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Maintaining Fontenelle Forest’s Trails

by Reece Myers, Chief Ranger of Neale Woods

Our trails are here for members and guests to enjoy, but often people do not realize how much work goes into maintaining them for public use. Trail maintenance is something that is often not given much thought unless one understands the theory and processes behind it.

With over 24 miles of hiking trails at Fontenelle Forest and Neale Woods, it’s crucial that we have staff and volunteers dedicated to maintaining our trails. Without regular upkeep, the trails would fill with vegetation and “go back to nature.” However, it’s not just about keeping them clear for hikers. Trails are essential for protecting the environment and ecosystems in the Forest from being disturbed, while also allowing hikers to connect with nature.

Simply walking on the trails does not keep them healthy. In fact, traffic on the trails can actually have the opposite effect, especially during the muddy season.

So, what are the main factors that affect the physical state of our trails and how do we keep them healthy? How does the condition of our trails affect the health of the Forest? We answer all of these questions below.

How does Fontenelle Forest maintain our trails?
A majority of trail maintenance consists of keeping the trails clear for hikers to use safely. Some trails can be mowed with a tractor, while others require staff and volunteers to use brush cutters to trim overgrown vegetation. Additionally, trees and branches that fall onto the trail are removed by cutting the tree into more manageable segments with a chainsaw.

Why do we reroute trails?
Erosion is the biggest factor for rerouting trails. Rainfall and snowmelt carry away soil and can create ditches or ruts on the trail. Some trails were created in unsustainable locations, like routes placed straight down a hillside or trails on flat terrain that don’t easily dry out after rain or snow.

How to we create or reroute trails?
Trails are created both by hand and by machinery. Staff and volunteers will use hand tools (shovels, hoes, axes), as well as equipment like a mini excavator and plate compactor to dig and compress dirt.

Recent Trail Updates

Fontenelle Forest and Neale Woods have both recently added new trails and reroutes.

Gray Squirrel trail was added at Fontenelle Forest in late 2021. The trail is a difficult 1.9 miles that wanders through varied terrain and includes steep sections and side hills. The trail dips into woodland slopes where gray squirrels are often seen.

Mink trail was recently added at Neale Woods. The trail is located in a flat floodplain that passes the banks of the Missouri River and crosses Rock Creek with a footbridge.

Gifford trail and Wagon trail, both at Neale Woods, have both been partially rerouted to avoid unsustainable areas and minimize trail erosion.

Have we inspired you to get out on the trails and check them out? We were hoping so!

We’ve provided a link to our trail maps below.

Fontenelle Forest trail map          Neale Woods trail map

We appreciate all that our members and guests do to help us keep the trails healthy and in tip-top shape for public use.

Questions about the trails?

As always, our Visitor Services team is available for questions regarding suggestions on the trails best suited for the experience you are seeking, as well as trail updates and closures.

Additionally, should you encounter anything concerning while out on the trails, members and guests are encouraged to report them to Visitor Services, who will pass the information on to the ranger on duty.

Visitor Services staff are available at the Fontenelle Forest Nature Center from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily or give them a ring at 402-731-3140.

Happy Hiking!

Fontenelle Forest is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt nonprofit.

Make a tax deductible donation NOW

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