The McLeod

The Fellowship of the McLeod

The Fellowship includes all who are given, grasp, and use a tool having a large, hoe-like blade on one end and a tined blade on the other, to grub out duff and grade the underlying mineral soil to create…the treadway for a hiking trail.

Membership is not as easy or as uncomplicated as it sounds. Membership is demanding: it demands a certain personal insanity. After all, its Brothers and Sisters arise early on a day when they (should) could remain asleep and travel Long Distances to Remote Locations.

To dig duff.

There’s no arguing with the work they perform, however. Members are known to spend all day working a section of ground measured in feet or inches, just to get the job done correctly.

All who use the McLeod are members of The Fellowship (or, Sistership).

What Do Members Do?

For new trails or trail sections, including relocations of existing trails, we first conduct a site survey to learn the terrain and natural features.

We set out an initial flag line for the new path and follow that up later with the specific cut-line, marked by pin flags. From that point, we put tools to hands and dig. Where we reconstruct, or rehabilitate, badly worn sections of existing trails, we survey the area to identify the techniques we need to use in order to accomplish the work.Trail construction involves engineering, design, and luck. The techniques we use include:

Side Hill

Hiking trails often have to come down slopes exceeding 20% in grade. In such cases, we bring the new trail section across the face of the slope, working with (instead of against) the natural contours of the land. As we move the trail across the face of the slope, we lay out the route on a grade not more than 7%. To do this, we cut into the uphill slope, remove the duff and pull the mineral soil (clay) out to a width of approximately four feet. Further, we “slope” the new bench so that the uphill side is about 1%-2% higher than the outside edge. This encourages rain water to sheet across and off of the new treadway rather than turn downhill and erode the path.

Switchback Turns

Everyone who has climbed a steep section of trail is familiar with the switchback turn. As the path goes across the face of a steep slope, at some point it must be turned back. The switchback turn is a sharp, almost 45°, turn. The problem with using this technique is that it encourages hikers traveling downhill to “shortcut” the turn to save time. After all, they can see the lower leg of the trail directly below them; why continue to the actual turning point? Shortcutting ultimately (and quickly) causes erosion, but that’s not a matter of concern to most hikers.

Sweeping Turns

If the terrain and property boundaries permit, it’s best to construct wide, sweeping turns instead of switchbacks. These take up more space but, properly designed and constructed, the sweeping turn works better for the hiker and causes the least damage to the natural resource. A really well-built sweeping turn is almost imperceptible to the hiker.

Coweta Dips

A coweta dip is a drain for storm or rain water. Even where a trail section is well-designed and built using side hill construction, gravity will pull some water down the path. Coweta dips, properly built, are wide, slight depressions that make gravity work with us to carry water off before it has traveled a long distance, so it doesn’t build up volume. At the same time, hikers barely recognize a good coweeta dip since the dip is so slight and carries over a good distance.


Badly eroded sections of hiking trails have ruts. Sometimes, particularly with steps where storm water has acted like a miniature waterfall and washed out the soil below a step, there are pot holes. The only way to correct this is to cut into the uphill slope and the berm that has formed on the downhill side, and pull the mineral soil back into the treadway. Then, the crew regrades and tamps the soil so that the tread is reestablished.

What Tools Do Members Use?

Each crew member carries at least two tools to the work site and each tool weighs about 10lbs. Sometimes, our work sites are within a few yards of the trailhead. Sometimes, we walk up to a mile to arrive at the work site. The tools we use include:

  • McLeods (of course!)
  • Pulaskis
  • Cutter mattocks
  • Pick mattocks
  • Rock (pry) bars

The Acme Crew at Work…and Play

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