layout. Find a contractor in your area who has a good reputation for woodlot road building. You may want to tender the work and get several quotes based on the road length. A basic contract should include a diagram of the road, right-of-way width, grubbing, ditch slopes, turnouts, landings, culverts, bridges and other relevant specifications.

Here is a possible arrangement:

1. General road location > You
2. Road layout > You and a technician or a road contractor
3. Road construction > A road contractor
4. Trail construction > A forestry contractor or yourself