How the Chattanooga region’s trails are built and maintained

Mason Boring and Clayton Morgan held adjoining handles of a perforated lancetooth two-man saw, pulling the more-than-70-year-old piece of equipment back and forth.

The two were clearing a fallen tree from Fodderstack horse and hiking trail in Cherokee National Forest. Boring estimated it had been five years since a crew came to clear the path. That’s what brought the two men here, miles from civilization, hiking and pulling a saw older than many of the surrounding trees.

Boring works for Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards (SAWS) – a nonprofit partner of the forest service, where Morgan works. The groups are forbidden by the Wilderness Act of 1964 from using mechanized or gas-powered equipment in the wilderness area.

The purpose is to keep wilderness areas wild. Congress and Wilderness Act supporters wanted to ensure the areas weren’t overworked, SAWS Executive Director Bill Hodge said. They would rather see overgrown paths with downed trees than a well-manicured, overworked man-made trail system that only slightly resembles the natural landscape.

“In these wilderness areas, it’s great to see what America looked like before man got here,” Boring said.

Wilderness areas represent an extreme of trail building and maintenance. However — despite the stringent regulations and abstract rules — the overall process is similar to most trail building and maintenance projects in the region: research the audience and terrain, find funding, acquire land, design the trail, build it and keep it relatively clear of debris.

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