The Tree in the Trail


If a tree falls in the forest... The fun story of Natural Resource Manager Jared Wood's attempt to remove a tree from the new Boardwalk trail.
Tree in the middle of a trail
Finding the tree“fall” was surprisingly challenging. Photo by FWNC&R Staff.

A tree is down in the new section of the Boardwalk trail.” That’s the notification I received recently. Trees falling across our trails is a routine occurrence on the Refuge, so I didn’t think much about it. After grabbing some coffee, my PPE (personal protective equipment), and a chainsaw, I headed to the Boardwalk to investigate. At first, I couldn’t find the treefall. Why? Because it was camouflaged. You might ask, “How is a tree that is lying across a trail camouflaged?” Well, this tree hadn’t fallen across the trail. It was in the trail!

Even though treefalls are routine occurrences for us, this particular treefall was anything but routine. The dead tree, also known as a “snag,” was firmly anchored in the middle of our newly renovated trail, sticking straight up into the air. Technically, I’m not even sure the term “treefall” applies. I began asking myself, “Where did the tree come from, and how did it stick its perfectly vertical landing (I would give it a 10 if it were a gymnast)?” The base from which it broke away was about 10 to 15 feet south of the trail. Apparently, it had fallen downhill toward the trail, with the mid-trunk landing horizontally on the ground, as most treefalls do. As the snag was falling, however, the top section must have broken away from the midsection, landing in its current orientation. Unfortunately for me, my job isn’t treefall forensics. My job is removing it from the trail.

Tree trunk in the middle of a trail
The snag was embedded at least a foot into the compacted ground of the new trail. Photo by FWNC&R Staff.

As any overachiever would do, my first act was to kick the tree and hope it would fall. That was wishful thinking. The bottom of the trunk was embedded in the ground by at least a foot. I proceeded to investigate the tree, but, honestly, I wasn’t confident in my ability to predict how it would come down. It was still a full-size tree, after all! All of its weight was precariously balanced on a splintered base that was half rotted and half concrete. Could the tree be coerced into falling the direction I wanted it to fall? Would it completely explode after a critical threshold was reached with the cut of my chainsaw? I wasn’t sure. Finally, I settled on a strategy and began to cut with great trepidation.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous throughout the entirety of the felling. The sound of the chainsaw drowned out my ability to hear the response of the wood. As I was sawing through the trunk, gazing up at this three-headed behemoth, I finally saw some movement. Hoping the tree was about to fall, I gave it a slight push, but it wouldn’t budge. Since I’m no quitter, I found a decent-sized boulder that was left over from construction of the new trail retaining walls and shot-putted it at the tree. Crack! This tree was going down, and I was wasting no time getting out of Dodge. After the dust settled, I turned around to bask in the glory of my accomplishment, but, to my disbelief, the snag had broken in half again, with the top landing in a perfectly — vertical — orientation. This was one defiant son of a gun, and all I could do was chuckle. Although the tree was still vertical, I could at least clearly see the pressure point that was keeping it upright. I finally was able to fell the tree after a few more minutes of sawing. The trail was clear, and I was safe. Win!

Trail through woods
The new Boardwalk trail, clear of obstructions and hazards, is slated to open to the public in April 2024. Photo by FWNC&R Staff.

I’m sure there is a clever allegory that can be found in this story, but I’ll leave it to the reader to decipher any true meaning behind my experience. I just wanted to share a cool and fun story. Nature is amazing, but if nature played sports, it would be a pitcher who specializes in knuckleballs and curves. Our dedicated staff love the Nature Center, but they go through great lengths to maintain this natural gem. We love our jobs and the challenges that come our way each day. So next time you visit the Nature Center, please take the time to visit with our staff because we all have a “Tree in the Trail” story to share.

By Jared Wood, Natural Resource Manager, Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge

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